Libby Kantner, Jan. 29, 2013

Testimony by Libby Kantner, SEIU Local 284, to House Education Finance Committee, January 29, 2013

Hello. My name is Libby Kantner. I am the political director for SEIU Local 284. I would like to start by giving the committee a brief history of the general education levy. Throughout my presentation I will be referencing this handout which includes data and graphs from the Minnesota Department of Education. First enacted in 1950, the General Education Levy is a state-wide property tax that has a unified rate. In 1971 under the “Minnesota Miracle” Act an equalizing state aid component was added to the program in order to decrease the funding discrepancies between property-tax poor and property-tax rich districts. This means, for example, if District A’s 3% tax rate only generated 30$, whereas the same tax rate in District B generated $100, then the state would give District A $70 dollars to make up the difference.

In 2001, the General Education Levy was overturned. At the time the state had a surplus and the state government paid for 75% of the education budget that year, as you can see on the graph on page 1. There was a plan to pay for future years with the money generated from a sales tax proposal. However, that proposal did not pass and the following years the state did not have enough funds to adequately finance Minnesota schools. With no revenue coming in from the General Ed. Levy, districts were forced to go to the voters with local referendums.

Since the overturn of the General Ed. Levy the number of local school levies has risen to an all-time high of an estimated 2,328 in 2014. (Please see page 2) This has led to certain districts that can pass levies to pay outrageously high property-taxes and other districts that cannot to make drastic cuts to their education programs. The North Branch school district, for example, has tried and failed to pass six separate levies. Strapped for cash they have moved to 4-day school weeks. Not helpful in this is the fact that many parents, concerned about their children’s education are pulling their students out of districts like North Branch, and effectively taking that per pupil funding allotment to a different, better funded district.

SEIU and its coalition partners belief the best way to return to a “uniform” system of public schools across the state, as required by law, is to reinstate the General Education Levy. This would be an equalized levy. Current local levies would be folded into it and as they phased out the state-wide levy would take over.

Governor Dayton’s budget proposal provides adequate education funding for this biennium, however, the proposal does nothing to ensure education funding in the future. As you can see from the graph on page 3 of the handout the percent of the state budget spent on education has varied drastically since 1970. Minnesota’s children need a dedicated source of funding for their education is not in jeopardy with each legislative session. The general education levy would provide this.

Not only would the general education levy address the need for long-term, stable education funding in Minnesota, it would also work to equalize education funding across the state-one of this committee’s goals. The adequacy of our children’s education should not be based on their address, and yet, over the past 12 years that is exactly what has happened. The graph on page 4 illustrates the funding disparity between the highest funded districts in the state and the lowest. As you can see, the disparity has been rising since 2006.

Finally, before I turn it over to our executive director, Carol Nieters, I would like to make a final point. The general education levy as proposed by the working group has a 0 levy target, meaning that state-wide there would be no change in the bottom-line of property taxes. Additionally, for 63% of school districts the general education levy would mean property tax relief. Please look in your packet for what this would mean for the school districts in your region. These calculations are based on the education working group’s recommendations which you will be hearing more about tomorrow from Dr. Melcher.

Now I would like to turn it briefly to Ms. Nieters to talk about how the reinstitution of the General Education Levy would affect SEIU’s members and Minnesota’s children.