Column: Wrapping up the just-done legislative sessionWORTHINGTON — The legislative session is over for 2010! For those watching what was happening to education this year was like sitting through a three-act mystery play.
By: Linden Olson, District 518, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The legislative session is over for 2010! For those watching what was happening to education this year was like sitting through a three-act mystery play. There were unexpected twists and turns, and the final act went into overtime. Some of the factors involved were an election year, a lame duck governor, a Minnesota Supreme Court decision, and a standoff between Education MN and Gov. Pawlenty,
So what was the fate of public education this year? The basic funding formula was left unchanged. In a year where there were cuts to many budget items, that was good. But it means any increased costs because of inflation or higher wages and benefits already in negotiated contracts must be borne by local school districts. After the Minnesota Supreme Court declared last year’s unallotments by Gov. Pawlenty unconstitutional, there was uncertainty how the legislature would solve the fiscal situation the decision created. Would there be cuts to education in order to make budget changes? In short order, the unallotments were passed into law with no harm to education.
The legislature made no cuts to K-12 basic education funding possible by shifting more of the school payments into the next fiscal year. For this year the shift was 23 percent, which means that 23 percent of the money the state said it would pay to local school districts in this fiscal year will not be paid until several months into the next fiscal year. For the 2001-12 school year, the 23 percent goes to 30 percent. In the 2012-13 school year, the shift is to return to 10 percent. For many school districts this means they will have to borrow money to cover short-term operating costs, and others may have to cut personnel or programs to avoid going into debt. This shifting merely passes the deficit problem off to the next legislature. The state deficit is approaching $6 billion, and education funding is a large part of non-entitlement spending. Future legislative sessions will determine if some or all of the payment shifts will be cancelled, and local school districts will have to make deeper cuts or find additional revenue sources from local taxpayers (levies) and/or raising school related fees. There is a limit to how long and how much education funding can be shifted from one fiscal year to the next.
Because Gov. Pawlenty and Education Minnesota could not reach an agreement on alternative teacher licensure believed by the governor to be needed for Minnesota to compete for federal funding in the Race to The Top (RTT) grants, Minnesota will not get any of these federal stimulus funds after the 2010-11 school year. This impasse will cost Minnesota a chance to apply for $250 to 500 million of RTT funds.
Little else was done that concerned education. A bill to put all teachers in a state-wide insurance pool was passed but was vetoed by the governor. There were a few educational policy bills that were introduced and got hearings in committees, but with neither political party wanting to give the other party any ammunition for the coming election, little of importance was accomplished.
For the Worthington school district with its growing school enrollment, sound fiscal management and a taxpayer-supported levy in place, it means few changes. For smaller districts with declining enrollments and districts with little or no levy support, it means cutting programs or personnel or both. How the economy performs over the next two years and how the state legislature reacts to the budget deficit are critical to the future of public education funding in Minnesota.
Linden Olson is a member of the District 518 Board of Education.