Rochester Republican Sen. Carla Nelson recently sent a letter to Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius asking her to correct some school funding numbers.
According to the letter, Nelson said she discovered that the department made inaccurate calculations for a handful of districts. The issue centers on the department's decision to use the maximum funding allowed by the school formula when calculating how much a school district will get per pupil. The problem is that some districts, including Dover Eyota Public Schools, do not use all the integration revenue money available to them.As a result, it inflates the money per pupil the district actually receives.
"To the best of my knowledge, Dover-Eyota is the only school district in our area that has been affected. However, it is critical that the citizens have accurate information. This is a very timely issue for those districts that will be bringing a referendum request to their voters. For that reason I have requested help from Commissioner Cassellius," Nelson wrote.
School funding numbers — and which ones to use — have been a hot topic. Nelson wrote a column for the Post-Bulletin that focused on how much districts are expected to get per pupil unit compared to 2011. A group of area superintendents — including Dover Eyota Superintendent Bruce Klaehn — responded with a column of their own calling the numbers "misleading." The issue is that traditionally the Department of Education has focused on how much money districts will receive above the baseline funding. That number only takes into consideration how actions taken by the state legislature impact school funding. Republicans are emphasizing a different set of numbers. Those compare what districts received in fiscal year 2011 with fiscal year 2012. Those numbers include federal money with strings attached and local school levies.
Democrats charge Republicans are trying to take credit for education funding increases they have nothing to do with. Republicans argue that these dollars provide a better overall picture of how much money districts are getting for their students.The stakes over school funding numbers are high as a record number of districts are seeking voter-approved tax levies this fall.
Republican House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo vowed to campaign against school districts seeking tax increases because of the additional money they received from the state this year. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, called on residents to question school boards as to whether these tax increases are necessary. But other Republicans, including Nelson, are not joining in. Nelson has said she believes it should be up to voters in each district to decide whether to approve levy increases.