Bruce Klaehn: You have the power to affect school funding
The Minnesota Legislature is coming upon an extremely important juncture in its 2015 session. With roughly a month to go, numerous decisions critical to various Minnesotans are about to be made.
Among the most important statewide decisions is that of K-12 school funding for the next two years.
As things stand as of this writing, both legislative bodies have identified K-12 education budget targets at levels that fail to address years of inflationary impact on school budgets. This comes in spite of a very significant state budget surplus and follows several years of school underfunding relative to inflation as the state faced budget deficits.
In those times of deficits the legislative message could be summed up as, "We'd like to do more for schools, but we just can't." As a result, schools made budget cuts and sought local referendums.
Now, in the spring of 2015, our state projects an unprecedented surplus of just under $2 billion. Finally, it would seem lawmakers have the opportunity to address the growing inflation margin of past years, as well as ongoing facilities and technology needs currently going unmet in schools. But current budget targets do not reflect such thinking.
As things currently stand, the legislative message seems to be, "We could do more for schools to address past and current inflation factors, but we just won't." Instead, significant tax reductions, even possible rebates, have been offered as a "use" of this surplus, while your local school system is forced to once again address inflation in one of the two manners available to us: staff and program reductions or a referendum to increase local property taxes.
The time has come for Minnesota residents to seriously ask why this is taking place. I suggest that question in light of the information provided by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Minnesota schools are not absorbing more money from the earnings of our residents. It's hard to understand why this current surplus should be "given back" in light of this trend, especially when added funds are needed by schools to meet years of inflationary pressure on their budgets. This isn't money schools "want." It's money schools require to cover increasing costs and meet ongoing needs.
During my years in school leadership, it has been repeatedly confirmed that the person with the most influence on the choices made by legislators is the voter. School leaders and their professional organizations are providing information and holding discussions with lawmakers, but it's the messages of local residents and voters that have the greatest impact on lawmakers.
These are your schools, Minnesota. A rebate or a tax cut is always welcome, but is it the best decision in light of what has been going on in school funding over the years? You have the power to tell your representatives how to best use tax dollars, with the quality of the education of your children and grandchildren at stake.
Tell the governor and your representatives that, in light of the budget surplus and previous under-funding years, you want significant increases to the K-12 Education budget targets for this legislative session.
The time is now, and the person needing to act is you. On behalf of the student in a smaller class or one continuing to particpate in a program saved, thank you very much.