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Minnesota Schools Taught Lesson on Economics the Hard Way

July 22, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The new school year is still more than a month away, but districts across Minnesota are already busy crunching numbers as they face a larger funding delay under the new state budget.

When the legislature first decided to delay some aid to schools, it was just ten percent. By the last fiscal year, that had grown to 30 percent – and Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, says 40 percent of the funding is now being delayed.

"It is just that very textbook example of the camel's nose under the tent – like, 'All right, I was able to wedge myself in this far...' So then, when 60-40 got floated, people really treated that like it was actually a legitimate, viable option."

Ricker says that larger shift equates to more than $700 million, adding that many schools will have to borrow money to make up the difference. She notes in those cases, it means more of their budget will have go to pay interest, while financial institutions profit.

"We are definitely looking at banks who are going to be lending money to our school districts and our charter schools so that we can make ends meet during the school year."

The delay helped balance the state budget, because the debt then is deferred into the next fiscal year. To help offset some of the interest costs, lawmakers approved an increase in per-pupil general education funding of $50 for this year and next.

Ricker is also concerned about the end of integration funding, which she calls a huge cut, both financially and philosophically.

"Minnesota has historically invested in ending racism and in desegregating our schools, and so, we're going to miss that dedication as much as we miss the investment."

Some feared integration funding would be cut immediately, but it will continue through this two-year budget cycle. A task force will decide what to do with the money from there.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN