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Schools need short-term fix and long-term reform

In a Thursday morning press conference in Duluth, Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher called for lawmakers to ease school budget problems in the Duluth region with an inflationary funding increase and a commitment to fundamental reform to en...

In a Thursday morning press conference in Duluth, Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher called for lawmakers to ease school budget problems in the Duluth region with an inflationary funding increase and a commitment to fundamental reform to end the cycle of budget cuts.

In northeast Minnesota, the combined shortfall is $6.45 million, including $5.95 million in the Duluth district alone. Statewide, districts are facing a combined budget shortfall of $123.8 million, according to Education Minnesota data collected through school district staff and news reports. The majority of these districts are looking at an average shortfall ranging from $300 to $500 per pupil.

"Our school districts have been cutting education programs and student opportunities for years while trying to stay in the black," Dooher said.

If the Legislature and the governor approved an inflationary funding increase this session for the next school year, school districts would be in a much better position to maintain existing programs and staff levels, Dooher said.

"An inflationary increase isn't the perfect, long-term fix for all of our schools, but it will provide a stop-gap measure until we tackle the larger problem," he said.

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Lawmakers have proposed funding reform legislation, which they hope to have on the legislative agenda next session. Dooher said the proposal is a good starting point, and that long-term funding reform must include four guiding principles.

Education funding must be:

  • Equitable. The quality of a child's education cannot be determined by his or her ZIP code. All Minnesota children deserve a world-class education.
  • Sustainable. It must come from stable sources that we can count on.
  • Predictable. It must be able to withstand inevitable downturns in the economy.
  • Sufficient. It must provide the resources necessary to meet defined expectations for our students and our schools.

"I've heard some say that now is not the time for this kind of reform. But the truth is, there will never be a perfect time to increase funding. There is no rewind button available to a child who is now in kindergarten, or first grade, or eighth grade or 12th grade. We have to make it happen for them now," Dooher said.
The basic formula allowance will increase only 1 percent next year if the state leaders fail to act.

The Legislature did not do its job last year for schools, and state leaders have not prepared for inevitable economic downturns, Dooher said.

"State funding simply has not kept up with inflation and the growing demands on the K-12 education system," Dooher said.

In addition, Education Minnesota research found that the per-pupil amount that districts have raised through referendums has risen continuously over the past 20 years, from $126 per pupil in 1986 to $901 per pupil in 2009.

-- Education Minnesota press release. Education Minnesota's 70,000 members include teachers and educational support professionals in Minnesota's public school districts, faculty members at Minnesota's community and technical colleges and University of Minnesota campuses in Duluth and Crookston, retired educators and student teachers. See www.

educationminnesota.org for more.

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