Raising Expectations, Or Lowering Them?

In 1857, Minnesota adopted the Minnesota State Constitution providing for a uniform system of public schools. At the same time, the federal Enabling Act of 1857 granted Minnesota sections 16 and 36 of each public land survey township “for the purpose of being applied to the schools.” These school trust lands still exist and continue to provide revenues to the Permanent School Fund (PSF). In 1971, Minnesota created the per pupil formula by dividing existing state funds by school enrollment.  This aid was not connected in any way with what it actually costs to educate a child. In the 1990s, the per pupil formula increased an average of 1.14 percent per year, much less than inflation. Schools struggled to maintain programs and meet rising expectations with the costs of health insurance, transportation, heating and salaries increasing faster than aid received.

In Fiscal Year 1999, the Legislature began to provide property tax relief by increasing the portion of K-12 education funding paid with state aid. Minnesota had a surplus budget, so schools received an infusion of funds. The money, however, came attached with expensive state mandates requiring implementation of the Profiles of Learning, further testing and class size reductions.

In Fiscal Year 2001, the Legislature changed Minnesota tax law to take the majority of the public education cost burden off of local property taxes (effective FY 2003), but proposed legislation to create a new revenue stream never passed.

The State took on the responsibility of funding schools but failed
to establish a secure or stable revenue stream to pay for it.

In 2003, Minnesota adopted the Academic Standards for High Achievement.

In 2005, the Minnesota Department of Education announced plans to introduce the new Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA-IIs) in Spring 2006 based on the new standards.

Nowhere has there been a tally of the costs of implementing the new standards from revising curriculum and training teachers
to purchasing new text books and supporting curriculum materials.

Over the past two decades, school districts have seen:

  • Fuel prices go up
  • Utility fees like heat and electricity rise
  • Health insurance premiums skyrocket
  • Liability insurance premiums increase
  • Under-funded educational mandates multiply
  • Student populations with challenges to learning grow including poverty, learning disabilities and language barriers

Fewer dollars means fewer communities with schools and greater distances for children to travel, larger class sizes, fewer offerings (world languages, art and music programs), and less opportunities for extra-curricular activities (debate, math, science and language clubs, and athletics).  More students in fewer buildings means fewer leadership opportunities (student council seats) and less parent, family and community involvement.

At a time when we’re raising expectations for student achievement,
we’re being asked to lower our expectations of our schools.

Additional Resources

Declining State Support for Schools – Proposed legislation would prohibit local school boards from asking voters to support local school levies in even numbered years despite documentation showing declining state support for our schools, Parents United for Public Schools, 2011.

School District Revenue Fails to Keep Pace with Inflation – In inflation-adjusted dollars per pupil, total school district revenues have grown at an average rate of about one percent per year since FY 1996, Parents United for Public Schools, October 2006.

School District Revenue History – From 1984 to 2004, Minnesota education funding increased by an average of 1.4 percent per year when adjusted for student enrollment, inflation, building debt and special education. A simple analysis of total actual revenue change over time does not consider important factors beyond the control of school districts when calculating their relative financial position over time, House Fiscal Analysis, February 2006.

1849 – 2011 Minnesota School Finance History, Minnesota Department of Education, April 2012.

Historical Timeline of Public Education in the US – Applied Research Center.

Ongoing Media Coverage documenting declining state support and school district cuts.