Many Minnesota districts and charters honored for financial performance

Nathan-on-Education-newMinnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) School Finance Award will never compete with “March Madness” for public attention. But MDE has recently given 69 percent of Minnesota’s traditional districts and 80 percent of Minnesota charter public schools an award that measures solid accomplishment and merits public praise.

North of the Twin Cities, winners included the districts of Braham, Cambridge-Isanti, Forest Lake, Little Falls, North Branch, Pierz, Princeton, Royalton, Rush City and the charters Trio Wolf Creek in Chisago Lakes and Lakes International Language Academy and North Lakes Academy, both in Forest Lake.

The complete list of districts and charters receiving the award is available at

I asked Tom Melcher, MDE’s director of school finance, what the public should conclude about districts and charters that received this award. Many educators and legislators regard Melcher, who has worked 35 years with MDE, as the Minnesotan who knows the most about school funding. Melcher also is known as a person to be trusted.

What does he think the award represents?

He explained to me that this is the 10th year MDE has made the report available. Melcher said the districts and charters receiving the award “are doing a good job with timely financial reporting to the state. They are fiscally strong and are maintaining positive fund balances in all their accounts.”

What about those districts that did not receive the award?

“There are a small number of districts that are running deficits,” he said. “Those districts need to get back ‘into the black.’ The majority of districts that did not receive the award missed reporting deadlines. The department would appreciate getting those reports on time so that MDE can publish reports from Legislature and public on timely basis.”

Criteria for receiving the award includes fulfilling MDE requirements in three basic categories:

• Submitting financial information on time and complying with Minnesota statutes;

• Showing specific signs of fiscal health; and

• Demonstrating accurate financial reporting.

Details are here:

Melcher mentioned that the number of districts and charters receiving the award has increased over the last decade. That’s in part because MDE staff no longer requires a formal application for the award. It’s also because more schools are submitting timely, accurate reports and are operating “in the black.” Now, state staff simply checks to see which districts and charters are meeting the criteria. That seems like a wise decision at MDE because it saves educators’ time.

MDE wisely recognizes solid financial performance along with accurate reports, submitted on time. These are not the only ways to judge the work of a district or charter.

But they help give the public more information – important information – about how well our taxes are being used.

Joe Nathan, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected].