MSBA at the Capitol — MSBA advocates for its No. 1 priority: an increase to basic funding formula

MSBA’s Denise Dittrich and more than a dozen school officials testified Wednesday in support of two separate bills proposing a boost in education spending for Minnesota public school students.

Sen. John Hoffman’s MSBA-drafted SF 163 and Sen. Greg Clausen’s SF 541 were both introduced during Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting.

The MSBA bill, SF 163, would increase the basic funding formula for school districts by $300 per pupil. This would bring the total per-pupil expenditure to $6,131 by fiscal year 2016.

SF 541 is a similar bill, calling for an increase in the basic funding formula by 4 percent in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. This would lead to formula allowances of $6,064 per pupil in fiscal 2016 and $6,307 in fiscal 2017. Further, Sen. Clausen’s bill proposes annual inflationary increases to the basic funding formula for fiscal 2018 and beyond.

“Minnesota is ranked 24th in student investment in the nation,” Clausen said. “We want to shift funding away from local levies and back to the state. We want to provide predictable funding.”

Dittrich — MSBA’s Associate Director of Government Relations — thanked the bills’ authors and co-authors and told the committee that getting an increase on the funding formula is MSBA’s No. 1 legislative priority this session.

“This is one of the most important investments we are going to make this legislative session,” Dittrich said. “In the previous 13 years, the formula increase was less than inflation for 11 of those 13 years. Five of those years there were no increases. Now is the time to make up for some of those years that we could not live up to our constitutional obligation. The basic education funding formula is the core of school districts’ finances — it cannot be ignored or should not be underfunded.”

Dittrich added that this additional funding would help school boards maintain their current level of programming and class sizes and help them in retaining high-quality teachers.

Watch the video below for footage of Sen. Hoffman’s and Sen. Clausen’s testimony. (Video courtesy of John Kaul.)

Osseo Area Superintendent Kate Maguire urged the committee to provide “predictable and sustainable funding” for education.

Many other school district officials also stepped up to provide similar strong and compelling testimony, including: Kirby Ekstrom (North Branch Area School Board member and MSBA Board Director), Deb Henton (North Branch Area superintendent), Dan Pyan (South Washington County director of finance), David Law (Anoka-Hennepin superintendent), Joseph Brown (Fairmont Area superintendent), Sue Nelson (Fairmont Area business manager), Jane Berenz (Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan superintendent), Jeff Solomon (Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan director of finance) and Gregory Hein (Elk River Area business manager)

Sen. Eric Pratt — a former Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board member — said he was encouraged by these funding-increase proposals. Pratt mentioned there is “bipartisan opposition” to the less-than-desired 1 percent funding increases Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed in his education budget plan.

Committee chair Sen. Chuck Wiger laid over both bills for possible inclusion in the Senate omnibus education bill. Wiger said there would be additional discussion about these bills in the near future.

***

Sen. Kari Dziedzic also introduced SF 398 Wednesday. This bill would provide funding for collaborative urban educator recruitment and training programs at Concordia University (St. Paul), the University of St. Thomas, Hamline University and Augsburg College. Each institution must prepare a detailed report regarding the funds used for the Legislature by January 15 of each year. The report must include the number of teachers prepared as well as “the diversity of each cohort of teachers produced.”

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the Senate education omnibus bill.

***

Another bill that was laid over after some discussion was Sen. Melissa Wiklund’s SF 558.

Wiklund’s proposal would give school districts or cooperatives the option to allocate up to 50 percent of its compensatory revenue to school sites according to a plan adopted by the school board.

“This would increase school board flexibility, allowing school board decide how best to allocate the money,” Wiklund said.

Bloomington Assistant Superintendent Chris Lennox testified in support of the bill. “This bill would provide us with more flexibility … to close the gaps and educate our children,” he said.

Richfield Superintendent Steve Unowsky and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Superintendent Jane Berenz also testified in favor of this proposed legislation.

Pratt also spoke positively about this bill as another local-control tool. “The best decisions are made close to the classroom,” he said.

***

Sen. Hoffman’s SF 564 would amend school lunch aid law. The bill proposes that the state must pay school districts (and other participants) taking part in the national school lunch program 16 cents (up from 12.5 cents) for each full-paid and free-student lunch and 56 cents (up from 52.5 cents) for each reduced-price lunch served to students.

Minnetonka Director of Nutrition Jane Bender said that while new federal regulations have helped add quality and nutrition to school meals (through produce and whole grains), it has also led to additional costs.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the Senate education omnibus bill.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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