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The argument against statewide general-education levy

Regular readers of this blog will know that the possibility of a uniform, statewide general-education levy is a topic Your Humble Blogger returns to again and again. And there are plenty of public education advocates who believe a return to the school financing system that was in place until 2003 would create a more equitable, stable funding base

There is a counterargument, which holds that school districts have sought operating referenda not because of the move away from a gen ed levy but because of other factors. Today, this space contains that brief, courtesy of Jim Bartholomew, education policy director of the Minnesota Business Partnership [PDF]. 

I know, Bartholomew’s state Chamber of Commerce ties suggest he’s predisposed to look askance at most taxes. But he’s a thoughtful participant in education policy circles and an advocate of a competitive workforce, among other things. 

Without further comment I append a document Bartholomew sent me in response to a recent story, which he circulated during the legislative session. Agree? Disagree? I offer you the comments thread.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/28/2013 - 02:33 pm.

    Yes, and “So what?”

    Indeed, school districts DO seek operating levies for reasons broader than just the degree of support from the state.

    Nothing in Mr. Bartholomew’s text or charts, however, negates the bottom line in educational funding, which is that the state — because it’s mandated in the Minnesota Constitution — must provide a “…general and uniform…” system of public schools, and “…The Legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise… will secure a thorough and efficient system
    of Public Schools in each township in the State.”

    The most thorough and efficient system — in terms of raising the necessary revenue — is through a statewide educational levy. Wealthy districts, just like wealthy parents, will see to it that their children enjoy amenities not available to the children of poorer districts (and homes). That’s not the point. The point is that there should not be a “rich kid — poor kid” dichotomy in terms of the resources necessary for every child to be offered an excellent education. Not just excellent for some, but excellent for all.

    The number of school districts seeking their own levies above and beyond state support is not necessarily an indication that state support is unnecessary, or that a statewide education levy would somehow be redundant. As Mr. Bartholomew suggested, districts propose levies for a variety of reasons. How many of those reasons are connected in some rational way to the lack of state support evident since Mr. Pawlenty dismantled the state’s system of educational equity?

    Unless/until the kids in every little rural district have basic resources available to them that match those available to kids in Wayzata or Maple Grove, or whatever the wealthier districts in the state might be, the whole notion of educational equity in Minnesota is built upon sand.

  2. Submitted by Ross Reishus on 07/01/2013 - 08:53 am.

    Indeed, So What?

    Exactly. Pawlenty did the damage to an already fragile and flawed formula. Equitable education statewide, means the affluent are just going to have to help out other schools besides theirs, and for reasons I don’t understand, that just makes some suburbanites seethe. Yet they go to church and call themselves Christians. I don’t get it. What’s the message then, give to the less fortunate on your own block, but nothing past the first stop sign?

    And at no time does Mr. Barholomew mention inflation. Its easy to toss numbers around and arrange them in whatever etch-a-sketch pattern you want, but if you don’t include how inflation has affected those numbers, you have lost your own argument before you start. Seems rather odd that they otherwise respected Chamber of Commerce would forget a thing like inflation. Hmm…?

  3. Submitted by Jim Bartholomew on 07/01/2013 - 10:17 am.


    Hi Ross:

    Adjusting for the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most commonly used rate of inflation, state-directed funding for K-12 schools actually kept pace between 2003 – 2013……yes, that’s correct, state funding for schools kept pace with inflation – without counting district referendum dollars!

    The key is to include all state funding formulas for school district general funds, not just the Basic Formula Allowance. Most school funding discussions focus only on the Basic Formula Allowance which typically represents about 65% of a district’s general fund.

    BTW, I thought equity in school funding was a state responsibility, not that of other districts.


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