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Pre-primary primer lays out MN education facts

Education, and in particular state education finance, is the campaign season equivalent of three-card Monte. Its multiple moving parts and staggering numbers make it particularly susceptible to spin. And spun it gets — what political hopeful ever in history hasn’t been positioned as “the education candidate”?


Thank goodness, then, that the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) puts out a nonpartisan election guide that lays out, in plain English, the facts and the stakes. If you are interested enough in education to visit this blog, you should download a copy at once.

In its 24 pages [PDF], voters will find solid, inflation-adjusted numbers, sample questions for local, state and congressional candidates, and suggestions for ways in which people can get involved. Candidates will find suggestions about issues they need to be prepared to talk about on the stump and ways to get up to speed.

The aforementioned financing confusion? The crucial numbers are broken down for each of AMSD’s 37 member districts.

And the numbers are crucial indeed. For instance:

“Between 2003 and 2013, Minnesota’s basic per pupil funding formula increased from $4,601 to $5,224, an increase of 13.5 percent. During that same time period, inflation grew by 42.86 percent,” the primer explains. “The $50 per pupil per year formula increase approved during the 2011 special session represented an increase of 2 percent over two years. Inflation is projected to be 4.3 percent over that same time period, meaning that the basic formula allowance continues to lose ground to inflation.”

Source: Association of Metropolitan School Districts

More eye-popping still is the shortfall in state funding for special education services. The fine print on how this gets calculated would run on for pages, but the bottom line is that the unfunded cost of special education in Minnesota was $546 million in fiscal year 2011 and $595 million in 2012. The figure is projected to increase to $614 million by 2013.

School districts are required to provide services to needy students whether state funding is adequate or not, so that money must come out of districts’ general funds. And the general fund, just to bottom-line it for you, is the part of the funding pie that’s most in danger of losing its stuffing.

“The failure of the state to fund mandated special education programming is without a doubt the primary reason Minnesota school districts face funding challenges year after year,” the guide notes.

Expressed another way, the shortfall cost the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the state’s largest, $31 million in 2011, or $700 per pupil. St. Paul Public Schools’ unfunded costs topped $36 million, or more than $800 per student. Minneapolis’ unmet need was $34 million, or $900 per pupil.

More and more needy students

At the same time, the number of needy students is growing. “Since 2003, the number of Minnesota students eligible for free or reduced price lunch has increased from 27 percent to 37 percent,” the primer explains. “The percent of students with limited English proficiency has increased from 6.2 percent to 7.7 percent, and the number of students receiving special education services also increased from 13.2 percent to 14.9 percent.”

And the needs are concentrated in the Twin Cities. “AMSD member districts make up 48 percent of the state’s enrollment,” the document adds. “It is important to note that in the state of Minnesota, 47 percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, 70 percent of the English language learners identified and 48 percent of special education students are enrolled in AMSD districts.”

Metro-area districts will also be disproportionately affected by the expiration in 2013 of the state’s integration revenue program. The 2012 Legislature was expected to overhaul the program, but its political opponents succeeded in keeping the topic off the agenda.

As a result, 139 school districts statewide are slated to lose $94 million; metro area districts will lose $78 million.

Guide to redrawn districts’ candidates

There’s more, of course, including a super-useful guide [PDF] to the candidates running in newly redrawn districts.

Finally, a warning for those candidates: Any of you door-knocking without having you’re your homework do so at your peril. According to AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist, the organization’s member districts report that the guide gets used by parents and other community members.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/10/2012 - 03:45 pm.

    The state legislature has failed

    to carry out its constitutionally-mandated responsibilities in regard to education. Someone with a lot more money than I should hire the best, most relentless lawyers available, and take the legislature to court over its abject failure to carry out a clear directive from the state constitution. Republicans, in particular, richly deserve to be pilloried for sacrificing the next generation of Minnesotans on the altar of tax cuts.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/10/2012 - 11:11 pm.

    And as usual…

    “Between 2003 and 2013, Minnesota’s basic per pupil funding formula increased from $4,601 to $5,224, an increase of 13.5 percent. During that same time period, inflation grew by 42.86 percent,”

    …the story presented is laughable.

    The facts:

    Here’s another cold, hard, fact. Saint Paul public schools get, from all sources, $16,000 per student, per year. And for that eye popping sum, they deliver a graduation rate of just over 43%.

    Pardon me for saying so, but cry me a river.

  3. Submitted by Dave Eischens on 08/11/2012 - 07:19 pm.

    Doing your homework

    $4,601 increase to $5,224 is pretty clear as shown in MN legislative doc page 10 :

    As I understand it, that is the base State contribution to per pupil funding. Assuming the rest is handled through property taxes, special ed funding and etc.

    But it seems the term inflation can have a couple different meanings so 42.86% may be a bit confusing. Are we talking percentage price change over a 10 year period or are we adding up each years inflation rate? Even Mr. Swift’s cited website has another page which if you squint and extrapolate to 2013 you can get close to that 42.86% number if using CPI-U.

    Not being an accountant, but still able to chuckle at a term like Implicit Price Deflator, according to another MN legislative doc CPI-U is the basis for these calculations which may or may not be called inflation. Page 4, and then page 8 for an example:

    Since this article addresses statewide school performance and funding, it’s only fair that we acknowledge the overall on-time graduation rate for MN high school students (on-time = within 4 years) is approximately 75%. Room for improvement but not the utterly bleak picture of public education as some would paint. My guess is that urban schools need to deal with a much wider diversity of student population and family situations than most of the suburban and rural areas.

    So yes, candidates wanting to be elected our representatives, please do your homework.

  4. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 08/13/2012 - 08:06 am.

    completely False

    If you read the supposedly non partisan election guide article, the first statement is completely false; “Our elected officials have the responsibility of assuring a high-quality public education that provides our students the opportunities they need to be successful”.
    Our hired teachers have that responsibility.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/13/2012 - 08:29 am.



    The MN constitution guarantees K-12 education for all children. The legislature and the executive branch are responsible for implementing the constitution. Obviously the teachers play a role but they can only work with the resources provided to them and at any rate teachers not working on a constitutional level. The article clearly demonstrates that those resources are inadequate.

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