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Column: K-12 has more money, less accountability

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With Election Day now just a couple of weeks away, we are beginning to hear from many school districts across this state that will ask the voters to raise their property taxes to give their school districts additional funding.

In some cases, schools simply want to continue their operational levy at current levels. In other cases, districts are asking for substantially more than state aid and their current property tax levy provide. In all, 58 schools are asking the voters for additional money this November.

A few education points worth noting from the Capitol:

While Democrats passed their historic tax increases onto hardworking

Minnesotans, they passed this new "windfall" of taxes to benefit their special interest groups. In the meantime, they ignored the responsibility of paying off borrowed school dollars, wiped out classroom accountability measures and increased the funding disparity between metro and rural schools — leaving our kids in the dust.

Two years ago, Republicans increased K-12 education spending by $195 million. This session, the Legislature increased K-12 funding by $485 million. At 43 percent of the state general operating budget, Minnesota now spends more than $15.7 billion every two years on school funding — an all-time high.

The claim that the Legislature has “shortchanged our schools” can no longer be made. For years, previous Legislatures borrowed money from schools to help Minnesota balance its budget. Now, thanks to priorities put in place two years ago, those days are over.

The budget that the 2011-12 Legislature developed ended June 30, 2013. That budget resulted in a large biennial budget surplus that paid off nearly all ($2.5 billion of the $2.7 billion borrowed) of the school debt resulting from two different Legislatures ($1.9 billion from 2009-10 and $760 million from 2011-12).

Perhaps most disappointing in 2013 was the Democrats’ failure to fulfill their promise to forgo shifts and gimmicks. During this past session, the DFL not only failed to pass legislation to pay back the money owed our schools, it actually extended the shift of funds for yet another budget cycle.

That same Legislature also passed a number of controversial laws this year that negatively impact property owners, and in some cases, gave control of raising your property taxes to the school boards.

In one new statute, Democrats signed off on a plan that gives a school board the right to raise your taxes without voter approval. If a district has a levy that’s less than $300 per pupil or does not have one at all, the school board now has the authority to increase the levy up to the $300 per pupil level simply by passing a resolution.

To me, this is fiscal insanity and an insult to the property owners of Minnesota who want to have a say as to whether or not a local government can take more of their money.

These measures also force Minnesota farmers to pay an additional, state-imposed property tax on every acre of land and building that they own. Under this new $20 million statewide general school property tax, the education commissioner will set a uniform property tax rate that will be applied to all property in Minnesota – including farm properties.

With this boatload of new taxpayer dollars, DFL legislative leaders also passed laws that eliminate teacher accountability measures which ensured the best and brightest are teaching in the classroom.

Do we honestly want teachers who are unqualified? It begs the question of whether Democrats are really trying to do what’s best for the kids or for the teachers union.

To sum up the education agenda from this past session, Minnesota families were told they are going to pay significantly more for educating kids while measures for both student and teacher accountability were diminished. This radical direction is not in the best interest of Minnesota students or their families.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, can be reached at 651-296-2273 or rep.steve.drazkowski@house.mn.

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