Disagreement threatens to derail plan to swap school trust lands

Lawmakers are fighting over a proposed exchange of land between the federal and state governments.

The land in question is school trust land that is supposed to help pay for public education. But thousands of acres in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness can't be logged or mined, or sold, depriving schools of the profits.

The DNR and the U.S. Forest Service have been negotiating a deal that would trade other federal land for one-third of the school trust parcels, and pay cash for the remaining two-thirds.

The whole debate is hypocritical, said Rep. Bill Hilty, D-Finlayson.

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"If we're really concerned about the children, why don't we just fund education the way we ought to," Hilty said.

Trust lands, currently provide about $27 per student annually. Typically, the state pays about $9,500 per student annually.

But some northeastern Minnesota lawmakers don't like the idea of a money exchange; they say having more state land would create jobs in logging and mining, and would be a more secure source of income for schools.

Rep. David Dill, D-Crane Lake, said a bill under consideration would violate the state constitution. He said a simple exchange of land would work better.

"That land in the wilderness should belong to the federal government," Dill said. "We should do it in accordance with the constitution, and then we should mine, log, and lease the hell out of that land that we get in the change."

Environmental groups fear losing federal protections on the land that would be turned over to the state.