Editorial Roundup: Legislature: Education funding gets an A grade

Published 8:50 pm Friday, May 19, 2023

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It’s becoming more and more clear just how much a state can do when it has a near $18 billion surplus.

That windfall shows clearly in the recently passed K-12 education funding bill. It boosts total K-12 funding by about 10% over two years, an increase not seen in recent memory. The per pupil formula will go up 4% the first year, 2% the second year and be tied to inflationary increases not exceed 3% per year after that.

The annual gap in funding special education of about $700 million a year will be funded at half that, again, an historic increase.

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There’s $15 million for schools to add support staff such as counselors. The state’s ratio of students to counselors is woefully below the national average of 250 students for every one counselor. Minnesota’s ratio is around 400 to 500 to 1.

But along with funding come major reforms in how schools teach. The state will centralize reading instruction and let districts choose from three programs that are defined as science-based. In the past, school districts were on their own for reading curriculum.

There are new standards for graduation. Students must pass courses in government, citizenship and personal finance in order to graduate. School districts will have to develop an ethnic studies curriculum and allow students to take the class as one of their social studies requirements.

In all the bill provides $2.3 billion in new spending, making total spending about $23 billion over two years.

Republican critics of the DFL legislation say it creates more programs and more mandates that will put additional costs on school districts. It also allows hourly employees not working during the summer to file for unemployment payments at a cost of $120 million.

We’ve long advocated for increases in special education funding that has long been a mandate from the federal government but been underfunded by as much as 40%.

We’ve long advocated for more counselors and it appears the bill includes $64.4 million for 2024-25 and $117.7 million for 2026-27 to hire counselors, nurses and other support staff. Each district would get a minimum of $40,000. Getting to the national ratio of 250 students for one counselor should be the goal.

Increases in per pupil funding seem reasonable given inflation that is at a higher rate than it has been in decades. Many school costs are fixed and cannot be easily lowered. We hope with the additional per pupil money schools can get class sizes back down to reasonable levels that optimize learning.

And with the extraordinary increase in funding should come added accountability. Reader scores should be measured under the new system, and it should be modified or changed if scores still don’t improve — for all students.

Education stands as one of the best investments a society can make in its people. And great societies are judged by how well they take care of its youngest learners.

Minnesota has gone all in to solving long term funding issues that have eroded that investment over the years. New money should pay new dividends.

We give the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz a grade of “A” on education funding.

— Mankato Free Press, May 19

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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