No more budget can-kicking

The state shouldn’t balance its budget on the backs of schools.

Recently, the state’s budget forecast for the remaining fiscal biennium has given way to a surplus of $323 million. While this is good news in the wake of Minnesota’s rolling budget deficits of years past, it does come with a caveat. State lawmakers have been borrowing from school districts to pay the bills, which has greatly hurt those schools.

Last July, in the midst of a government shutdown, the governor and the Legislature agreed to a 40-percent delay of payments to schools in a deal cut to end the shutdown and balance the state’s budget. Once the fiscal outcome improved, however, any budget surplus must first replenish the state’s reserves and pay back Minnesota’s schools. Unfortunately, this is too little, too late for many schools.

According to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, 27 metro area schools have been forced to borrow nearly $382 million to cover expenses due to delayed payments from the state.

School districts that are forced to borrow are now paying interest close to $3 million. This, according to AMSD, means losing about 60 teaching positions that could have been. Unfortunately, such gimmicks from the state are not only requiring layoffs and budget cuts, but also forcing schools back to the ballot with near record numbers of school funding referenda.

State lawmakers wishing to put the best teachers in classrooms must remember balancing the state’s budget on the backs of schools only hurts that goal. Minnesota’s schools need more teachers and greater fiscal protections from leadership in St. Paul.