Dayton wants $138 million in “emergency” funding to cover school district budget deficits

Governor Dayton called on Minnesota legislators Tuesday to disperse $138 million in “emergency” school funding across every district in the state. Dayton says it’s a one-time funding response to 59 school districts facing budget deficits and possible teacher layoffs.

But budget gaps are nothing new in Minnesota schools, despite lawmakers continually increasing K-12 funding.

“The Legislature has increased school funding every year—including significant new dollars above and beyond built-in increases for the 2018-2019 school years,” stated Senator Carla Nelson, who chairs the Senate’s E-12 Finance Committee. “These budget shortfalls are not of the state’s making.”

The 2015 education bill increased funding over the increases already in the forecast by $525 million (3.1 percent).

The 2017 education bill increased funding over the increases already in the forecast by $483 million (2.6 percent). On a biennium-to-biennium comparison (no forecast), the spending increase was $1.33 billion. The bill also included back-to-back 2 percent increases in school revenue, amounting to $245 per student.

Districts continue to see red because what they plan to spend and the revenue they receive do not match up. Essentially, they spend above their means.

Sen. Nelson continued, “The truth is, some school districts have not been realistic about how much they can afford to pay their employees, and have entered into union contracts that are squeezing classroom budgets.”

Representative Jenifer Loon, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee, stated “schools need a long-term solution to their perennial budget problems,” as reported by MPR News.

“It may help a few districts get through the year,” Loon continued, “but many reports I’ve seen of schools welcoming the additional money have said they’re still going to move forward with cuts.”

The Robbinsdale Area Schools District faces a $10.6 million gap that is “forcing the district to consider cutting 73 staff positions,” according to the Star Tribune. School board President John Vento told the Strib he “welcomed the help. But with such a large shortfall, he did not think it would be enough to avoid layoffs.”

Nor was the shortfall enough to keep the Robbinsdale Area School Board members from increasing their own stipends.

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District has a $6.7 million deficit, but its school board reached a tentative agreement that increases total employee compensation $6 million over two years (an 8.5 percent increase of salaries and benefits).

Would Gov. Dayton’s emergency funding stop the deficit bleed? Or does it just slap a band-aid on a much deeper problem?