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Minnesota Legislature

School computers paid for in ore

Published (2/20/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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Money for computers, electronic whiteboards and video equipment in schools could be found in Minnesota’s north woods, ore deposits and lakeshore property.

About 2.5 million acres of land and 1 million acres of severed mineral rights remain of 8 million acres granted to the state by the federal government in 1857, 1860 and 1866. The state constitution created a permanent school fund from use or sale of the land, though trust land income previously has been diverted to the state’s General Fund.

HF104 would require trust fund income be used to fund school technology. The bill was held over by the House K-12 Education Finance Division Feb. 12 for possible inclusion in its omnibus bill. There is no Senate companion.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) said, “Technology is as basic as notebooks, pencils” and other classroom staples, “and a long-term, stable funding source for technology is needed to help our schools meet the needs of educating students in the 21st century.”

The Permanent School Fund was worth about $714 million in 2007, and generated about $30 million in revenue that year, said Marty Vadis, director of the Department of Natural Resources Lands and Minerals Division, which oversees trust land management. Potential income to the permanent trust is $1.4 billion from mining operations and metallic mineral leases alone over the next 20 years, he said.

The bill “addresses the progressively more urgent, unmet need of funding school districts and school and classroom technology, hardware, software and higher bandwidth networks,” said Patrick Plant, chief technology and information officer for the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

“We could do wonderful things with accountability if we had classroom response systems so that we had a pulse every single second as we’re working with kids,” said Karen Hermanson, a first-grade teacher in Brainerd.

Rep. Randy Demmer (R-Hayfield) said he doesn’t usually like categorical funding but it “makes some sense in this case” because the need is widespread, and it’s tricky to fund ongoing technology updates through traditional means of bonding for capital expenses.

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