ST. PAUL (AP) -- A day after a House panel laid out an $8.7 billion K-12 education funding plan, its Senate counterpart came forward with its own proposal that adds $100 million to the bottom line.
The bill -- shaped by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, and debated Tuesday night in the education budget committee he heads -- represents the Senate's opening position in the three-way battle over school funding.
The Senate plan is the richest of the three, providing about $455 million in new general fund money for primary and secondary schools in 2002-03. Gov. Jesse Ventura's is the leanest at $114 million while the Republican-led House plan falls in between at $355 million.
Beyond those numbers, however, it's clear there will be plenty to fight over in the next month, especially between the House and Senate.
"Philosophically, they're a long way apart," observed Bob Meeks, the chief lobbyist for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
One of the most significant -- and complex -- items in the Senate bill is a change in the way the state handles excess levies, which allow districts to raise money through local property taxes in addition to the general per-pupil allotment that each district gets.
Currently, the state helps districts with the first $415 per student they seek from taxpayers. Districts with lower property tax values -- mostly those in rural areas -- now get more state help within that $415 window than wealthier ones.
But for a district that levies just $215 per student, for instance, the state helps out only on that amount. Under the Senate bill, the state would send another $200 to that district as something of a grant.
The few districts that have no excess levy would get $415 per student anyway, essentially letting them keep up with those that do.
"This is a totally rural bill," said Sen. Martha Robertson, R-Minnetonka, who added that suburban districts like hers are likely to "take it in the shorts."
Stumpf said the goal is to make school funding more equitable.
"It gets back to the pillars of education funding," he said.
The general per-pupil formula would rise by $106 and $140 over the two years, when the levy swap and another accounting change are factored out. By comparison, the House version includes increases of $86 and $125, respectively. The formula, which has few strings attached, currently sits at $3,964 per student.
Neither bill makes significant new investments in special education in the upcoming two-year budget period. Because of a bill passed in 2000, about $80 million in new special education funding was to kick in over the next two years anyway.
But the key difference there is that the Senate bill dedicates $85 million in new funding for 2004-05.
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