Study: State's K-12 schools need $1 billion more a year

Minnesota needs to spend nearly a billion dollars more every year on public education, just to start providing what school districts need to help state standards, ac-cording to a study released Friday.

Minnesota needs to spend nearly a billion dollars more every year on public education, just to start providing what school districts need to help state standards, ac-cording to a study released Friday.

The study picked up where a state task force on education funding reform left off two years ago, according to Greg Vandal, superintendent of Sauk Rapids-Rice School District.

Vandal's district is a member of Schools for Equity in Education, one of three organizations that funded the study. Other members include the Litchfield, New London-Spicer, Paynesville and Willmar school districts.

The state plans to spend $12.6 billion in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years, about 41 percent of general fund spending for the two-year biennium.

In 2003, the Governor's Education Finance Reform Task Force recommended developing a new system of funding the state's public schools but was not asked to recommend a new system.


When the Legislature failed to fund the next step in the study, Vandal said, SEE, the Minnesota Rural Education Association and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts pooled their resources to continue on their own.

"The task force was on the right path, but didn't complete their work," Vandal said in a telephone interview. Continuing with the task force's methodology, "what we found was a billion dollar gap," he added.

John Myers, a Denver-based school finance consultant, presented his findings Friday in St. Paul. In a telephone interview this week, Myers said his study came down to one basic question: "What system could be used to assure us that kids can meet state standards."

The primary recommendation from Myers would lead to a major shift in school funding.

Currently, the Legislature looks at how much money is available and decides how to divide it among the state's schools. Myers suggests a funding mechanism that looks at what schools need and provide funding accordingly.

Myers looked at the needs of school districts, including the additional cost of working with some special needs groups, like students learning English, those from low-income families or those in special education.

He then compared that with state education spending in the 2003-04 school year, the most recent information available. His results indicated that schools should have had another $953 million to meet their needs.

Myers has done similar studies in other states. It's difficult to compare the situations, he said, but he estimated that Minnesota's education funding comes closer to hitting the mark than some other states have. In some cases, studies have recommended spending increases of 20 percent to 30 percent.


Often, his recommendations get a mixed reaction, Myers said. Some states, like Maryland, have phased in a series of major changes. In other states, the study was ignored "and the courts picked up on it," Myers said. "We prefer not to have it happen that way."

Vandal said he expected a mixed reaction to the study in Minnesota -- "Some skeptics, some rejoicing, some head scratching."

Myers said he would be moving ahead on a second phase of his research, hoping to be finished in March.

The next step will include an analysis of how much the state should spend on basic funding and how much for special needs students. It will look at ways to adjust funding to take into account some special needs, like transportation costs in sparsely populated districts and allowances for declining enrollment.

The organizations that funded the study expect others in the state to join with them and to make school funding an issue in fall elections, Vandal said.

"It's time"

Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, said he was pleased to see the report released. Heidgerken, a member of the House's education policy and education finance committees, is a proponent of equity in school funding.

"It's a help for me," he said. "When I'm talking, it makes what I'm saying more relevant."


Heidgerken said he believes the state's budget picture is improving, and a surplus will be available next year to put into school funding.

"I think now it's time to look for another formula for education," he said.

Heidgerken said he agrees that school funding should be based on needs. Earlier this year, he proposed a new funding formula based on the number of sections a school had, rather than on the number of students, he said.

Rural schools are often at a disadvantage in education funding, because suburban districts can pass referendums that bring in much more money than a rural school district can.

"We need more money out in rural Minnesota," Heidgerken said. "We're lagging way behind Minneapolis and St. Paul and the suburbs."

The full report and an executive summary are available at by clicking on "Funding Adequacy" on the home page.

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