There seems to be a constant chatter at the Legislature about the $9.25 billion surplus. Many organizations want a piece of the surplus. It is my opinion that the first thing the Legislature must do is pay for services that school districts are required to provide, but which have never been fully funded.
For many years, the state and federal government have “mandated” programming and services for students with special needs (which is good) but have grossly underfunded these mandates (which is bad), forcing districts to use “regular” education funds to pay for the mandated special education programs. These unfunded mandates have impacted the educational programs in districts across the state unequally and unfairly.
Imagine, the additional educational programming Murray County Central could offer if there were $495,754 of available funding that now must be spent to meet the special education mandates! Again, the mandated services for students are needed and appropriate. No one questions that. But the legislature is obligated to fund them, especially at a time when the funding is available.
Every school district in Minnesota has a special education cross-subsidy. It may be $20,000 in Lanesboro or $25 million in Osseo. Each school district must pull money from a general fund, which could pay for much needed staff and other items currently being cut from the 2023 budget.
Earlier this session HF 2657, a bill submitted by St. Cloud Rep. Dan Wolgamott, was heard in the House Education Finance Committee. The Senate companion bill (SF 4124) has been introduced by Sen. Kari Dziedzic. The bill would eliminate the special education cross subsidy that every school district in Minnesota is experiencing. This would cost about $750 million but would, in my opinion, be the best things the state Legislature could do for public education in Minnesota. For the first time, we now have the funds to eliminate this unfunded mandate!
Please contact your legislator and encourage support for HF 2657 and SF 4124. We need to encourage the fight for public education funding of mandated programs so that all districts are on equal grounds, all taxpayers receive equal educational benefits from their tax payments and all students have a fair opportunity for a quality education.