Rep. Pat Garofalo on Wednesday revealed two surprises in the House’s main education finance bill that drew concern from lawmakers and officials who say the abrupt changes could significantly harm Minnesota’s schools.
Garofalo, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee, said his legislation would eliminate integration funding, which is used by districts to desegregate schools. The measure also would increase state aid for charter schools.
It’s likely the bill will be introduced early next week.
The state’s “cities of the first class” — Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth — would be hardest hit if the integration funding is eliminated. The state pays roughly $90 million annually to districts for transportation and other attempts to improve interracial contact and close the achievement gap.
Magnet schools in Minneapolis, for example, attract students citywide based on academic specialties, but busing kids to different schools to promote integration costs money.
Minneapolis would have $17 million hole to fill
Minneapolis Public Schools receives about $17 million each year — or about $480 per student — in integration dollars on top of the state education funding formula and compensatory aid for low-income students. Roughly 70 percent of the funding comes from the state, and the district levies the other 30 percent, though Minneapolis’ share is slightly higher than other districts’.
Although Minneapolis just closed a $20 million shortfall for next school year, losing this funding would force officials to do it all over again.
The district’s chief financial officer, Peggy Ingison, called integration funding “part of our core.” She was unsure what would happen if the aid was cut or redistributed.
“We’ve closed a lot of schools, and we’ve made a lot of cuts,” she said. “I don’t quite have a very clear sense of what we would do.”
Funding formula needs work, both parties say
Politically, both parties agree that the integration funding formula is ineffective. A 2005 legislative auditor’s report ripped the program for lacking focus and having little oversight, and Rep. Mindy Greiling spent the next four years as the House Education Finance Committee chairwoman attempting to reform it.
But Greiling said if given the chance, she would take a different tack.
A phased approach to implementing a continuum of redistributed funds would allow districts to plan more effectively, she said, calling Garofalo’s proposal a “huge rape of the core cities.”
Asked about Greiling’s characterization, Garofalo responded: “Nobody disputes this program is a failure,” he said. “Nobody.”
He stressed focusing on data-driven solutions to help close the achievement gap and increase school performance, qualities he says the integration formula lacks.
After the Republican legislative storm in November, Greiling said one of her fears was that the GOP would play “reverse Robin Hood” with districts and begin redistributing funds.
“This is my worst nightmare,” Greiling said. “I’m waking up, and it’s still going on.”
But Ingison said she understands that cuts to the state’s core cities make political sense because Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth don’t have any majority party representation.
However, “It’s just shortsighted, Ingison said. “People talk about wanting to encourage job growth and encourage economic activity. Well, you gut your services in the central cities, where do you think the economic activity is going on in the state?”
In conversations with Garofalo as a member of the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials, Ingison said the education chairman told her to consider property tax increases in response to state aid cuts.
But flat state aid since 2001 has already forced huge property tax increases, Ingison said, noting that Minneapolis residents pay nearly $65 million annually as part of a 2008 voter-approved levy. That doesn’t include other levies that come wrapped in state funding.
Greiling thinks governor would stop such a move
Moving forward, Gov. Mark Dayton could line-item veto the provision out of the larger education finance bill, Greiling said, or: “I’m guessing the bill will be so bad he’ll have to veto the whole thing.”
Dayton, who was unavailable for comment on the issue of integration funding, is set to release his own education bill today. Greiling will carry the legislation in the House.
Both Garofalo and Greiling are also part of a Dayton education finance working group that begins work on March 23 where the issue is set to come up.
There also are concerns about Garofalo’s plan to increase aid to charter schools, which some see as hindering true integration. Because of Minnesota’s open enrollment policy, some parents are prone to choosing a culturally specific school that may not represent wide racial diversity, Ingison said.
“It’s really sort of contradictory when we say, ‘We really want integration and we want to make sure integration happens,’ but it really has to be totally voluntary,” Ingison said. “it’s really hard to [integrate] when people get to choose.”
Garofalo’s announcements came as part of a GOP press conference on Republican reform efforts.
Speaker Kurt Zellers said House Republicans are working “hand in glove” on both the state’s $5 billion budget deficit and on a “fundamental change in how we deliver government.”
Republicans highlighted efforts to streamline state agencies, improve the use of technology and consolidate operations, but the only specific figure was a $172 million savings from a proposed 15 percent state workforce reduction.
The fiscal analysis of numerous reform bills was based on similar programs implemented in other states.
“We don’t have an apple to compare to an apple,” Zellers said.
The goal is to solve the Minnesota’s current budget deficit and prevent the looming $4.4 billion shortfall approaching in the 2014 budget cycle.
Before the Republican event, DFLers Paul Thissen and Ryan Winkler met with reporters and downplayed the GOP’s talk of reform.
“Reform is a catch phrase they’ve been using. But there’s a few things people should know,” Thissen said. “We’ve already done a lot of reform.”