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home : opinion : editorial
December 14, 2019


11/13/2019 10:59:00 AM
Funding for schools

Last week marked one of the quietest November elections our region has seen in several years - except for areas with school referendums.
There were about 70 school referendums in Minnesota. Some involved tax increases to fund repairs, additions, or new buildings. Some sought tax increases to cover day-to-day operations.
As we step back and examine all of these referendums, we have to wonder, are Minnesota's lawmakers paying attention? Do they recognize our state education system has room for major improvement, especially in the way we fund education?
Many residents noted that the Worthington School district voters approved a building referendum after six failed efforts. Jackson County Central voters also passed a building referendum.
We have no beef with how building projects are funded. The state has stepped up to help districts with critical maintenance projects. Also, the state fixed a tax system for school building projects that unfairly placed a greater burden on farmland owners.
However, there remains a "blind spot," in terms of state funding for school operations. That blind spot involves the "operating levy" - the additional tax that residents in less affluent areas pay to fund day-to-day operations.
If state lawmakers are paying attention, they should realize that dozens of districts are forced to lean on these operating levies.
This year, 40 Minnesota's districts put operating levy referendums on the ballot. There would have been more, if not for the fact that many already have operating levies in place. You can bet once those levies expire (operating levies can run no longer than 10 years), there will be votes to extend those levies.
Again, if lawmakers are paying attention they know this situation is a clear example of "haves vs. "have nots" - districts that have high tax bases and those that do not. Here is an illustration - involving two similar-sized districts that face class size issues:
• District A has a huge tax base, meaning it has the funds to provide the resources, staffing and opportunities students need at a cost that is less per household.
• District B has a limited tax base, meaning that - thanks to the "blind spot" - when it passes an operating levy to provide those same elements, local taxpayers pay more per assessed valuation.
Some may say these operating levies are optional. If that's the case, why are so many in place?
Sure, we can vote "no," on operating levies, but we all know this leads to program cuts. That only widens the gap between the "haves" and "have nots."
It makes us wonder, what if lawmaker pay were handled using this same system? How long would it stay in place?
    - Rahn Larson







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