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Will This Legislative Session Hurt More Than It Helps?

The Legislative Session is in its final period before the gavel falls for adjournment on May 22. It has been a busy session, with thousands of bills introduced and public education near the top of the agenda.

The Governor and legislative leaders have promised “historic funding” for Minnesota schools. But, you are NOT hearing much about the proposed historic new mandates that will increase costs for schools greatly. 

We want to thank our local legislators for their service to our community and advocacy for our schools during a challenging session. They have been responsive and agree with our priorities for increasing school funding and protecting local control from new mandates.

Right now, several bills being considered would increase costs for our district so much that the added cost would be more than the ‘historic investment’ promised by the Governor.

As employers, our district is concerned about the added costs associated with the new Family and Medical Leave Act and changes to unemployment law for hourly school employees. We understand that family and medical leave and unemployment benefits are important for employees. We ask the state to fund the changes and cover the added costs fully. Local districts rely on the state as our primary source of funding. It is not responsible for the state to give us $1 and require us to spend $3.

We have been watching the activity at the legislature closely. By some estimates, added revenue to our school district could equal $3.6 - $4.8 million. However, those same bills could cost our district more than $12 million. Furthermore, some mandates would erode local control.

The legislature often talks about “percent increases” in funding. To provide context, a 1% increase on the education formula for our Cambridge-Isanti Schools budget represents only $375,000. The state is discussing a 4% increase on the education formula, which is less than inflation (currently at 6%). 

Public schools, specifically rural public schools, have been underfunded for the last two decades. Since 2001, when the state made major changes in education funding, education funding has averaged only 0% - 2% annually — less than inflation. As a result, schools have tightened their belts, stretched dollars and asked local taxpayers for additional support.

In 2021, the state claimed “historic funding” for schools and passed a 4% increase for 2022 and a 2% increase for 2023. In both years, inflation was at 6%. We are asking for stable funding linked to inflation without additional mandates. The state has a history of underfunding mandates.

The most notable underfunding is in the area of Special Education. State and federal laws mandate services for special education, and the law says the state will reimburse districts for those services. However, the state has never appropriated enough money to cover the costs. Therefore local districts have paid the costs. This year, we have asked the state to fund at least 50% of those costs, which are substantial in every school district. We are hopeful they will honor that request.

Our requests to state legislators have been simple:

  • Increase the basic formula allowance by 5% annually for fiscal years 2024-25.

  • Increase special education funding by 40% to partially cover current mandates

  • Fund targeted staff development and career pathway initiatives.

  • Improve funding for student mental health support.

  • Protect local control by resisting or funding new mandates.

We hope to raise awareness about the challenges our school district will face if the new mandates cost more than the state funds. Over the last four years, we have worked hard to stabilize our budget. We have prioritized fiscal responsibility. We ask our state leaders to do the same. If we receive $4 million in new funding and $8 million in new mandates, please cover the added costs of new mandates, so we can continue to be fiscally responsible.

Nate Rudolph

Superintendent


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