Few voters head to the polls in off-year elections, but big spending measures are on the ballot this year which may cause more to pay attention. Alpha News compiled data from the Minnesota School Boards Association and local school district websites in order to tally the total dollar amount of new spending sought for capital improvement projects at schools around the state, and it’s a whopper. Forty-one school districts are asking voters to approve a total of $1.8 billion in various capital projects ranging from performing arts centers to new buildings to house PreK.
Mostly, the money is used to renovate and maintain buildings. But things like artificial turf for sports fields and upgrading networks to handle iPads in the classroom are also included.
In the last off-year election of 2013, voters approved operating levies in 51 of 59 school districts, an 86% approval rate. 22 out of 26 districts approved capital bond levies in 2013 as well. That same year, the legislature approved $500 million in new K-12 spending under Democrat control in the House and Senate.
In 2014, a total of 55 school districts sought capital levies, voters approved 47 of 54 of the ballot questions, a 87% approval rate. 28 of 39 operating levy questions were approved that year as well, a 72% approval rate.
The spending spree hasn’t slowed down, but voters may be pulling back this year. In 2015, 68 districts are seeking capital levies, and so far the success rate hasn’t been as high. 20 ballot questions have passed and 13 have failed so far this year, for a 61% approval rate. A total of $428 million in new spending projects have been given the green light.
This year’s legislature, under a Republican House and Democrat Senate, gave the schools a $525 million increase in K-12 spending. Lawmakers also expanded the state’s long-term facilities maintenance program for schools from $22 million in 2015 to $103 million annually by 2019.
The Alpha News spreadsheet below only shows capital spending ballot questions. Ongoing operating tax levies can be viewed by clicking here for the Minnesota School Boards Association numbers. This spending is presented as “per pupil” vs. the total amount of estimated revenue that will be generated for the districts. Of the 53 school districts seeking operating levy renewals/replacements, only 16 are not asking taxpayers for a per pupil increase.