Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.



MinnBEST doesn't take a position on how it gets done. Don't raise taxes or do, raise fees or don't, go further into debt or don't, but fund the schools. Maybe we just need to take up a collection or the Governor can take out an extra mortgage in Eagan.


Editorial K-12 funding/Voters say: Invest in schools

November 8, 2004

No clear pattern emerged in last week's election about Minnesotans' willingness to spend additional property-tax dollars on public education. Based on the results from 67 school referendum votes statewide, about half of the excess levy requests gained voter approval and half failed. Not surprisingly, citizens in more affluent areas tended to say yes, while those in less wealthy districts rejected school appeals for more funding.

Yet the reasons for many of the tax-increase requests, paired with significant DFL gains in House legislative seats, did confirm citizen concerns about the state's treatment of public education. These referendums were not for educational extras; in many cases, school boards asked for more dollars specifically because the Legislature failed to provide adequate funding for basic programs. Voters grew to understand that nearly $200 million in state cuts last year and previous, no-inflation funding increases for public education are not good enough.

Against that backdrop, many districts couldn't use their excess levy power as it was intended -- to provide capital funds for new buildings, deferred maintenance or to enhance, improve or expand class or equipment offerings. So they went to voters, hat in hand, just to keep afloat at current or reduced levels. After depleting reserves, going into debt and suffering layoffs, some needed additional help for operating expenses -- basic costs that are supposed to be covered by state support.

For example, according to a list compiled by the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Alexandria ballot issue requested funds to maintain class sizes, minimize cuts, avoid family transportation fees and maintain extracurricular programs. Blue Earth looked to offset decreased state funds and to reduce budget cuts.

Centennial and St. Michael-Albertville both wanted to restore 15 teaching positions and prevent further budget cuts and fee increases. Other districts, such Orono and St. Louis Park, sought to renew existing levies at higher rates, again for basic operations.

Another trend that clearly signaled citizen unhappiness with the state's handling of school funding was the addition of 13 DFLers to the Minnesota House. In many of those races, education was a central campaign issue that worked against both incumbent and new Republicans. Though GOP candidates tried to argue that they and Gov. Tim Pawlenty had "held education harmless," smart voters knew better. They watched their school districts lose staff, increase class sizes and fees, and reduce programs. Parents and others felt the pain when their principals sought donations of staples like Kleenex, paper and pencils, and asked their children to share books and other materials.

Parents also could see that while the state froze and reduced their school funding, the "no new taxes" pledges produced a trickle-down effect: Instead of state taxes, local taxes would go up. What the state failed to do for schoolchildren had to be made up in local school, city and county property taxes. Essentially, citizens in some north and western metro suburbs and parts of southern Minnesota turned to DFL candidates, in part, out of concern that the state has not done right by public school students.

Now the slim 68-66 GOP House majority and the governor cannot ignore what school communities and voters said loudly and clearly: Stop starving schools and start raising investments in K-12 education.