by Reps. Tim O’Driscoll (R) and Denise Dittrich (DFL)
Many times those who hold public office are labeled as being too partisan and not willing to work together to solve problems.
We’d like to share with you a story of how the Minnesota Legislature is working together in an unprecedented bipartisan fashion this session to bring about change that will benefit public schools in the state of Minnesota. House File 2244 is a bill currently being heard in conference committee that will restructure the way school-trust lands are managed in the state.
Like other states, when Minnesota was granted statehood, one section of land in each township was required to be set aside for the benefit of school-aged children. These lands were to be managed in such a way they would generate financial benefit to our public school students. Minnesota chose to set aside two sections of land in each township. Upon acceptance of this land grant, a permanent school trust fund was created. This fund generates interest and dividends which are distributed each year to every school district in the state.
Currently, there are more than 2.5 million acres of school land trust property being held in benefit for funding education in the state. These lands fall under the management of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. While the DNR does a good job with wildlife management and preservation, the trust lands need to be managed in such a way as to generate income for the school children of Minnesota. It’s a charge given to the legislature and the governor in the state’s constitution.
As a result of the current management structure, the DNR finds itself in a conflict of interest when attempting to manage state lands and school trust lands. Those who are supporting HF 2244 believe a change in management would remove the DNR’s conflict and allow for separate oversight and management of school-trust lands. Simply stated: There is the potential for more money to educate our public school students.
While the DNR does a good job of producing income from forestry on the lands, in the last two years the gross income has dropped 84 percent, according to recent reports, while money transferred to the trust fund (net income) has dropped 84 percent. The expenses the DNR incurred have dramatically exceeded inflation. Income from the school-trust lands has averaged $25 million in the last five years, and managing these lands more efficiently could increase net revenue to the permanent school-trust fund.
HF 2244 passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 104-26, and the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 54-8. The differences in the bills passed by the House and Senate will be settled in conference committee this week, and the final bill must then be re-passed by the legislature and signed by the governor before becoming law.
Nearly 16 years ago, the state of Utah separated its state’s school-trust lands out from the management by their Department of Natural Resources and formed a separate management commission. During the past 16 years, Utah’s trust-fund money grew from $18 million to $1.3 billion. This bill, we hope, will provide the framework to do the same for Minnesota school students as Utah has done for its students.
Please contact your legislators and encourage them to continue to support HF 2244, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton, and ask him to sign this strong bipartisan effort to reform school-trust land management. After all, it’s for the kids.