School funding remains unequal

The school districts in red receive 1 to 308 fewer dollars than the state average as part of the most recent injection of additional money from the state. Districts in yellow received $1 to $275 more than the state average. Milaca receives $208 fewer than the state average.

Mille Lacs County Times

About 25 people attended the presentation on school district funding inequality given by Milaca Superintendent Jerry Hansen last Thursday night at the Dahlager Theatre.

The premise behind the presentation was the fewer dollars given for per-pupil state funding to east central Minnesota school districts limits opportunities for students in the area.

“Our districts have very homogeneous student demographics and that means we get the very least in terms of state funding,” Hansen told the audience.

Compounding the problem, these districts tend to be “property poor” — meaning there are not enough properties and few high value properties that make passing levies more difficult in these districts.

“The Minnesota Constitution is very, very clear,” Hansen said. “Your zip code and address should not determine the type of education you receive.”

Funding shifts and delays

The recent slew of school funding delays was also attributed to causing funding difficulties in Milaca and surrounding districts.

“You’ve heard of funding shifts,” Hansen said. “They’ve been in the news, but they’re not new.”

In 2009, the state kept 27 percent of the funding it promised Minnesota schools. In 2010, that percentage was increased to 30. By 2011-2012, the state had withheld 40 percent of funding school districts need to operate. In an attempt to appease frustrated administration and school boards, the last legislative session agreed to a small boost in the per pupil funding formula. Hansen explained Milaca received an “extra” $280 per pupil this year, but it was still $208 fewer than the state average.

“We borrowed $4 million so we didn’t have a cash flow problem this year,” he said.

Milaca is ranked 309th out of the 336 Minnesota school districts in terms of state funding. Hansen said the property tax reform measures enacted in 2001 have made that ranking cause a stark contrast between educational opportunities in districts like Milaca compared to suburban districts. The reform removed the parameters that pooled property taxes and distributed them equally throughout the state.

“That forced local school districts to go for more operating levies,” Hansen said. “And because our property values are low, you have to pay more to educate your children.”

For the full story, see the Thursday, March 29 print edition of the Times.