Value education

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, January 16, 2013

There’s good news for Minnesota schools coming out of the Capitol lately. Legislators are pushing to repay school districts statewide the about $1.1 billion debt owed in state aid shift delays, a welcome measure of support for schools and a sign the state is serious about educating students.

The state has at various times shifted school aid payments in order to maintain a decent cashflow for government budgets, at the expense of school districts counting on that money to pay their own bills. The shift splits the money districts would normally receive in any given year, giving districts a large percentage of its total yearly funding on time, and paying the rest the following year.

In 2011, legislators borrowed more than $700 million against state aid by changing the shift formula from 70/30 to 60/40, meaning districts receive 60 percent of the funding owed that year and get the remaining 40 percent the next year. Districts still get the money they’re owed, but far later than they should. The state changed the formula once again a couple months ago, to 64.3/35.7.

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It’s a cheap accounting trick, and all schools are affected by it. Austin Public Schools receives 84 percent of its general fund money from the state’s per pupil aid payments, and about $35 million of its general fund balance this year comes from state aid. With millions of dollars on the line, it’s only right local legislators support paying schools the money they’re owed as soon as possible.

Yet we find ourselves in agreement with Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, who told the Herald Tuesday how state legislators need to ensure Minnesota’s economy continues to grow, so the state never needs to borrow from schools again. Let’s hope Poppe, local Sen. Dan Sparks and other state legislators follow through on that idea and show they truly value education in Minnesota.