Praise and an Important Question for Minnesota

The following column originally was published in December, 2018 by several newspapers that are in the APG of Eastern Minnesota group.

Praise and an important question for Minnesota


During this season of caring and sharing, Minnesotans can be proud of praise that our education system has received this year — Minnesota’s education funding system received a big compliment.

Since many Minnesotans are humble and understated, we can also consider how we’ll answer an important question raised this year involving Minnesota’s achievement gap, one of the nation’s largest.

Let’s start with applause: A February 2018 report published by the Education Trust, based in Washington, D.C., praised the way that Minnesota funds its public schools. Kami Spicklemire, the organization’s communications manager for P-12 education, describes the Education Trust as an “education advocacy and research organization focusing on equity from preschool through higher education.”

The February report ranked Minnesota third among 47 states in terms of “state and local resources (i.e. money) spent on students in the highest poverty districts” compared to the amount spent on students in districts with the lowest poverty. Nationally, the Education Trust found that on average about $1,000 (7 percent) less was spent on students in the highest poverty districts, compared to the most affluent district. In Minnesota, $2,242 (about 19 percent) more was spent on students in the highest poverty districts.

The Education Trust also found that students in Minnesota districts with the most students of color received about $1,756 (14 percent) more than students in districts with the fewest students of color. Nationally, the Education Trust reported, “School districts serving the largest populations of Black, Latino or American Indian students receive roughly $1,800, or 13 percent, less per student in state and local funding than those serving the fewest students of color.” This ranked Minnesota fourth among 43 states. (For technical reasons, not all 50 states were included).

Ivy Morgan, an Education Trust senior analyst and co-author of the report, told me by phone that “while money is not the only thing that has an impact on student success, Minnesota is doing something right to make sure that students from low-income families and students of color are getting more resources.”

The Minnesota section of the report is at — find the full report at

I asked Tom Melcher, Minnesota Department of Education’s director of school finance, for his reactions to the report. Melcher has worked on school finance for almost 40 years. He’s widely considered Minnesota’s most knowledgeable, unbiased school finance authority.

Speaking by phone as an individual, not representing MDE official policy, Melcher described the report as “pretty straightforward and accurate.” He listed several factors in Minnesota’s funding formula that produce these results, including legislative allocations of millions of extra dollars to help students from low-income families.

Melcher offered several examples of schools with significantly higher percentages of low-income students than the state average:

—Anoka-Hennepin’s Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School, an elementary in Brooklyn Center: an additional $982,000.

—Lincoln Elementary School in Little Falls: an additional $349,022.

—Galtier Community School, an elementary in St. Paul: an additional $400,929.

While Minnesota can be proud of our funding approach, there’s plenty left to do.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, and director of the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, wrote on Dec. 6 that “Minnesota’s education system regularly ranks among the best in the nation.” However, he pointed out that Minnesota also has “one of the largest achievement gaps between white students and students of color” and “far fewer students of color graduating from high school on time or enrolling in college than their white peers.” (More information about MnEEP is here:

Several states have smaller gaps and higher graduation rates than Minnesota. Some Minnesota district and charter public schools have great records on closing gaps.

In 2019, will we learn more from the most successful states and schools? I hope and pray that the answer is yes.

That way, while rightfully proud of how we fund schools, we’ll be much more satisfied with the results.

Joe Nathan can be reached at