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Letter to the editor: Districts forced to seek levies

In a few days more than a third of Minnesota school districts will ask voters to pass levy referendums. The historic number of districts asking voters for money for schools is a direct result of education policies passed last session. The legislature voted to borrow millions from our schools and used it to temporarily "solve" the state's budget deficit.

Specifically, the legislation expanded the state's current K-12 school shift, meaning the state will once again borrow money from school children to temporarily fix the budget mess.

The House and Senate tried to mitigate their poor school policy decisions by providing some increases in school funding. But, the additional education funding allocated by the Republican majority will barely cover the interest on the borrowing school districts will need to pay their bills.

In addition, school funding increases have been flat for the past decade and haven't kept up with inflation. Tie flat school funding, inflation and only giving schools 60 percent of the money they need to operate, and the end result is a record-breaking number of Minnesota school districts being forced to ask voters for help by passing levy referendums.

This short-sighted policy decision means more than $2.1 billion in school aid -- that should be directed to our classroom -- will not be going to our schools.  To add insult to injury, there is no provision in law to pay our schools back.

Withholding money from school districts is forcing many local school districts to borrow just to cover operating expenses. In our area alone, the Fergus Falls District will borrow $4 million, Pelican Rapids $1.33 million, Perham Dent, $2.8 million and Wadena-Deer Creek $1.62 million. Forcing our districts to borrow money to cover costs is not the way to do business in Minnesota.

The Perham-Dent and Pelican Rapids districts will ask voters for additional money this year to pay for school essentials to update text books, maintain class sizes, retain teachers and provide necessary classroom supplies. It's unfortunate that year after year school districts have been forced to tighten their belts, reduce costs and are forced to do more and more with less money. But at the end of the day, schools had no choice but turn to property taxpayers and take out loans because of these short-sited policy decisions.

The bottom line is that it's irresponsible to solve Minnesota's ongoing budget deficits by taking money from our schools. It doesn't structurally solve the budget shortfall and leaves our children and grandchildren billions of dollars in debt.