Mariani, Pappas: St. Paul schools can't spend money they don't have
It is our deep privilege to represent the remarkable residents of our beloved city of St. Paul at the Minnesota Legislature. Between us we have endeavored to be true to the authentic aspirations, needs and vision of St. Paulites in legislative debates as our great state has striven to provide needed resources to all communities.
But even with our strong efforts, state funding of our schools remains inadequate and hasn’t caught up from prior state budget cuts and deficits.
Now, with negotiations shaped by that underfunding, the possibility that a teachers strike could shut down our city’s public schools is horrifying to us.
No one in St Paul wants to see students lose critical learning time, or working families scrambling for day care. This is a time when we should be working with new leadership in the mayor’s office and with a dynamic superintendent to tap our community assets to shore up enrollment numbers and expand educational opportunities from cradle to college and careers for St. Paul students.
Through our efforts we have had some success in ensuring the state meets its obligation to fund our public schools. We’ve made progress in recent years to pay back funds the state borrowed from our schools when Minnesota struggled with deficits. We helped hammer out bipartisan increases to the per-pupil funding formula last year. We authored reform to instruction for English Language Learners that produced needed additional funds (St. Paul has the largest ELL student population in the state). But it truly has not been enough. Minnesota has yet to catch up with the masive under-funding of schools that began over 15 years ago after bad tax decisions helped produce huge state deficits. Not meeting inflationary costs exacerbated that reality. Add to that the immense gap in funding special-education services, estimated to exceed $600 million statewide, with St. Paul’s share over $42 million.
Frankly our school district cannot spend money that we haven’t provided them. It is not in a position to negotiate for substantial new expenses – even good ones.
The reality is, unless we go to voters for property tax increases, the district can’t spend more than the Legislature provides.
As St Paul legislators we own that, and we will continue our advocacy for a fairer deal from the state, but education funding competes with other things that Minnesotans value: nursing homes, health care, clean water, public safety, and tax cuts.
We are firm believers in collective bargaining. It is the great leveler in America for those who work hard – like our teachers – as they face huge institutions and businesses. We are also strong believers in our public school district and consider it a blessing that St. Paul Schools has accessible, fair and visionary leaders.
We call on both sides to do everything they can to ensure our children have open schools. That is what really matters.
Carlos Mariani and Sandy Pappas
Carlos Mariani is a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Sandy Pappas is a member of the Minnesota Senate.