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Education revenue by the numbers

Published (1/14/2011)
By Kris Berggren
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Working from the same numbers, it’s possible to conclude that school funding has tripled since 1984, or that it’s remained flat, the House Education Finance Committee learned Jan. 11 during a presentation on how Minnesota funds schools.

There are various ways — all accurate — to gauge the amount of change in per student revenue over time, said Tim Strom, an analyst with the nonpartisan House Research Department. Depending if one looks at the numbers alone, or the numbers adjusted for inflation, the outcome looks different. Different methods to calculate inflation can also produce different results.

K-12 education comprises about 40 percent of the state’s General Fund spending.

Nominally, explained Strom, per pupil revenue rose from slightly less than $4,000 per student in 1984 to slightly more than $12,000 in 2009. However, the chart he used as a visual aid also showed that if one deducts building debt and special education expenses, the change shifts from somewhat over $3,000 to just under $10,000. If the Consumer Price Index is applied as a measure of the effect of inflation, that number grows considerably less: from just below $4,000 to about $6,000. Doing both takes the revenue growth line from just over $3,000 to a little more than $4,000.

Factoring out building debt and special education costs is more accurate, said Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), because those are fixed costs dictated by outside factors.

“Classroom funding or any other kind of funding for schools minus those two categories hasn’t increased since 1984,” Greiling said.

Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) said the purpose of the presentation was to affirm that members may legitimately interpret numbers from differing perspectives.

“The more complex the picture is the more you have the ability to provide differing description of what the data reports,” he said.

Greiling favors using a different inflation factor, the GDP implicit price deflator, as recommended by some economists and experts, which would show even less change.

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