The Potluck

Most Twin Cities school districts facing budget shortfalls, survey says

By: - March 7, 2022 4:29 pm

(Photo: Pexels)

Thirty-five school districts in the Twin Cities metro expect budget shortfalls in the 2022-23 school year, according to a survey released Monday by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

The projected deficits range from $500,000 in the Centennial and Columbia Heights school districts, to tens of millions in the state’s largest districts. AMSD said the shortfalls are the result of “chronic underfunding” by the state, calling on the Legislature to use some of the projected $9.3 billion surplus to boost spending on schools.

In the survey of AMSD’s 45 member districts, just eight said they do not expect a shortfall, and two responded that they were not sure yet.

AMSD cited special education and English language learner expenses as major contributors to schools’ budget woes, known in education finance as “cross-subsidies.” This refers to the funding gaps that result from districts providing required services for students with disabilities or students learning English, for which they do not currently receive enough state or federal funds.

For individual school districts, the cross-subsidies add up to hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. The special education funding gap in St. Paul Public Schools, for example, is roughly $46.6 million, or nearly $2,000 per student.

Eliminating the special education funding gap statewide would cost about $780 million, and eliminating the English language learner gap would cost $146 million. Democrats in the state House have proposed increasing funding to close the shortfalls, but the Senate GOP so far has seemed unlikely to agree to increase spending.

Many districts saw enrollment declines due to population changes, as well as parents opting for homeschooling, private, charter or other public school districts during the pandemic. Lower enrollment means less state money for the district. Inflation, which was the highest in decades in 2021, also increased the costs of running existing programs.

School districts can use federal COVID-19 relief funds to shore up their budgets this year, but the one-time money isn’t a lasting fix, AMSD says.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.