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Urban school districts find GOP's proposed budget cuts add insult to injury

On Wednesday, I wrote about the disproportionate impact the funding cuts contemplated in both the House and Senate versions of the omnibus education finance bill would have on urban districts. That’s because both measures would eliminate funding that helps schools with integration issues and would freeze state reimbursement for special-ed services, forcing districts to dip further into their general funds.

That post laid out specific examples from St. Paul of the kids who would be hurt.

It turns out I hadn’t contemplated the half of it. Combined with a couple of other funding shifts, the legislation would pretty neatly take the same amount of per-pupil revenue urban and first-ring suburban districts would lose and hand it to charter schools and small rural districts.

Adding insult to injury, the cuts will be devastating to a number of districts — including places we rarely think of as urban like St. Cloud and Duluth — but will not save taxpayers money nor help to solve the state’s current budget crisis. Overall state funding for education would remain the same, with a significant funding increase for charter schools.  

The Association of Metropolitan School Districts has prepared a couple of charts, one for the House version (PDF) and one for its Senate counterpart (PDF), illustrating the shift. Boiled down to the simplest explanation, center-city districts would lose up to $450 per pupil while charters will gain up to that amount, depending on their location.

There’s general agreement that the state’s system for compensating districts for the costs of integration is badly broken, to the detriment of systems such as Brooklyn Center and Anoka-Hennepin, but no one but the Legislature’s current GOP leadership would fix it by eliminating it outright. Republican lawmakers will protest that they are replacing it with “innovation funding” and that the amount of general funding is going up, but that’s not the net effect.

GOP leaders are, however, proposing to increase the amount of per-pupil funding for so-called small charters and rural schools with fewer than 1,000 students. Because of their stand-alone nature, most Minnesota charters — which have not received integration or special-ed money — will qualify for the increased revenue.

“They’re just rearranging things,” said Jim Grathwol, Minneapolis Public Schools’ lobbyist. “Both the House and the Senate would reallocate money from the most vulnerable students to finance a very small general fund increase.”

According to Scott Croonquist, AMSD’s executive director, an urban district losing $450 in integration aid would still be out $380 once its innovation dollars were factored in.

All Minnesota school districts are eligible to ask for integration money, but Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth historically have been entitled to much larger grants than their neighbors. Most folks propose to fix this by equalizing the funding and putting stricter parameters on what it can be used for.

The cap on special-ed funding would also have a disproportionate effect on urban and suburban districts, as well as some large rural ones, such as St. Cloud, that provide specialized services to kids from neighboring small districts that aren’t appropriately staffed.

Adding to the pain, lawmakers also propose to “de-link” compensatory aid — the funds used to compensate districts for the higher cost of educating certain poor and disadvantaged kids — from general funding. This formula is complicated enough to choke a statistician, but the net effect will be that as general funds rise with inflation, compensatory aid will not. As costs go up, then, districts will have to dip into their dwindling general funds to make up the difference.

The GOP argument here is that per-pupil spending in Minneapolis and St. Paul would easily buy a seat at a Twin Cities private school that delivers superior results. That’s true, but it’s also true that students in those schools don’t pose the same challenges in terms of services.

Those numbers reflect everything from the cost of providing full-time paraprofessionals for kids with developmental disabilities, tracking down and transporting a couple of thousand homeless kids every day and providing translators for parents who do not speak English. 

Like Grathwol, St. Paul Public Schools’ Chief Accountability Officer Michelle Walker challenged lawmakers’ objective. “What is really the intent of the Legislature here?” she asked. “On the one hand, I hear folks talking about closing the achievement gap … and yet we have legislation that is going to eliminate our ability to reach out to our most vulnerable students.

“It makes me question whether we are really committed to all students,” she said.

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Comments (9)

First of all, because they're wearing their money goggles, the damage they will do to these children in the cities is simply invisible to our "conservative" friends.

Second, of course it is their attitude that the people of the cities are automatically suspected of a wide variety of moral defects.

When they view the cities through their money goggles, they don't notice the hundreds of thousands of hard-working people who live very functional lives and prove themselves every day to be excellent citizens.

All they see are the small minority of people who have fallen prey to the "unintended consequences" of government welfare policy going back to the 1940s as well as the reality that the cities provide the best opportunities for newly-arrived immigrants and thus draw many folks who don't (yet) speak English.

Rather than recognizing that our state's future is threatened if we do not help those people escape from the consequences of those factors (help which costs money, of course),...

our "conservative" friends seem to think that if we simply leave those people to their own devices and cease to offer them any help at all, they'll "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps"...

(which is as likely in society as it is in the physical world - try it, once: stand up in the middle of the floor, grab the backs of your shoes and try to pull yourself up off the floor).

What we'll get, of course, is cities that come to resemble "Lord of the Flies," as much as our "conservative" friends already think they do,...

cities that, rather than being the economic engines of our state, become a drain on ALL of us.

"our "conservative" friends seem to think that if we simply leave those people to their own devices and cease to offer them any help at all, they'll "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps"..."

No, that they'll go home.

I don't think education should be something which becomes politically polarized. It should be a basic right. MPS/SPPS schools have larger funding because they deal with a lot more social issues than out-state districts.

My fiance teaches in MPS and I am amazed at the variety of students, and demographics of the students she teaches, while still attempting to get these kids passing standardized tests.

Many times folks use the anecdotes like, "My Grandpa didn't speak English, and he made it" or "We didn't have special ed in my school growing up and everyone was fine". Well, those are great stories, but in reality we have moved all of our low-education type jobs overseas and we now need a higher standard of education for all students, probably minimum of technical college education, for them to even be considered employable. This was not the case in the good ole days. It is not apples to apples comparison. We are now globally competitive, and need to keep up.

If anything, use this budget to support statistics, longitudinal studies and find which curriculum, programs and choices are helping students succeed in all districts and have charters, and districts work together instead of competing for the same general fund money.

NO! The WON'T go home!

They ARE home, a home they have as much right to occupy as anyone else.

WE need to take off our money goggles and do what it takes to help them become the best citizens they can be.

Dennis Tester: I'm a teacher and perhaps you could help me identify some of those students who should "go home".

I would like to add the piece:

"Integration Revenue is Focus of Legislative Town Hall on Education" located at--

This piece references both the DFL-sponsored forum held 4/20 at Arlington High School and a brief synopsis of integration efforts over the last 10 years.

Please Check it out.

Looks like a concerted effort to destroy the public schools and the teachers unions to me.

How did all these people who believe the propaganda that charters are always better and that vouchers will be enough to let poor children enroll in private schools in order to get a decent education and that unions are evil get that way?

It's interesting – though not in a good way – to contemplate the multiple levels of prejudice revealed by Mr. Tester's brief comment.

Beyond that, in reference to “…The GOP argument here is that per-pupil spending in Minneapolis and St. Paul would easily buy a seat at a Twin Cities private school that delivers superior results…” it seems worth noting that, in an educational context, schools don't "deliver" results.

Students do.

If we literally followed Mr. Tester's advice, theoretically all of us would be packing up to leave. The only ones remaining would be the Native Americans.