The deficits Minnesota school districts anticipate if the cuts on the table at the Legislature stand are beyond eye-popping.
The budget chasms yawn so big, in fact, that it’s easy to lose perspective in terms of what they mean for the ultimate stakeholders — kids and their families.
From St. Paul Public Schools comes a fact sheet (PDF) containing some painful but illustrative nuts and bolts.
The state’s second-largest district, St. Paul has 38,000 students. Almost half come from homes where English is not the native language, 71 percent are low-income and 2,000 experience homelessness each year.
The district already faces a $20 million shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. If the omnibus education finance bill ends up setting next year’s budget, that deficit would swell to $34 million.
Most of the bloodletting would take place in two areas: integration revenue and special-ed funding. Because its purpose is to ensure students from diverse backgrounds have opportunities to learn together, most of the $19 million in integration funding the district currently receives is spent on transportation, magnet programs and the student placement center.
Integration revenues account for one-third of the transportation budget. Never mind that St. Paul just announced a strategic plan that would cut transportation costs dramatically by curtailing school choice, it may have to find another $9.5 million in savings.
In addition to supporting magnet programs, the funds pay to bus kids to 16 language academies for pupils learning English. Within the magnets themselves, $7 million in cuts will need to be made. That’s the equivalent of 60 teachers and 15 paraprofessionals, some of whom work for programs that provide academic interventions to struggling kids and access for low-income students for International Baccalaureate programs.
All-day kindergarten is one of the most cost-effective means of helping position kids from impoverished families for academic success. It could disappear for many.
On the chopping block, too: language and curriculum for the district’s American Indian program and its $300,000 share of the East Metro Integration Program’s budget.
Nearly all of the budget for the Student Placement Center would be eliminated. In addition to processing some 13,000 school applications every year, the center works to identify kids who need help from Day One, including language screening, immunizations, testing for asthma and hearing and vision problems and developmental delays. Some of the 7,500 kids screened are homeless, and some are coming from refugee camps.
The other part of the finance bill that’s particularly problematic is funding for special ed, which the Legislature proposes freezing. Because districts can’t cut services and funding has long lagged behind costs, St. Paul already taps its dwindling general fund to pay the 40 percent, or $37 million, not reimbursed by the state or federal governments. The freeze would force the district to divert more funds to make up new shortfalls.