Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, proposed legislation this morning that will inspire passionate debate across the state.
Garofalo, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee, believes that school districts should be limited to holding referendums only in general election years. The legislation is being proposed in the name of “transparency,’’ Garofalo said.
“This bill is about transparency, open democracy and greater public participation in school levies,’’ he said. “Districts know the facts — their levies are more likely to be approved in odd-year elections because of lower voter engagement. There are more than $900 million worth of tax revenue increases over the next five years on the ballot next week, and that deserves the voting public’s maximum attention.’’
Garofalo cited Minnesota Department of Education stats that show that levy referendums held in odd-numbered years pass at a rate of 70 percent. Referendums held in even-numbered [election] years have only a 52 percent passage rate.
Districts, Garofalo said, are “exploiting’’ this situation.
DFLers reacted quickly to Garofalo’s proposal.
“This announcement by Rep. Garofalo is an unbelievable ruse to cover the mess the GOP majorities created for our schools this past year,’’ said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, in a statement.
“Changing when school districts can hold levy elections will cover up for the fact that state funding — when adjusted for inflation — has decreased 13 percent since 2003 nor that the state spends 7.8 percent less per student now than it did just three years ago.’’
Wiger said the U.S. Department of Education reports that since 1970, Minnesota has sunk from fifth to 22nd in the nation in student spending.
“This proposal does absolutely nothing to help our students succeed or to close Minnesota’s persistent achievement gap,” he said.