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Area lawmakers seek to soften state education funding loss

ST. PAUL -- The economic forecast for most school districts in northeastern Minnesota is stormy. Enrollment at Iron Range schools was projected in September to be down a total of 626 students compared to the previous fall, which factors out to a ...

ST. PAUL -- The economic forecast for most school districts in northeastern Minnesota is stormy.
Enrollment at Iron Range schools was projected in September to be down a total of 626 students compared to the previous fall, which factors out to a loss of about $3.13 million in state aid for schools. Duluth enrollments were also down considerably. And those enrollment numbers are expected to continue declining.
Area legislators hope to try and soften the blow during the legislative session that opened earlier this month.
"We definitely have a problem, and we have to do something about it," said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia.
The Legislature provided some extra relief in supplemental education funding to school districts with declining enrollments last session, but Range lawmakers said it wasn't enough.
Last year, area legislators unsuccessfully proposed a bill that would have averaged the amount of students enrolled in a school over three years to generate a number for the per-pupil funding formula. Rukavina said that would have allowed schools more time to adjust to the loss of state aid.
"We need a formula that will help us up here," Rukavina said.
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said while last year's additional education funding was helpful, he and other lawmakers will try to get more legislation passed this year. He agrees with Rukavina that a three-year cushion is necessary to help schools recuperate from the funding loss.
Sen. Sam Solon said there are costs and needs that go far beyond just the individual student costs. The DFLer from Duluth said the infrastructure costs remain the same, even though the number of students is going down. Also, there are still needs like counselors, all-day kindergarten and small class sizes, he added.
Duluth faces the same declining enrollment problems, Solon said. Over the past 25 years, the student population in the district fell from 25,000 to 12,000, he said.
"We need to make sure we get our share, even though our population is dropping," Solon said.
Tomassoni also said he doesn't understand why more Republicans in the House didn't support the three-year student averaging bill last session. Most school districts statewide are facing declining enrollment problems -- about two-thirds of Minnesota's school districts are losing students.
"We know we're going to keep losing students," Tomassoni said. "Give us three years to prepare for it."
Megan Boldt is the legislative correspondent in St. Paul for Murphy McGinnis Newspapers.

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