Schools a top priority

Published 2:09 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Daily Herald editorial

The Minnesota Senate acted wisely this week in agreeing with the House that paying some of the billions of dollars that the state owes to local school districts is more important than rebuilding the government’s so-called “rainy day fund.” We hope that House and Senate versions of the bill can be speedily reconciled and sent to the governor for signature.

Over the years, lawmakers have balanced their budgets on the backs of public schools by refusing to pay the full amount that is owed the schools for aid. The $2.4 billion that is owed local schools is desperately needed to keep K-12 institutions operating. The same can’t be said of state budget reserves which, while nice to have, are certainly not more important than educating the children who represent Minnesota’s future. By its nature a budget reserve is designed to cushion the government against revenue shortfalls; but it strikes us that owing $2.4 billion is exactly the sort of shortfall that reserves should make up. Therefore, refilling reserve accounts ought to wait until the education obligation is fulfilled.

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Indeed, government reserve funds are questionable under any circumstances. Sure, having a reserve makes things easier for lawmakers and state money managers, but the reality is that reserves that are not in the state’s pockets will be left in the taxpayers’ wallets — assuredly a better place.

The Senate’s plan for repaying school districts is not an aggressive one. After an initial $430 million payment, the state would repay about $150 million per year — meaning it will take many years to make up $2.4 billion. But it’s a start. And it’s better than stockpiling a reserve.