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Report shows NLS School District is in the bottom 20 percent of districts for funding across the state

NEW LONDON -- The executive director of an association advocating equity in education funding reported Monday that New London-Spicer Schools is in the bottom 20 percent of school districts in state funding per student.

Brad Lundell, executive director and lobbyist of Schools for Equity in Education, told the New London-Spicer School Board at its Monday meeting that NLS ranks 286 out of 340 state school districts in total revenue received per student.

Superintendent Paul Carlson said Tuesday the report validated the district's need for an increase in its operating levy. The district is asking local voters on Nov. 4 to approve what would in essence be a levy increase of $200 per student. The new levy voters are being asked to consider would put the district's levy rate at $597 per student.

Carlson said Lundell reported that the state average of revenue per student was $8,932. The figure includes an estimated $5,124 funded by the state for each student plus special state funding for specific district concerns, such as the student poverty level, extensive transportation needs of a district or special education. Based on the rankings, NLS receives well below the state average, at $7,394 per student.

According to its Web site, SEE is an association of 61 school districts mostly located in greater Minnesota. The association has been trying to introduce long-term education funding reform legislation for at least six years, Carlson said, and NLS has been a member of SEE for a majority of that time. Carlson said Lundell also updated the School Board about the status of education legislation recently introduced to the state Legislature.

Lundell reported the association made minor progress this year when education funding legislation was introduced in the 2008 session, Carlson said. Ultimately, SEE wants legislation that focuses on the state's funds-per-student rate that varies with the age of students, Carlson said.

Currently, state funding is weighted so that a district gets more money for students in seventh through 12th grades than it does for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, Carlson said. The proposed equity legislation, known as the "New Minnesota Miracle," would increase the average state funding rate of $5,124 to a flat rate for all students -- worth $7,000.

But the association isn't optimistic about progress for the "Miracle" in the 2009 session, Carlson said. Instead, SEE is hoping for an inflationary increase to state funding, or some kind of "phase-in" of the miracle plan, since the state faces a budget deficit.

"It seems like now is the time to act in terms of the Minnesota education funding reform system because of the inadequacies that's hurting Minnesota students," Carlson said.

The Legislature last tried to adjust the education funding formula in 2001, but the attempt failed, Carlson said. As a result, districts have been forced into increasing voter-approved operating levies, Carlson said, which is tough for districts with smaller tax bases and fewer commercial taxpayers

"For districts that have a hard time passing those levies, it really just becomes unfair to rely on the operating levies," Carlson said. " ... It just seems like we're at a point right now where it's a perfect opportunity for the legislators to step up and meet their constitutional responsibility and equitably fund education."