MinnPost recently reported that state funding for K-12 education in Minnesota has dropped an inflation-adjusted 13 percent since 2003. The effects of the lack of funding for education in Minnesota this year are widespread, forcing schools across the state to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the budget, eliminate positions and programs, as well as consider operating levy referendums.
Litchfield Public Schools is in statutory operating debt (SOD), and between this year and next year will cut 700,000 dollars from its budget. This includes cutting four teachers, not buying textbooks, reducing supplies and substitute staff, cutting a bus route and increasing activity fees. This means Litchfield students will have more students in each classroom, fewer class choices, out-of-date textbooks and it will be harder to get to school and will cost more to take part in school activities.
Here’s the kicker: Litchfield considers itself lucky. Voters approved a levy increase in May. With the levy, an additional 8,000 in cuts won’t have to be made in the 2010-11 school year, said district Superintendent Bill Wold. That should be enough to get the district out of SOD and to a balanced budget.
While Governor Pawlenty has said that he plans to avoid making school budget cuts in his attempt to balance the state’s budget, he said that he will resort to funding “shifts.” The amount of these shifts has yet to be determined, but will delay some state payments to schools by a year. Such funding shifts are often seen as an accounting maneuver to make things look better than they actually are, but this smokescreen could potentially have harmful effects on the schools involved.
"Clearly, it does cause cash flow problems for school districts," said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. "The reality is it results in cuts for school districts."
So even though the Governor has said that he will avoid making school funding cuts, his creative problem-solving strategy of “funding shifts” will do just that.