The Minnesota legislature has passed the half-way point in the biennial budget session, with the majority of the large K-12 education funding bills still being finalized. The House and Senate education finance committees have voted to “hold over” multiple bills that would increase funding to schools, as well as bills that would impose additional costs on school districts. Holding over a bill means the committee may include it in a final, larger bill that the committee sends to the legislature for a vote.
One of the bills that the Senate Education Finance Committee heard is SF1911, authored by committee Chair Mary Kunesh, and co-sponsored by Senators Judy Seeberger, Steve Cwodzinski, Alice Mann, and Nicole Mitchell. This bill would provide each school district with at least $50,000 per year or $15 per student, whichever is greater, to fund staff, or supplies and materials for school libraries. In the House, HF1974 is a similar bill sponsored by Representatives Clardy, Frazier, Feist, Elkins, Walgaott, Hill, Hicks, Davids.
According to the State’s fiscal analysis, the bill would cost $31.2 million per year. The majority of Minnesota school districts have a small number of students, so those districts would receive the minimum $50,000 per year in funding from the bill. The bill would allocate about $441,000 to Minneapolis Public Schools.
Funding school libraries has been a topic of several public comments by members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers at recent Minneapolis Public Schools board meetings. Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox has proposed funding for a halftime licensed library media specialist at each school in the district next year. This will cost the district $58,500 per school, a total of $4.2 million districtwide. The school board has not yet approved the budget for next year.
The new licensed media specialist positions are only for maintaining the library collection and providing lending services. The educators filling these roles will not teach a separate library or media specialist class. If schools want a media class for students, they will have to use other funding in their building budget to make the role full time.
Providing students with a full time media specialist and access to a media specialist class district-wide would cost $8.4 million. The current school library aid bill would cover 5% of this cost. High quality public schools are expensive. It’s not clear that State funding will be enough to pay for the schools Minnesota’s kids deserve.