At a recent post-election press conference, Gov. Tim Walz was asked what he meant by “fully funding” education. His answer surprised me.
He said it meant making up the deficit that state government is supposed to be paying for special education. While it’s true that the state has neglected their duties in funding state-mandated special education costs, the governor misses the point on what most educators and the public would call “fully funding” education.
Over the past decades, our state government has spent less and less on education, leaving schools to scramble for funding in the form of property taxes. Because of this pattern, inequity in public schools has skyrocketed, and overall funding has plummeted in nearly every district.
According to North Star Policy Action (an independent research institute), even after accounting for inflation, per-pupil state funding for K-12 schools has decreased a full 20% from 2003 to 2022, and is on track to drop another 5% in the next two years. Add to this the drastic cuts in funding from the 1980s and ‘90s. This is the reason my wife, an English teacher in urban Minnesota, now sees 245 students throughout the day in her classroom, up from 175 students 10 years ago. It’s why my brother, who teaches music in suburban Minnesota, now has one music educator colleague instead of three, and works 80 hours a week. It’s why the first graders in my sister’s school in rural Minnesota have weaker reading skills. It’s why all of our young people are not getting the high-quality education they deserve.
While this decline in state aid is projected to drop even more over the next two years, this ongoing crisis can be avoided if state policy makers, together with the governor, take action during the next legislative session to restore past aid reductions, and then devise a plan to make these changes permanent. Our schools should not have to wonder each and every year whether they will be able to afford to pay for core education classes, special education, the arts, support staff and everything else that is needed.
The governor was absolutely right that, at the bare minimum, the government needs to fund special education. But “fully funded” education means the state government actually paying for the bulk of the cost of education in our state, rather than relying on property taxes to try (and fail) to make up massive funding gaps.
With our newly elected state government, now is the time for Minnesota to fund high-quality schools across the board. It’s time for our government to step up for a brighter future for all Minnesotans, and to fully fund education.
Amy Engebretson is a resident of St. Paul. Her daughter attends Highland Park Senior High.