Speedy repayment of school funding shift not top of education leaders’ legislative agenda

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

It was a campaign cudgel and the stuff of the first bill in the House.

But state education leaders indicate speedy repayment of the school funding shift doesn’t top their legislative agenda.

“From our perspective it’s not a top priority,” said Executive Director Gary Amoroso of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

The shift is being repaid to an extent. “It’s happening,” Amoroso said.

State budget surpluses, by law, are automatically slated to buying down the iconic shift — touted last election as evidence of shoddy budgeting.

The November 2012 economic forecast showed a budget surplus of more than $1 billion, shrinking the $2.4 billion school shift to about $1.1 billion.

And with luck, the February economic forecast could take a bigger bite, Amoroso said.

New school funding should be dedicated to other areas of school funding, he said.

Association of Metropolitan School Districts Scott Croonquist indicated the association views current state law on the shift sufficient — new money should go elsewhere.

Others suggest other priorities bump aside the shift.

State funding is a “really, really big deal” to his district, Anoka-Hennepin School District Supt. Dennis Carlson said.

The shift hasn’t been the district’s biggest worry, he indicated.

“The borrowing of money for us isn’t an issue,” Carlson said.

Interest rates have been less than half of one percent, he noted.

The most dogged problem Anoka-Hennepin faces is chronic under-funding.

“I think Governor (Mark) Dayton’s heart is in the right place,” Carlson said.

But the state pocketbook isn’t big enough, he quipped.

Anoka-Hennepin, which, by some estimates, edges out the St. Paul School District by seven students to claim title as the state’s biggest district, is again looking at salary freezes, Carlson said.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher repeated themes voiced by other education leaders.

That is, if it comes down to paying off the shift, or getting new school funding, go for the new funding.

“There is a law in place (for the shift),” Dooher said.

No law is in place for putting new money on the funding formula, he said.

Not that the shift is unimportant.

“I don’t think the schools should be used as a bank,” Dooher said.

Dayton delays paying back the shift until after the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

The Senate is also considering gradual repayment.

School officials are comfortable with current law, Senate Education Committee Chairman Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said

“They’ll get their money, but it will be done in a responsible manner,” he said,

“The February forecast may have a chunk of that — don’t know. We’ll see,” Wiger said.

The House is hoping to speed up the shift repayment, House Education Finance Committee Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.

“We’d still like to accelerate that payback faster than the governor does,” Marquart said.

“To me it’s not of either/or,” he said of accelerating payment and finding new education dollars. “We can do both.”

Marquart isn’t surprised school officials are down-playing the shift.

The borrowing is done, and surplus-driven repayments helped school district with cash flow, he said.

“Any pain they’ve suffered, they’ve dealt with,” Marquart said. “It’s in the past, they’ve adjusted, they’re looking to the future.”

School officials stress repayment of the shift does not constitute new funding. It’s repayment of borrowed money.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, views the shift receding into the background as part of a pattern.

“Education groups don’t care about the shift. They just want more money,” Garofalo, former House Education Finance Committee chairman, said.

“The one good news from this is Democrats politicized the education shift,” he said.

Shifts have been used on a bipartisan basis for 20 years, he said.

But no more, Garofalo insists.

“You will never see Republicans vote for a shift ever again,” Garofalo said.

Republicans are done with them, he said.

Republicans and Democrats fault the other for recent funding shifts.

Tim Budig is at [email protected].