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School funding system is flawed

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As Pelican Rapids and Perham school district officials pick up the pieces from failed levy referenda, and determine which teachers and programs they'll now have to cut to make ends meet, the concept behind the state funding system truly comes into question.

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Several years ago, the Legislature transferred the largest burden of public school funding from local governments, paid through property taxes, to the state government, financed by income and sales taxes, on a per-pupil basis. The idea was to level the playing field among public schools. The quality of a public school district, the theory held, should not be determined by the value of properties within it.

However, in making the change, the new funding system left a loophole: allowing school districts to conduct levy referenda to obtain additional funding through property taxes. Combined with shrinking state funding, it has widened the gap between the haves and have-nots. Districts with growing enrollments and high-income communities have received additional state funding and have passed large supplemental levies. Districts with declining enrollments and lower-income communities have received less state funding, have failed to pass even smaller referenda, and have been forced to cut programs and increase class sizes.

No funding method is perfect. However, if the idea of the current school funding system was to equalize school districts statewide, it most certainly has failed. -- Fergus Falls Daily Journal

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