Equal school funding with local control

Replacing infrastructure is a huge national problem. It’s a big concern in rural America. And you don’t have to look farther than right here in southwest Minnesota.

Supporters of education in the Russell-Tyler-School District would like to replace old facilities that are in some instances more than 50 years old with a new complex in Tyler. A facilities bond referendum is on the ballot for Feb. 12 election. And the whole process has pitted neighbor against neighbor. Why? Because many residents, while not really against education of their youth, don’t want to see their local property taxes to go up significantly. Farmers are among those who face the largest tax burden.

The Minnesota Legislature tried to address this issue during last year’s session. The Ag2School legislation was approved , giving farmers a 40 percent credit on school bond credit. Gov. Tim Walz is taking the idea of helping rural Minnesota with education funding a step further.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on Monday that the governor is aiming to overhaul the way Minnesota funds its schools by putting more responsibility on the state. He wants to make local referendums “either rare or extinct.”

This comes up as the governor finalizes his first budget and he’s focusing on reversing a trend of putting more pressure on local funding and widening the gaps between wealthy and poor and between metro and outstate schools. His quest for education equality is admirable, but he will need to walk a fine line as he works on his budget proposals.

Local control of school districts should remain intact. It’s imperative that lawmakers and the governor avoid state funding with a lot of special mandates attached. It’s time for the governor and members of the Legislature to have frank conversations on how to level the education playing field when it comes to funding, without weakening local control.