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Associated Press, Published December 24 2012

Minnesota legislators debate school levy reliance

ST. PAUL – Next year’s big debate over how to reshape the Minnesota tax system will include a serious discussion about school re-liance on property tax levies that the incoming Senate majority leader wants scaled back.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, contends the current system is driving property taxes up and putting school districts across the state on unequal footing. He said he wants lawmakers to debate an alternative to the voter-approved levies.

“You get funding disparities all over the state because some districts just have a totally different tax capacity or totally different demographics. So there’s a lot of reasons that some districts – no matter how hard they try, no matter how bad they need it – they can’t get a levy passed by people,” Bakk said, according to a story Monday by Minnesota Public Radio News. “I think most Minnesotans think funding schools should be a state obligation.”

Ninety percent of Minnesota districts have such levies in place. For now, Bakk hasn’t offered a specific proposal for scaling back the current referendum-based system without costing schools.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has signaled his intention to put a major tax package on the table in January.

Bakk’s Republican counterpart, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, said he wants to know whether the current state investment in schools is paying off with better student performance before talking about ramping up spending.

“Are we serving the purpose of really undercutting local control of education in favor of centralizing policymaking here in St. Paul or in Washington, D.C., and using the sort of equalizing of money or increasing funding as an excuse to do that?” Hann asked. “Does that serve the purpose of improving education outcomes? I’m not so sure.”

A decade ago, state lawmakers passed legislation that boosted funding for school districts without voter-approved levies and for those with smaller levies in place. But districts soon went back to local voters to supplement state funding.

A task force formed by Dayton’s Department of Education recently suggested a 7 percent increase in state aid to schools, as well as a renewed emphasis on a statewide education levy, rather than local tax measures.

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