ST. PAUL, Minn. — On Tuesday, the Education Finance Committee heard testimony on a bill to increase flexibility for school boards to raise necessary revenue for their schools and make funding options fairer for school districts in low property-wealth areas (SF 866). Chief author Senator Bonnie Westlin (DFL-Plymouth) testified in support of the bill alongside superintendents from Greater Minnesota and Metro schools and a high school student.
“We want to make sure that we are getting money to our districts who desperately need it and try to bring some equalization to our school districts across the state,” said Senator Westlin. “This bill will help schools keep teachers in classrooms, fund programs that make learning a joyful experience for students, and prevent hard decisions caused by funding shortfalls.”
“Over the past couple of budget cycles, my district has experienced significant budget shortfalls. Our shortfalls are not the result of poor budget planning or even the pandemic. Our budget challenges are due to state funding not keeping pace with inflation and our students not qualifying for much categorical aid, factors largely outside of our control,” said Ann-Marie Foucalt, superintendent at St. Michael-Albertville Schools. “Recently, we cut $7.3 million and 77 staff members. Our class sizes are very high with classes approaching 30 in kindergarten and grade 1, 42 in grade 5, and the low 40s in our core classes at our high school… This has taken a toll on our staff, as we have seen many high quality staff members leave due to having to do more with much less. This includes 53 teachers who left just last year. To make matters worse, our school board is grappling with another $1.7 million deficit. Needless to say, this bill will provide financial relief and would stabilize funding for my district and all Minnesota school districts.”
“I’m here on behalf of 11,000 Minnetonka students,” said Arjav Krishna, student at Minnetonka High School. “This bill will allow for greater funding for students both at my school and at my district but also across the state… Despite perceptions that my school is one of the highest funded out there, I’ve learned it’s one of the lowest in the West Metro area. With rising labor and supply costs, we need to have other methods apart from the formula to reduce cross subsidies and the local option revenue is one of those methods… With more funding for schools, we can foster inspiration and bring learning to flourish throughout the state.”
Presently, school boards may increase per pupil revenue up to $724 with school board approval; SF 866 would increase that to $840 per pupil. This bill would provide more state aid to support lower property wealth districts and allow them to benefit similar to higher property wealth districts. The bill would almost double the funding for property-poor districts than it does for districts that have higher property wealth. In the 2025 fiscal year, this bill could generate as much as $101 million in additional local optional aid, which is $116 per student.
The committee laid SF 866 over for inclusion in an omnibus bill.