Should public schools have to seek voter approval for operating funds?

At the start of each week now through the election, we’ll pose a question on an issue that’s pertinent to the race for Minnesota governor. Today’s Question: Should public schools have to seek voter approval for operating funds?

Democratic candidate Mark Dayton:

Our schools should not have to rely on the property tax to fund our children’s education. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled over 40 years ago that it is unconstitutional. That is why I will increase state funding for public education from the progressive income


Republican candidate Tom Emmer:

Minnesota law provides school districts with the opportunity to seek additional funding by approval of their local taxpayers. I support local taxpayers having the ability to approve or disapprove property tax increases, and believe that referendums give taxpayers an important voice in determining funding and budget decisions made by their local school boards.

Independence Party candidate Tom Horner:

Schools should have voters’ approval for new operating levies. With some restrictions, though, I would allow schools to renew levies.

  • Deb

    No. Other governmental organizations do not need voter approval on specific bonding programs, so school should not also. There needs to be requirements/limits for the bonding.

    Too often school districts have to do a proposal 2, 3 or more times to get one past. And as with many things a small group of people with misinformation and get a referendum to fail.

    Our public schools are really a major component of a community’s economic development, the State of MN and everyone needs to recognize that.

  • Jeff

    No, In fact like so much of our government systems that are anitquated and need retooling, our education system and its need for reform (preK through higher ed) should be a priority for us. This includes finding new ways to fund education to ensure the system doesn’t suffer when economic downturns and shifts in governement funding occur. Education is the future of our country, we must invest in it to secure our ability to compete in a global economy and flattening world.

  • Joe

    I completely agree with Deb, however that shouldn’t absolve state government from it constitutional responsibility. Section 1 of Article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution states:


    The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

    I worry about the inequities in funding between school districts in this state. This economic downturn is having real consequences for our children and the future economic health of our communities. Investment in schools would be a great way to stimulate the economy, but it needs to happen on a larger scale throughout the state.

  • Tim

    No, a thousand times no! We are a representative democracy at all levels of government, including school districts, which means we elect citizens to become informed leaders. School board members spend hundreds of hours researching the complexities of school finance, the strengths, weaknesses and needs of their district, and they make budgeting decisions based on this knowledge. Voters barely know the names of the candidates on a ballot and certainly do not have the background knowledge to make fully informed taxing and budgeting decisions. Our elected officials are best situated to make these decisions – let voters choose the officials that best represent their views.

  • George

    No- Voter approval was denied for the 30 year tax to build a stadium for the Twins. Is educating our children less important then a

    professional sports stadium?

  • Sue de Nim

    The problems with our education system go way beyond how they’re funded. It is completely unjust that wealthy districts can vote to fund their schools lavishly, while poor districts have to struggle with state funding alone, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. The problems go way beyond sound bites and talking points and arguments over whether the teachers’ union or something else is to blame.

    Here’s one example. The current system of open enrollment and charter schools, intended to prod the schools to excellence by promoting “competition,” instead puts every school in an adversarial relationship with every other school. One kid I know was trying to get the school to provide access to services offered online and was turned down. The trouble was that the services would have been provided by another district. The request was denied, not because the services wouldn’t have helped the kid, but because it would be, in the words of the superintendent, “not good for the district.”

    Schools should be run for the benefit of the students, but the attempts in the last couple of decades to reform them by using market forces have given them perverse incentives. One neighborhood near where I live is serviced by school busses from three different districts. How does that make any educational sense? Instead of being the focus of our education system, kids are now pawns of battling institutions.

    What produces excellence is not competition per se, but challenge; competition is just a lazy way of introducing challenge into a system. We need to find a way to challenge them to serve our young people better.

    And just think: despite these issues, Minnesota is still excellent compared to most other states in the Union. Scary!

  • Khatti

    This is “Horns of a dilemma” time for me.

    A. the money being used belongs to the voters. They are interested parties and deserve input into how it is spent.

    B. Many school systems in the world give neither voters nor parents any say in how the schools are run (France comes to mind).

    Therefore, I find voter input well within the voters rights—and a really stupid idea.

  • Tony

    Schools should not have to rely on levies to operate. Moreover, it should be unlawful for the governor to unallot or borrow or de-fund schools or use schools as a bank just so he can satisfy some other expense that’s due.

    But for the political will to do it we could have a first rate education system in this state. Unfortunately what we have instead are hundreds of unemployed/underemployed teachers. The last teaching job interview I went on had 675 applicants for one job.

    While it might be true that whatever problems ail our education system go beyond funding, it is certainly true that they begin with funding.

    As with all too many other things, what used to be great about education in our state has fallen victim to failed conservative policies that only make the rich richer at the expense of the most vulnerable – vulnerable in this case being kids.

  • Brian

    No. And Mark Dayton is absolutely correct.

    The state has the responsibility of properly funding the public school system to ensure that all students, regardless of the economic class of their parents, have access to a good education.

    And Dayton is using the right approach to address the problem: move the state back in the direction of a progressive income tax and away from the need of each community to raise–or not raise–the necessary revenue,

    What our public school system has endured over the last ten years is a disgrace. I have a 15-year-old boy at Central High School. Last year there were more than 40 students in all but one of his classes. In the private schools with which I’ve had some experience, such as Blake and Mounds Park Academy, one rarely sees more than 20 students in a class.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Would the rich prefer to be taxed to pay for better education and youth programs, or for more law enforcement and prisons? (I wouldn’t know, not being rich).

  • Kevin

    Yes. Its one of the tools locals have to voice their control or oversight of what school boards are doing.

    Unless the funding comes from the state. Then the election of officials should still remain.

    School boards tend to have narrow view of what they are doing: Trying to divert funding from education to sports, selling out student information at less then the cost to produce, and of course rearranging football fields….. (Much of that happened and is likely still happening in my old school district).

    This was one of the tools we have to slap them on the face and say something.

    Now if the state government cuts their funding like Gov. Pawlenty did and does, then they have to either resupply the promised funding somehow or those who can not support their education will suffer…

    After all the poor are poor because they a fronted god in some way and must be punished, we all know that! Just like the sick are sick because they are sinners!

    The rich deserve all their wealth and right to greed because they are saints and have a right to take even more of everyone’s work and credit! We all know this because the bible says so! Or god would not make them rich right?????


    Seriously, the cuts from the state is what has caused the increase in property taxes to fund things like local education.

    Conservatives are not interested in cutting taxes, they are just interested in redirecting how taxes are done. That means taking the burden off those who can afford the taxes to press upon a regressive tax upon those who can not afford it. It really is tax neutral as far as income and out go is for taxes, just the poor pay more (those who can least afford it).

    School education is just one example how this mechanism works.

  • Tim Davis

    Yes. Education is not in the Constitution, therefore it is the right of the states to set their own requirements…I know it hasn’t been followed, but…the State should set basic guidelines and requirements for overall educational balance, but it is up to each district, the folks in their district to decide how monies should be spent, kinda’ like Representative democracy, you vote for what/who you want in your district and what you will/will-not pay for.

  • Gerald Myking

    Education has always been in the top ten as a political issue since I was in elementary school a half century ago. I live in an old school house that was built in 1876 and operated up until the middle 1950’s. In the Kearns cemetary are the tombstones of prominant people who atteded this school. Apparently the education they received was adequit. It was funded and literally built by the village of Kearns. There was no State or Federal Education board. The State itself was only 18 years old. The parents in this district still had the Dakota and Civil wars fresh in their minds. All of this makes me wonder, “What would we do if there was no State or Federal involvement?”

  • Al

    Voters should have to approve local school levies, however local school levies should not be used for general education funding. It is an unfair revenue source. What we need is a functional state government that provides adequate funding for all schools in this state. Increasingly we are becoming a state with educational “haves” (weathly suburbs) and “have nots” (most everyone else).

    But at least the rich get to keep more of their money for job creation and making sure their children have the best education possible.

  • ann

    Yes. As Jesse Ventura stated, “Education is a black hole.” Money goes in, but where does it go? Frankly I’m tired of being taxed for something that never seems to deliver. Just where does this money go?

    When Anderson was Governor, schools had the money for operating costs and supplies. If education is so important, why are we not providing the funds and the oversight to ensure each school provides both the education and supplies needed?

    I’d like to see an line-item budget for each school and district available online all year.


  • Rick Mons

    No, there’s sufficient opportunity for voter participation when we elect school boards.

  • steve

    yes the voters should approve the school funding have a say in the outcome of school affairs-it makes sense because the voters are the voice of the public and the providers for the school system!

  • Steve from up North

    No…primarily because while I was in high school in the early 2000’s, my school attempted to pass levies just to operate and to provide a wider range of classes. When put to the voters, it failed every time. The reason? Because the vast majority of people voting didn’t have a vested interest in the schools. Close to 50% of the population is over the age of 50 and doesn’t have children in the schools, so there’s no reason for them to vote to tax themselves. It was rather sad, by the time I graduated in 2003 there was a significant reduction in classes offered. There used to be 3 different non-English languages taught…now there is 1. An entire floor of the school was boarded up and closed off to reduce heating costs. The arts and music has suffered greatly. All because there is no drive from the community to support their school.

  • Gary F

    Seek approval for operating funds?

    How about seek approval for having a union contract?

  • Gordon in Two Harbors

    If schools should have to go through the expense and BS of getting a referendum passed so they have enough revenue to do their mission of educating children, then why not have a referendum for EVERY unit of government when they need additional funds to provide public services?

    Better yet, tie any increase in social security or any other program that serves the non-disabled, but non-working population to school referendums. Why is it so easy to invest in the past when we need to invest in the future?

    In my school district it is typically the huge numbers of retired citizens who defeat the local school referendums.

  • Audrey

    Other governmental entities are not required to do this. School Boards get the short end of this deal. But then the entire governance of public schools is outdated. There is very little discretionary money school boards get to spend. Most of the spending decisions have been made by the state and the federal government. Local control is a myth, take it from one who has been in that position! At least give it the same power other local governments have.

  • suestuben

    No, the voters should not have the say about education dollars, just as we do not have the say about everything else. But I agree that the system is broken and that money cannot save it.

    I believed this in the 80’s when I began homeschooling my children. My daughter went back to regular school after 2 years, electing a different district which meant I commited to driving her for 6 years. She just graduated Princeton with a PhD, landing scholarships to pay for her entire post-high school education. Obviously, she is very bright but I’ve never seen such a hard-working student.

    My son stayed at home for 7 years and spent most of his day playing after 1-3 hours lessons in the morning. This was a huge commitment on my part and I set up my work schedule around his instruction and driving my daughter. I abhor testing and he took his first test on going to regular school in the 9th grade. He scored 91 and 95.

    My major point is that money does not teach our kids, it is parental commitment and extremely hard work by the students. Give your child these and you’ll produce an adult who can acheive their desires.

  • Mel

    Only Mr. Dayton gave a direct answeer to the question. The other two avoided it.

  • Kevin

    State investment in the colleges should be directed to the students and not the colleges.

    Financial aid had dropped so much that I had to drop out 2 requirements away from my BA. And I was a 3.0 student or greater, involved in student government, and other activities helping out.

    When I was a kid I recall getting fliers showing Normandale Community College was 11 dollars a credit. Cool, so my college planning was around that.

    But by the time I got to college it was over $100 realistically and my dad had lost his job by then, we had no money and I did not get to go to college til I was 24….

    I went from being more of a Republican to democrat overnight when I realized what was going on. My one issue in politics is education after high school at that time…. As it directly affected me. Sort term profit gains for a trade of long term growth…. bad policy.

    Every interaction with Lawmakers is when you talk education the assume you’re only talking k-12, which I would point out that is NOT the case with me and MAYBE it was not the case with all their mails they are getting…. I woke up a lot of politicians with this.

    They would silently continually cut the help that is needed most in that critical area. A few will admit they have the vission to realize we need it and they got my support, democrat or republican.

    But the short sighted I railed against.

    I graduated from Normandale Barely in budget the whole while working 40+ hours a week holding 2 jobs. I then went to the University of Minnesota where I held 3 jobs…. and then some…..

    Money ran out as each year less and less was there and the college kept increasing fees 20% per year…… even after we got them to agree to ONLY a 5% increase…..

    Why? Well the University blames the MN state government for cuts….

    So thats why I say rather then go through the middle man, give it to the students who need it.

    Right now about 100K in debt and no degree to get me a job, despite the skills …. This short sightedness is hurting in the long run.

    And I am not alone, trust me I am not.

  • pat

    Yes. Education is one of the few things government should borrow to finance, along with research, infrastructure and small business support. All improve our society as a whole and increase future tax revenue.