School trust land was designated by Congress in 1858 when the federal government gave the new state sections 16 and 36 in each township to raise money for education.
Trust originally amounted to 8.3 million acres. Most of the agricultural areas were sold to farmers, with the money used to build early schools. About 2.5 million acres remain, nearly all in northern areas of the state and much of it in Northeastern Minnesota. Trust land amounts to nearly half of the 5.4 million acres currently managed by DNR.
There are several categories of trust land, including some officially called "swampland" and another category called internal improvement lands.
State constitution requires that school trust profits be used for education. Current state law says the goal of the Permanent School Fund is "to secure the maximum long-term economic return from the school trust lands consistent with the responsibilities imposed by the trust relationship established in the Minnesota Constitution, with sound natural resource conservation and management principles and with other specific policy provided in State law."