Minnesota schools face deficits despite budget increase

Many Minnesota school districts face budget deficits despite the biggest single spending increase in last year's bipartisan two-year $540 million budget deal in education funding.

At least 28 school districts in the Twin Cities area say they'll likely have to cut staff and services if the Legislature doesn't give public schools some of the state's projected $1.3 billion surplus, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said state funding continues to lag behind the rising cost of educating students with a growing number of special needs.

Scott Croonquist
Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News 2007

Minnesota districts face a $1 billion-a-year gap in the programs they are mandated to provide — and the state and federal funding to pay for it.

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Until that is addressed, “We will be back here every year,” said Croonquist, who surveys his 41-member districts each year about their finances.

Pre-pupil education spending at $12,647 is slightly higher than the national average of $12,201, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The average teacher salary is $57,782, ranking Minnesota 20th in the country, slightly less than the $60,477 average.

On average, teacher salaries have increased a little more than 2 percent a year over the past two years, according to data from Education Minnesota, the state teachers union.

But it’s more than the 2 percent per year the Legislature has added to the general funding formula that schools receive for day-to-day operations.

This year, Minnesota will spend close to $10 billion to educate nearly 900,000 students.

School-spending watchdogs say districts need to live within their means. They argue that districts are too generous with union contracts and benefits for staff that make up about 80 percent of operating costs.

“We have other priorities right now,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, who chairs the tax committee in the GOP-led Senate.

The chances for more money will come after the $1 billion of the budget surplus that lawmakers want to give back to taxpayers, he said.