The final point listed above on the distribution of the $43.4 million federal coronavirus aid is a significant equity issue. Seventy percent of the $183.7 billion that Minnesota will receive in federal funding is distributed to schools through the Title-1 formula, which is based on the concentration of poverty in a school district. Some districts will do quite well, and some will get very little revenue. Yet, many of the costs associated with shifting to distance learning are similar across all districts. Regardless of whether HF4415 goes anywhere, SEE will work for equitable distribution of these resources.
Another area of concern is around fee-based programs, mainly school meals, ECFE, and preschool. School districts hire staff based on enrollment and fees collected. As school districts work to keep their staff employed through this pandemic, the loss of fees will be a challenge, and the federal funding could help the situation in school districts depending on how it is distributed.
The broader economic picture overshadowed the discussion among committee members on HF4415. Minnesota will likely face a significant deficit in the 2021 legislative budget session as a result of the largest sources of state revenue – income and sales tax – drying up. The DFL committee members indicated that school districts are trying to keep their school staff employed to not contribute to the already staggering unemployment and to provide quality distance learning to students. However, schools need financial stability and certainty to do so. Republican members questioned whether, given the bleak economic future, districts should be allowed to lay off employees, perhaps to grow fund balances to face potential cuts to state funding in the future.
SEE, and other education associations, are advocating to protect school funding for this year. When the dust settles, and the damage is known, we can all work together during the 2021 legislative session to rebuild Minnesota’s economy with the least disruption possible to the quality of education in Minnesota.
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