Byzantine K-12 funding rules favor special interests

Who could be in favor of Minnesota's famously complicated K-12 funding formula? Follow the money!

In his Star Tribune article "School funding remains one of life's mysteries," education reporter Norman Draper reveals how a complex, nearly opaque funding system favors special interests:
"I find it analogous to cars," said Mary Cecconi, state director of the Parents United Network and someone who actually claims to understand school funding. "My husband used to be able to fix an automobile 30 years ago without too much difficulty. Now, he could barely open the hood. Why is that? It's because people want more... All those demands create a more complex automobile... I think it's wrong to move toward simplicity."

Mr. Goodwrench and Precision Man would wholeheartedly agree, I'm sure!

Still, some do think that simple is beautiful:
According to Tom Berge, director of finance and operations for the Minnetonka School District, there are 35,000 categories of expenses the state requires schools to track. How do you boil this down into something easily digestible? Many schools don't.

A committee of west suburban school finance directors and business people recently came up with a model that many school officials and some legislators think holds promise. It divvies up school funding by easy-to-understand categories, such as "supplies," textbooks and library books, "professional teaching personnel," and "equipment and facilities maintenance." According to Berge and Golden Valley businessman Ward Eames, who were instrumental in coming up with it, their model is in big demand among school districts statewide.

"I am aiming at everybody associated with schools, an employee of the school, a union member... teachers, parents and the community at large," Eames said. "They should be able to see these numbers and know what's going on with the school."

Until enough conservative Republican political pressure exists to reform (simplify) K-12 funding, it will be understood only by those who stand to benefit from yet another new categorical or compensatory aid payment, or another tweak to one of the funding formulae. As another automobile repair spokesman used to say, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later." For the foreseeable future, we're going to be doing both, but where all the money goes is not so clear.