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Legislature could examine new ways to calculate compensatory revenue for MN schools

Minnesota schools get compensatory revenue to help underprepared students reach performance standards. The state uses the number of students eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals to calculate this funding.

But, in recent years, the number of students eligible for these meals has dropped substantially and, as a result, many school districts are now losing this revenue.

Rep. Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton) sponsors HF3891 that would establish a legislative working group to examine alternative ways to determine student eligibility metrics for calculating compensatory revenue. The bill was held over for possible omnibus bill inclusion by the House Education Finance Committee Tuesday.

The eight-member group — four representatives and four senators — would study requirements and practices to identify qualifying students. A report would be due to the governor and Legislature by June 30, 2023.

Renee Corneille, superintendent of the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District, said forms to enroll in free or reduced-cost meals are complex, and it’s a waste of resources to collect them from hesitant parents. Most compensatory revenue in her district is used to support English language learners, and any decrease in that funding means less support for students.

“This bill sees what’s possible,” Corneille said.

Emily Gutierrez, a research associate at Urban Institute, said other methods, such as data from social safety net programs, and information about the neighborhoods beneficiaries live in, can help measure poverty more accurately than forms currently required for free or reduced-cost meals.

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) questioned the need for a working group. She said the Department of Education is already looking at other options and wonders if the group would examine raising academic achievement, the basic purpose of compensatory revenue.

Feist said the group would try to more accurately target those needing help as recommended by a 2020 report from the legislative auditor. Getting a sense of voice of all stakeholders is the first step forward, she said.

The companion, SF3793, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) is the sponsor.

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