More money for public schools, do they need it?

Governor Mark Dayton officially vetoed the K-12 education bill yesterday under the auspices of wanting $173 million to start a half-day universal PreK program for all Minnesota 4-year-olds.  But, as Tom Hauser from KSTP reported, he was willing to drop that proposal in the final hours of the regular session in exchange for an additional $150 million in K-12 funding.


While the Republicans came up from a 0.5% increase to a 1.5% increase in the state’s per pupil funding, resulting in $400 million in new spending, Dayton was unwilling to come down from the 2.0% increase that he wanted. The Governor’s original budget proposal in January was for the 1.5% increase that was provided, so the motivation behind the 2.0% increase is curious.

The Governor is now traveling the state to promote his PreK proposal on the heels of  the state teachers union’s month-long taxpayer-funded $200,000 media campaign which was also aimed at building support for the plan.  Dayton is calling for more money for education and tarring Republican opponents of additional spending as people who “hate” public education.  The DFL-led Senate also passed the education funding bill by a 52-14 vote.

With compelling, emotional pleas fore more funding for the “state’s youngest learners” it’s difficult to be objective when it comes to education spending.  However, there can be no doubt that state spending per pupil has dramatically increased and K-12 is taking up more of the state’s budget.

Education funding formulas are highly complicated , but simple math paints a picture of state spending since 1990.  Nearly a generation ago the state spent $4,920 per pupil, (adjusted for inflation, not including local funding,) today that number is $9,530.  In 1990 K-12 education took up 32% of the general fund budget pie, today it is 42%.

Total Spent annually by state on K-12 Inflation Adjusted Total enrollment State funding per Student Total General Fund Spending K-12 Ed as % of total budget
1990 $2,072,191 $3,721,414 756,374 $4,920 $6,418,952 32%
2015 $8,167,803 857,039 $9,530 $19,509,350 42%


The early 1990’s also brought about historic bipartisan legislation to create charter schools in Minnesota– which are generally non-unionized.  The schools are rooted in the idea that teachers, rather than administrators, could better deliver education to students.  We know decades later that the schools spend significantly less per child and in many cases are delivering better results.

Unfortunately little reform to drive down costs was delivered in the bipartisan budget bill that Dayton vetoed.  Republicans and Democrats may put more money into the existing system while continuing PreK expansion, but the fact is that “E-12” education is taking much more of the budget than it had in the past and expanding PreK will only accelerate that trend.  How much longer will that can be kicked down the road?