Education in Rural Minnesota

The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state. Article 13, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution.

As a school board member I understand first hand that there are many issues facing public education, three of the most prominent are funding, local control and education reform.

The largest portion of Minnesota’s budget is funding for K-12 education, which comprises approximately 40 percent of general fund revenues. Are we investing enough in public education? The answer is a matter of fierce public debate and varies by location. What is true is that the state dollars appropriated to school districts vary widely, and ranges from roughly $7,000-$11,000 per student. State funding accounts for 90 percent of the total and local operating levies add another 10 percent. In many cases, Minneapolis and St. Paul schools receive as much as $3-5,000 more per student, than schools in western and northwestern Minnesota.

School funding is very complex, and many factors enter into how many dollars districts receive, and when they receive those dollars. However, in principle, I believe that “a student is a student” no matter where they attend school and that to the largest extent possible, funding should be equalized. A student in Morris, Breckenridge or Browns Valley Minnesota should be funded at the same level as a student in Minneapolis, St. Paul or Bloomington.

In the area of funding, it appears that the Department of Education assumes that the costs of education in rural areas are much lower than in urban areas. In reality, most of the costs are the same. Heating, educational materials, school meals, electricity and capital items are all very similar if not identical in cost. In fact, one higher cost is that of transportation. Rural busses typically run more miles per student than do those in an urban setting. Also the costs of driving to other similar-sized schools for extracurricular events are often much higher due to increased distances traveled.

Education funding will inevitably continue to be a huge issue at the capitol and while

I am nowhere near an expert, if elected to the House of Representatives District 12A, I will work with local superintendents and staff to better understand the funding challenges faced by our local school districts so that I am able to effectively articulate the unique needs of the school districts in House 12A District. Secondly, local school boards often face burdensome state controls where a “one-size-fits-all” approach is imposed on individual schools. This approach ignores the particular needs of smaller rural schools. Typically, the needs and problems of urban and suburban schools are quite different from those of rural Minnesota.

One of the biggest problems is that of unfunded mandates. The state mandates a costly rule but does not give any financial aid to the local district in order to comply with the new regulation. When mandates are not funded, the local districts must reallocate scarce resources to comply with the mandate. This is often at the expense of quality education. My position is that the state should fully fund what it mandates, or, at a minimum, work toward that goal over a specified period of time.

Local school districts also need local control to address their unique problems. Often the frustrated school boards are left feeling that they only have the authority to set the school hours. Discipline of students, labor relations, and school related social and family issues are best accomplished following local standards. This approach is preferable to the heavy hand from St. Paul. I will vigorously defend the right of rural school boards to enjoy the self-government needed to run an efficient school.

There are many other issues facing our education system. Please share your concerns with me whether you agree with my position or disagree, I welcome your thoughts, input, and constructive criticism. Only working together will we be able to put Minnesota’s priorities first.