‘Historic’ new education funding that still isn’t enough

I previously warned about celebrating the “historic” education funding the DFL-controlled legislature passed in 2023 given the overwhelming new mandates they attached to the new money.

Turns out, despite spending increases, $2 billion in “new” state aid doesn’t go very far when it comes with lots of strings. These mandates include requiring schools to stock menstrual products in boys’ bathrooms, provide free meals for all students, which could impact compensatory revenue, and allow seasonal hourly employees like bus drivers and cooks to participate in the unemployment insurance program. Not to mention the costs that will accompany all the new ethnic studies requirements.

While the math is still being calculated, the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts and others “estimate that up to half the $2.2 billion had already been earmarked for as many as 65 new mandates,” reports The 74.

“Now, district leaders statewide are scrambling to explain to their communities that, in fact, they are facing massive cuts,” continues The 74. “In many places, balancing the budget will mean layoffs or school closures.”

The state’s second-largest district, St. Paul Public Schools projects, a $150 million deficit for the 2024-25 academic year. Minneapolis Public Schools anticipates a $116 million shortfall. Even the most prosperous Twin Cities suburbs are stuck explaining the disconnect to families who moved there for their well-funded schools.

With student enrollment declines and federal relief aid spent or close to it (watch for my report on the topic coming soon), district budgets will need to be adjusted. Districts that used the one-time COVID money for long-term costs, such as hiring new positions, are finding that balancing the budget is “especially painful,” continues The 74.

“We misstepped,” the suburban news site CCX Media quoted [Robbinsdale school board member Kim] Holmes as saying. “This board misstepped, the administration misstepped. If we weren’t tracking historical decreased enrollment — and one of the biggest things they told us not to do with [COVID] dollars was hire positions — and we did it. So we have to come out and take some ownership.”