The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2001 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.
State Education Agency Sees Staff Reductions
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Minnesota leaders have spent much of the year trying to shore up budget gaps for the short term, while gauging just how serious the state’s revenue shortfalls are likely to be in the coming years.
State lawmakers wrangled earlier this year with outgoing Gov. Jesse Ventura over how to close a projected $2 billion funding gap for the final year of the fiscal 2002-03 biennium.
When the legislature wrapped up its turbulent budget-writing session, the upshot for education was that classroom spending on K-12 schools went largely untouched. The state education department was less fortunate.
Out of a budget of $13.9 billion, the legislature set total state spending for K-12 education in fiscal 2003 at $5.4 billion, compared with $4.3 billion in fiscal 2002.
By and large, though, that increase does not translate into new money for school districts. Instead, the increase reflects school finance overhaul in 2001 that shifted nearly $1 billion in precollegiate funding from local property levies to the state.
But districts did see a nearly 3 percent increase in the average foundation grant for students, which rose to $4,068 per pupil for fiscal 2003.
The state education agency, the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning, absorbed the largest reduction in K-12 spending. Its budget dropped by more than 10 percent, to $8.5 million. In response, Commissioner of Education Christine Jax has cut one-quarter of the department’s staff, to 183 positions, and restricted agency spending on travel, hiring, and contracting.
While the legislative session focused mostly on the budget gap, lawmakers also attempted to tackle a big issue facing local districts: rising health-insurance costs.
The legislature set up a task force, made up mostly of school board members and teachers, to study the idea of a statewide health-care pool to help lower costs. The panel has until 2004 to present a plan to lawmakers.
— Robert C. Johnston