While Minnesota legislators deserve a grade of A when it comes to school funding, school boards across the state should do their homework to not only make schools whole from pandemic cuts but also look for ways to improve and innovate.
The Legislature approved a bipartisan school funding bill that provided the biggest school funding increase in 15 years, with a 2.5% and 2% increase in each of the next two years. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it is a significant boost to budgets battered when enrollment declined during the pandemic.
While the funding does not include new mandates and lets local schools make decisions on where the money should go, there was also money earmarked for early childhood programs, affordable day care, mental health support, summer programs, diversifying teacher ranks and long underfunded special education programs.
Some educators, like Duluth Supt. Dan John Magas, said the budget created “exciting times” for education. “We have had a shift, a major reset,” he told the Star Tribune. We share his optimism and can see great opportunities for the funding at local schools that have a reputation for innovating.
Still, some schools face budget struggles and have plans to lay off teachers due to enrollment losses during the pandemic. And even with enrollment lower, schools still have the same fixed costs for running school buildings and providing services.
In June, the Mankato Area Public Schools Board approved $7.5 million in budget cuts and cut 100 staff positions. Those cuts were made on an assumption of a 1% increase in state funding with the thought that anything over that would go toward replenishing reserves.
With new state money that will be a stable addition to yearly budgets, some of those cuts should be reconsidered.
Enrollment will continue to be the wild card. The Mankato schools and others are not anticipating regaining all the enrollment that was lost during the pandemic. Some students switched to private schools. Some may continue with distance learning or online learning.
The state funding increase for schools is unprecedented. Schools should not miss the opportunity to improve.