For many across Greater Minnesota, schools are the pride of their community. Generations of students have studied in the same classrooms and value the education they received in their home towns. Unfortunately, our state’s reputation for educational excellence hasn’t translated to modern, clean, or even safe school buildings in many corners of our state. Classrooms are often in desperate need of repair; in some cases, rainwater actually pours through holes in the roof. Schools across rural Minnesota have reported insufficient funding to remove asbestos tile, install tighter security measures, or to simply replace decades-old carpets.
Forest Lake Elementary School’s heating system is over 60 years old, with no replacement in sight. A school in Mora desperately needs repair, forcing residents to make a choice between raising their own property taxes and patching holes in their school’s roof. Our communities should not be divided in this way. These are real problems facing our school buildings, and they require a thoughtful solution.
Under current state law, 25 of the state’s largest school districts are able to access a separate pool of resources: the alternative facilities revenue program. This has allowed them to maintain clean, functional, and safe school facilities. The problem is that rural schools also have old buildings to fix, but can’t access even half of the maintenance funding per pupil that large metro districts can. Forced to rely on costly, nearly constant property tax levies, our rural communities and our schools are falling behind. That’s why I have authored legislation to phase the state’s smaller districts into the program and bring the rest of Minnesota up to this higher standard that we expect and deserve.
Based on recommendations of the School Facilities Financing Working Group, my bills would finally put rural and suburban districts on equal footing with their metro neighbors by leveling the funding playing field. Minnesota should level the playing field for all of our schools, not just the top 25, by giving them the tools they need to make urgent repairs. I also propose to streamline three cumbersome funding programs to bring more clarity to how school maintenance is financed and help all Minnesota students now and into the future- not just those in the largest districts.
To create equity with larger districts, the locally elected school boards of those districts new to the alternative facilities revenue program would have more flexibility to determine, with input from their communities and the Education Commissioner, how to best manage and finance the school districts they were elected to serve.
We have a responsibility to all students throughout the state. The investments we have made in education over the last two years will not be as effective if our students don’t have a clean and safe environment to study in. Even at modest funding levels, reforming the way we fund what should be routine maintenance would give our rural schools the stability they need to plan for the future.
For more information, contact Bryan Wells at 651-296-5561.