How are Minnesota’s schools on the brink of collapse a year after a historic spending hike?

A little over nine months ago, the Minnesota Reformer reported:

Minnesota legislative leaders reached an education budget agreement Tuesday, just over a week before the June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a budget or risk not being able to send payments to school districts. 

The agreement lays out funding levels for new and existing programs, including a boost to the general education funding formula and millions for initiatives aimed at hiring more teachers of color.

Earlier in the spring, Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders agreed to set the target for new education spending at $525 million above the current base spending level, totaling more than $20.5 billion. The vast majority of the new spending will go toward increasing the general education funding formula — the complicated equation that sets minimum funding levels for school districts — by 2.45% in 2022 and 2% in 2023. That will cost nearly $463 million, according to state Sen. Charles Wiger, the DFL lead on the Senate Education Committee. 

The funding formula increase comes as somewhat of a surprise. It exceeds initial proposals from both parties — the DFL-controlled House called for a 2% increase in both years, while the GOP-majority Senate’s budget included no increase.

All in all, this amounted to the largest increase in the K-12 education formula in fifteen years. And yet, it seems that Minnesota schools still do not have enough money.

Last week, senators from both main parties as well as independents voted on a budget that would cut Minnesota’s bottom rate of state income tax from 5.35 percent to 2.80 percent. The response from Education Minnesota — the union which represents the interests of the state’s teachers — has been outrage. Their Twitter account lists one school district after another which is, we are told, on the verge of catastrophe unless billions of dollars are plowed into them immediately.

This, remember, comes just nine months after an increase of half a billion dollars.

What on earth is going on in the state’s schools that a 15-year-high funding increase didn’t touch the sides? How can it be that dumping those hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s schools in 2021 made so little difference that they will soon be in dire straits unless we now dump in a few extra billion? And how do we know that these further billions will do the trick when vast infusions of cash have, apparently, had no impact before?

It isn’t more funding that our state’s schools need so much as an audit.