Crandall guest commentary: LSSD calls for predictable, forecasted state funding
In Lake Superior, we want students that reach their full potential and are ready for their next level of education by being well-educated, prepared and community-oriented. But we can't do it alone. We rely on state funding.
We thank Rep. Rob Ecklund, Rep. Mary Murphy and Sen. Tom Bakk for the increases in education funding in the previous biennium. Now is the time to fix education funding going into the future.
Schools like ours need Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Legislature this session to fulfill the state's 2003 promise to adequately fund public schools with part of the $1.54 billion state surplus.
State funding has not kept up with inflation since 2003. That stacks up to nearly $600 per pupil in the Lake Superior School District, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
This underfunding has led the Lake Superior Schools to cut music, academic coaches and classroom teachers in the elementary that provide opportunities for students. It also prevents schools from effectively planning and executing on our community's vision for education.
This $600 gap per pupil is especially troublesome for greater Minnesota school districts like us, the Lake Superior School District, along with many other rural districts that are more dependent on the basic formula than metro area districts that have greater access to local operating referendum revenue due to higher household incomes and property wealth.
Local voters across the state have had to fill the gap for basic education services. In our community, local voters have supported Lake Superior Schools in the past for a building bond in 2004. Our schools have not had any additional local operating funds voter approved by our communities. We operate solely on the basic formula and local operating revenue.
The Lake Superior School District supports Go. Walz's platform.
"Communities should not be reliant entirely on local property taxes to fund schools — that's a recipe for racial and geographic disparities," Gov. Walz said in his platform.
In addition to supporting the governor's platform, the Lake Superior School Board supports Gov. Walz's goals.
"Our goal is to make referendums rare or extinct," Gov. Walz said to a packed ballroom of school board members at the Minnesota School Boards Convention on Jan. 17.
Gov. Walz advocated during his inaugural address for "One Minnesota Vision," where a child's education is not determined by his or her zip code.
In his platform, Gov. Walz said his administration will "fully and equitably fund our schools and reject the budgetary gimmicks we've used in the past, because all kids should have access to a high quality education regardless of their zip code."
Together with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, he said they "will ensure funding for our schools that is not only stable, but equitable."
In his December press conference on his budget plans, he called on Minnesota lawmakers to have an honest conversation about the impact of inflation. We agree.
Meeting the needs of students requires 3 percent and 3 percent on the student funding formula this biennium and predictable, forecasted increases above inflation into the future.
This would provide predictable budgeting and enable Lake Superior Schools to continue to provide existing programming in our schools to meet our student needs, and to invest in our students through providing opportunities like STEM specific programming, academic coaches to provide interventions, and mental health workers or counselors in our buildings for our students.
Without the approval of 3 percent and 3 percent and predictable, forecasted increases above inflation this legislative session, Lake Superior Schools would need to reduce activities, increase class sizes, decrease supply budgets and reduce curricular investments.
"A child's chance to succeed should not depend on living in a particular zip code," Walz says in his platform. "If we're serious about every child's future, let's do what works. We need resources in all schools so students have the support professionals they need (nurses and school counselors), more one-on-one time to learn, inviting classrooms and a well-rounded curriculum."
Using the state's general fund is the most equitable, stable and responsible way to have local communities address the needs of their students.
Join us in calling on Gov. Walz and the Legislature this session to step forward for students and fulfill the state's constitutional requirement to adequately fund education. Our students — and their future — depend on it.
William Crandall, Ph.D, is superintendent of Lake Superior Schools.