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Rural schools face a critical future


Fri, Nov 11th, 2005
Posted in Commentary

The recently concluded election highlights the problems the state faces in funding education. On Tuesday, more than 80 school districts throughout Minnesota put levy referendums to their voters; another 26 districts had bond referendums. This included three local schools, two of which - Mabel-Canton and Fillmore Central - had operating levies approved by voters; Kingsland School Districtís bond referendum was voted down.

Nearly one out of three school districts in Minnesota was seeking local tax help with education last Tuesday. This despite the legislature putting new money into K-12 education during the last legislative session. But the problem is not in total state funding dollars made available for education, but in each districtís enrollment numbers.

Per pupil funding, the formula used by the state to fund education, works well if your district is growing. But if your district has declining student numbers, then your school is going to have less money to work with, regardless of what the legislature has done.

This is especially critical in rural Minnesota, where population demographics indicate that the number of youth are in decline.

A year ago, state demographer Tom Gillaspy predicted that the number of high school age children in Fillmore County would decline over the next 10 years by 16%.

That means that every district in Fillmore County will have less students in the future and can expect to receive less money in per pupil funding to educate their youth. For a school district, a decline of 10 students can mean the loss of a teacher or postponing the purchase of necessary educational resources.

That is why so many districts are going to voters with operating levys - to offset the revenues lost in per pupil funding. It is time for our state leaders to ask whether we can allow our rural schools to decline further. We need new ways of looking at the problem of how we fund rural schools. And it needs to happen now.

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