Minnesota’s funding for public K-12 schools is above the national average, providing school districts, overall, with more than enough money for students to meet national average academic outcomes. 

But data Minneapolis Schools Voices has analyzed reveals that the aggregate picture obscures significant inequities in the state’s funding system.

Minnesota disproportionately underfunds students who need the most from public schools–those identified as English Learners, experiencing poverty or homelessness, and students of color. Nearly all other Minnesota students receive more than adequate funding. This includes nearly all white students in Minnesota. 

But, when students need more services, they do get more funding from the State. 

You can explore state school funding data, and see how your district is faring, with our interactive data visualization.

“Luckily, at least [funding] scales up [with need] in Minnesota. But it just doesn’t scale up enough to meet cost differences,” says Bruce Baker, a nationally recognized expert on K-12 education finance. His research on funding adequacy forms the basis for the data and conclusions shared in this article and accompanying data visualizations. 

Tableau State Summary View: This visualization shows that the majority of Minnesota school districts and students are adequately funded. But 63 districts, representing 17.4% of Minnesota students have below adequate funding.

The least adequately funded districts in Minnesota include both Minneapolis Public Schools and St. Paul Public Schools, which is consistent with national patterns of below adequate funding in large, diverse, urban school districts. But the list also includes many districts outside of the Twin Cities, like Worthington, St. Cloud, Chisholm and Mabel-Canton–and suburban districts, including Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Center. What these districts have in common is that they have a higher proportion of students who need the most from public schools, in combination with local factors that increase the costs of school districts. These local factors include local wages and geographic sparsity.

Major cities, inner-ring urban districts, and agricultural hubs “tend to be the least well funded,” Baker said. “Pennsylvania, Kansas and Illinois see the same pattern.”

For more than a decade, a growing collection of research has shown that student outcomes improve with increased funding for schools. Research also shows that additional funding has the largest impact on students who need the most from public education. 

“Proper funding … is a necessary (but not sufficient) requirement for improving student outcomes,” according to Baker and two colleagues, Matthew DiCarlo and Mark Weber, in their report “The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems.”

In Minnesota, the cost of providing all school districts with adequate funding would be around $606 million, the researchers estimate. This cost is well within the range of additional funding being proposed by the Minnesota legislature and Gov. Walz  for the next state budget. 

To address the identified inequities in funding, new resources would need to be targeted to the students and districts that are currently inadequately funded. 

Minnesota students who are English Learners, students of color- particularly Black students, and students experiencing poverty are significantly more likely to be enrolled in school districts where funding is below adequate.

The pattern of inadequate funding across school districts is clearly identifiable by the proportion of students qualifying for free and reduced price meals, idetifying as a race or ethnicity other than white, qualifying for English Learner services or experiencing homelessness. Statewide, only 17.4% of Minnesota students are enrolled in districts where funding is below adequate. 

But, students identified as needing the most from public schools are two to four times as likely to be enrolled in school districts with significant funding inadequacy than students not in these categories or who are white.

Table 1: Demographics of Students by School District Adequacy

Author’s analysis of data from Minnesota Department of Education and Albert Shanker Institute.

Minnesota students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch, the measurement Minnesota uses as a proxy for student poverty, are more than 2.5 times more likely to be enrolled in a school district with below adequate funding than students who do not qualify. 

Visualization of Adequate Funding by Income

For the population of Minnesota students with unstable housing, which the state categorizes as “Homeless and Highly Mobile,” the disparities are even worse. These students are nearly twice as likely to be enrolled in a district with inadequate funding compared to their peers with stable housing. And, while a small proportion of the state’s students overall, almost one third of Minnesota students with unstable housing are in districts with below adequate funding.

Visualization of Adequate Funding by Housing

Students of color and Indigenous students in Minnesota are nearly three times more likely to be enrolled in a school district with below adequate funding as white students. When disaggregated by race and ethnicity, the worst disparities are for Black students in Minnesota, who are more than three and a half times as likely to be enrolled in a district with less than adequate funding than white students. 

Visualization of Adequate Funding by Race and Ethnicity

English Learners in Minnesota are three times as likely to be enrolled in a school district with below adequate funding than students without this status. And, for no other student group in the state, is average state and local funding lower than for English Learners.

Visualization of Adequate Funding by English Learner Status

Given recent pushes for the State to fully fund special education in schools, it is perhaps surprising that students who qualify for special education services are almost as likely as general education students to be enrolled in districts with adequate funding. The most plausible explanation for this is that while there is some variation in the rate at which students qualify for special education across Minnesota school districts, those variations are small compared to the variation across districts in terms of where students of color, low-income and English Learner students are enrolled.

Visualization of Adequate Funding by Special Education (SPED) status

What does it mean to fully fund or have adequate funding for  public schools?

It’s a common talking point among politicians, educators’ unions and education advocates to promote or promise to fully fund public education. And while the concept of full funding might sound simple, it touches on complex questions about how schools should be funded, how much funding should come from state, local and federal resources, and how that funding should be spent. In Minnesota, there is no statutory definition of what it means to fully fund, or even adequately fund, public education.

Researchers estimate the cost of providing school districts enough funding for an “adequate” education. 

In their research, Baker, DiCarlo and Weber estimated how much it would cost a school district to reach average academic outcomes. Their model adjusts for district characteristics, like local wages. It also makes adjustments based on the population of students enrolled in a district, including poverty and qualification for special education or English Learner services. Because of data limitations, the dataset does not include a handful of small school districts. The data is updated annually and shared through Albert Shanker Institute, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

The researchers call the estimated cost to a district to meet average academic outcomes “adequate” and acknowledge that this is a “low bar” in terms of aspirations for students. While test scores cannot capture all the benefits of attending school, they do capture one common outcome, academic learning, which is a core function of public education.

Their most recent estimates are available for the 2018-19 school year, the year prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its wide-ranging impacts on schools and students.

By comparing their estimate of adequate funding to a district’s actual funding, the researchers estimate a funding gap per student for each school district.

The researchers compare their estimate of adequate funding to the actual funding for each school district. They call the difference between what districts need, and what they have, the funding gap. To make comparisons between school districts, they use enrollment data to determine the funding gap per student. 

When the funding gap is positive, as it is for 253 of Minnesota’s school districts enrolling 83% of students, the district has more than enough state and local funding to produce national average test scores. When the funding gap is negative, as it is for 63 of Minnesota’s school districts, this means that districts do not have enough funding to produce even average academic results.

In a state where the governor aspires to be the best place for families and children, and that views itself as having high quality public schools, this data is unsettling because it shows many students in Minnesota aren’t getting the best the state has to offer. 

In the February 7 House Education Policy committee, where Governor Walz’s education policy bill was introduced, both his representatives from the Minnesota Department of Education and Chair Laurie Pryor spoke about the importance of equity for Minnesota school students. This data shows that Minnesota has work to do to live up to these values in its public education financing. 

Next week, we will have a follow-up article exploring how Minnesota is currently funding its public K-12 schools, the ways that funding is directed towards students based on needs, and how other states have tried to remedy the inequities that can be found in Minnesota’s current K-12 education funding system.

Minneapolis Schools Voices is a news service by and for the Minneapolis Public Schools community. Learn more about us here.