Increased state aid to Brainerd and other schools facing financial shortfalls should be a first priority for funds from the budget surplus, Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, said last week as negotiations to wrap up the Minnesota legislative session continued.
"Nearly two out of three schools in Minnesota are facing financial difficulties, and that means they will reduce the services they provide to our children or look to local property taxpayers for more revenue," Wenzel said. "But while our schools are struggling, the state is awash in surplus cash and a push is on for massive tax cuts. We ought to be taking care of education first."
Wenzel is supporting most of the provisions in the Senate education plan, which would pump about $4 million in new state aid into central Minnesota schools. That's about $2.4 million more than provided in a measure that passed the House. The two competing bills are now before a House-Senate conference committee. For Brainerd, the difference between the bills is more than $780,000 -- $1.35 million in the Senate plan compared to about $570,000 in the House bill.
Meanwhile, action is also pending on a Wenzel bill to provide $300,000 in special state aid to the Little Falls School District. A dispute concerning the number of pupils enrolled in an all-day kindergarten program shortchanged the school district. Wenzel's bill provides one-time retroactive aid of $300,000 for the 1999-2000 school year. That measure was included in the Senate bill.
Wenzel provided a breakdown of the differences in education funding proposals between the House and the Senate for various school districts.
Aitkin -- Senate, $300,000; House, $185,758.
Brainerd -- Senate, $1,352,355; House $570,549.
Crosby-Ironton -- Senate, $304,202; House, $172,951.
Isle -- Senate, $146,233; House, $4,612.
Little Falls -- Senate, $699,454; House, $267,492.
Onamia -- Senate, $215,839; House, $55,464.
Pierz -- Senate, $220,724; House, $93,087.
Pillager -- Senate, $167,624; House, $29,522.
Royalton -- Senate, $174,365; House, $77,974.
Staples-Motley -- Senate, $388,859; House, $251,985.
Swanville -- Senate, $138,027; House, $49,397.
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