For SEE members, the bill that generated the most interest is HF 2540 (Barrett-R-Shaffer), a funding proposal that would provide increased revenue for districts at the lowest end of the general education spectrum. Under the bill, districts that are below 87% of the statewide general education revenue average would have their revenue adjusted upward to that level. Granted, this proposal would only affect about 40 school districts (and a number of charter schools), but a number of those districts are SEE districts.
I testified in favor of the bill along with North Branch superintendent Deb Henton. Like most of the districts that would qualify for revenue under HF 2540, North Branch does not generate much revenue from the set of categorical formulas that deliver revenue to school districts throughout the state and, further, North Branch does not have a referendum. HF 2540 zeroes in on those districts to supply them with additional revenue.
Obviously, the bill doesn't provide the wide-ranging assistance that would completely remedy the funding challenges facing all low-funded districts, but Representative Barrett attempted to find a percentage at which considerable assistance could be targeted to needy districts without totally breaking the state bank. HF 2540, with the adjustment up to 87% of the statewide average general education revenue amount, would cost about $30 million.
The discussion during the hearing was interesting, most of it revolving around where Representative Barrett would get the money to fund his proposal. Any bill that costs money will be facing an extremely steep uphill battle during the 2012 and HF 2540 is no exception. That doesn't make discussing HF 2540 a waste of time. A lot of time (and considerable revenue) has been dedicated to a broad range of funding needs over the past few years, but very little of this time has been spent concentrating on low-funded districts.
SEE, and other education groups, devoted a lot of effort to broad-ranging funding reform with PS Minnesota and "The New Minnesota Miracle," but given the dire straits on the state budget situation over the past few years, that effort did not meet with success. Addressing the issues facing low-revenue districts was clearly part of that effort and that angle cannot be ignored in any comprehensive funding reform package. HF 2540, whatever its fate in 2012, will help keep the plight of low revenue districts on the legislative radar screen.