The Potluck

State aid per student has decreased by 20% in Minnesota in last two decades, report finds

By: - October 10, 2022 6:00 am

North Star Policy Action Executive Director Jake Schwitzer, front, points out the falling state funding per pupil in Minnesota school districts at a press conference on Friday, Oct. 7. Report author Jeff Van Wychen stands in the background. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

State aid per student has declined by 20% in the past 20 years, according to a new report by the progressive think tank North Star Policy Action.

Relying on Minnesota Department of Education data, the analysis found a sharp decline in per pupil aid once adjusted for inflation.

In the absence of help from the state, school districts have turned to levies — increases in property taxes — to support students and school programs. 

Property taxes have sharply increased in the last 20 years, though even this hike has not made up for the gap in state revenue, according to report author Jeff Van Wychen, who was a policy aide to former DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

Inflation-adjusted aid to the state’s school districts declined from $13,652 per student in fiscal year 2003 to a projected $10,983 per student in fiscal year 2023, according to the report.

“Every Minnesotan should see this falloff … and be afraid of it and hopefully demand action from representatives,” said Jake Schwitzer, executive director of North Star Policy Action.  

The most alarming aspect of the decline, Schwitzer said, is that Minnesota is sitting on a $9 billion budget surplus that could be given to districts to support students and teachers. Early this year, the DFL-controlled Minnesota House passed a bill to give $3 billion to education over three years, but it didn’t progress in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Over the next two years, all of Minnesota’s school districts are projected to see a decline in inflation-adjusted state aid, the report states.

Meanwhile, districts are enduring teacher shortages, while students struggle to catch up following COVID-19 disruptions. 

In the Osseo Area School District — northwest of Minneapolis — cuts to state funding have put teachers on edge, said Kelly Wilson, the local teacher union president. Their pay is not competitive, especially for hourly support staff, he said.

Teachers are leaving the profession altogether because other industries offer higher pay and less stress, Wilson said.

“You can go down to Papa John’s and they’ve got a sign saying they’re hiring pizza drivers at $25 an hour,” Wilson said. “That’s up to $9 more than what a lot of our starting hourly workers are making. We’re not in the competition at all.”

Even as districts struggle with fewer state dollars, they’re wary of asking local voters for more money this year, given inflation and a crowded November ballot. 

The Osseo Area School District is one of the few schools in the state asking residents for more money this election season. Fewer than two dozen Minnesota districts are asking residents to approve levies — the fewest since 1980.

Osseo is asking residents to approve two levies: a $7 million levy for instructional needs and day-to-day learning and a $2.3 million technology levy for safety and security updates.

If both are approved, property taxes would increase about $9 per month for a $250,000 home, according to the district.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.