Monday, February 02, 2009

Field Trip. I hope the speaker (me) was as interesting as the audience (Ms. Heather Loeschke's AP Social Studies class pictured at right) was impressive to me as I headed back to my original alma mater--Cannon Falls High School--to give a presentation on lobbying as part of their discussion on how interests interplay in the democratic system. This is one impressive class. Not only are they working hard with AP Social Studies, this class also comprises the Minnesota state championship "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" team.

"We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" is a national competition that tests teams on their knowledge of the United States Constitution. This year's questions included everything from the philosophical basis of the United States Constitution to the challenges facing our constitutional democracy in the 21st century. As state champions, Ms. Loeschke's team will head to Arlington, Virgina, for the national competition from April 25th through April 27th.

Good luck Bombers!

Interesting Bill. Senator Joe Gimse (R-Willmar) has introduced SF 287, a bill that would take $100 million from various transit funds and dedicate those revenues to pupil transportation throughout the state. The companion House bill is HF 430 authored by Representative Randy Demmer (R-Hayfield).

Whatever one thinks about this bill (I believe the bill merits serious consideration), it certainly heeds to call to think "outside the box." There can be little doubt that transportation costs continue to bedevil school budgets. Further, the roller coaster nature of fuel prices over the past two years have made it extremely difficult for school districts to make any kind of reasonable budget projection for these expenditures.

Much of this problem has been exacerbated, in my estimation, by the 1995 decision to roll the transporation formula. That decision has pitted transportation costs against classroom costs, usually at the expense of transportation. Greater flexibility and transparency were among the reasons cited when the decision to fold the bulk of the transportation formula into the general fund in 1995, but I would argue that the opposite has been the case in regard to both of those qualities.

Over the past decade, there have been several instances when there was little, or no, increase in the revenue provided to school districts. This has tightened the supply-to-demand ratio in terms of revenue and has, as a result, constricted flexibility as there are competing programs for the same pot of money. Under the old system, transportation costs were protected and district needs met.

Further, I would argue that there is less transparency. Under the previous system, there was a categorial revenue formula that generated--albeit through a rather complicated formua--revenue for a specific purpose. Under the new system, transportation revenue is lumped with the revenue from other formulas into the general fund. In an abstract sense, I suppose there is greater transparency in that all decisions are now the result of school board action, but the genesis and distribution of the revenue is less transparent as there is no "straight line" of purpose and revenue.

Whatever the final result of this discussion, Senator Gimse and Representative Demmer deserve recognition for taking a bold step toward addressing school district transportation needs.

SF 287 Status Page:

HF 430 Status Page:

Press Conference Link:

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