Minnesota has held one consistent spot on a national education ranking in recent years — it’s just nowhere near the top or the bottom.
Like Goldilocks, the state has not strayed too far from the middle for its annual per pupil spending. A newly released U.S. Census Bureau report listed Minnesota at No. 18 for its 2015 spending.
Minnesota’s $11,949 per pupil spending was above the national average, but well below the $21,000 spent on students in New York and nearly double the $6,575 spent by Utah.
“We have been middle of the pack for quite some time,” Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said. “The perception that we are one of the higher ranked states is an artifact of a bygone era.”
An artifact of the ‘70s, Croonquist said, during the “Minnesota Miracle” when then-Governor Wendell Anderson and policymakers made a conscious decision to invest in education and reduce education disparities.
The Star Tribune compared Minnesota’s 2015 spending to what was reported in a similar Census report for the 1992-1993 school year and found per pupil spending is up 32 percent since then, after adjusting for inflation.
Nationally, the average increase was 30 percent. But some states, such as North Dakota, Wyoming, Vermont and Louisiana, made dramatic increases of more than 65 percent.
“We have made some progress in investing in education compared to the national average,” said Tom Melcher, director of the program finance division for the Minnesota Department of Education.
But spending has generally remained consistent. Gary Amoroso, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said the economy and recession played into Minnesota’s tepid ranking. The lack of spending, he said, is hurting districts who are forced to reduce staff, increase fees and eliminate programs.
“We have not seen the type of increase in per pupil funding that we would have hoped for on a consistent basis,” he said.
The Census Bureau also shows that Minnesota spends about 65 percent of its per pupil dollars on instruction ‑ the third highest share compared to other states ‑ while spending relatively less on administration and other support services.
In January, the Education Law Center released a report that found Minnesota, along with Delaware, Massachusetts and New Jersey, have progressive funding models. The report examined how much of a state’s economic capacity was spent on education and whether they were providing funds to districts based on student need. According to the study, Minnesota has sufficiently invested in education and funding its high poverty districts.
“Minnesota typically ranks pretty high with the equity of our funding across different school districts,” Melcher said.
Minnesota funds a higher proportion of education costs from state funds (66 percent) rather than local funds (29 percent), which Melcher attributes to the “Minnesota Miracle.”
State funding offers districts more stability, said Melcher.
“When you rely on property taxes heavily as some other states do, it is very difficult for the low tax base school districts to keep up,” he said. “It just results in much greater disparities.”