So much focus has been on Minneapolis in the wake of the Derek Chauvin trial. The city’s been on all of our minds. Coincidentally, the Twin Cities is also ground zero for an interesting structure for combatting unequal property values and its impacts on revenue for public education. The Minnesota Fiscal Disparities Act of 1971 set up a regional tax-base sharing program for the Twin Cities metro region that redistributes municipal revenue.
Last month, I wrote about a way of measuring exploitation at the school funding level. I call it cooperation analysis, since the numbers speak to the extent to which school districts are cooperating with one another across racialized property valuation.
So I’ve been wondering: does the Twin Cities region hold up in a cooperation analysis? The Metro Authority overseeing the region’s tax-base sharing certainly thinks so. But is it?
Here are six counties involved in tax-base sharing: Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Anoka, Washington, Scott, and Carver counties.
But that map isn’t the same as the school districts map within those boundaries. In those counties we have Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis Park, Edina, Richfield, Minnetonka, New Hope, Brooklyn Center, St. Anthony-New Brighton, Roseville, Maplewood, South St. Paul, West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school districts.
These districts include the big city districts and all those suburban ones bordering them (except Columbia Heights, which I had trouble finding data for). My hypothesis going into this analysis was that the cooperation between these districts would be relatively better given its tax-base sharing. According to the index, the closer to zero the more cooperation.
Indeed, the Twin Cities regional cooperation score is nearly half that of Yonkers at .44. Notably it is far from zero, however I am willing to wager that it is probably the closest to zero of any metro region in the country.
Taking a look at the numbers, it makes a ton of sense: racial diversity is distributed evenly across the region, and so many of the standard deviations in the index’s measures are low, indicating high cooperation. In order of most cooperative are: per pupil spending (.10), student-teacher ratio (.14), and percent of state revenue (.125).
The last is the least surprising given tax-base sharing, but the correlation between these three are very encouraging. The question emerges whether, across regions, there is more cooperation in finance measures (property value, division of revenue streams, etc) there is more cooperation in delivery measures (STR, per pupil spending, etc). Something to keep an eye on as I keep collecting data.
So what’s preventing the Twin Cities metro region from having a better cooperation score? Why isn’t it more like .1 given the scores on the measures above?
Two outliers: debt service and number of students. Each of these are interesting in their own right.
Education finance research tends to ignore the loans side. Usually ‘school funding’ refers to tax grants, but that’s just half the story. Districts can issue bonds and take out loans, and tax-base sharing–as the name itself indicates–does not come to bear on the quantity or quality of loans taken out by municipalities in the region. Unsurprisingly, the two big cities have the biggest debt loads (Minneapolis at nearly $27.5 million), orders of magnitude higher than the other districts.
This makes sense given the number of students is so unequal. More students means more buildings, means more capital expenditures, which requires more debt. But the lack of credit-sharing between the municipalities (in addition to the tax-base sharing) hurts the cooperation here. Rather than a cooperative group, it’s all districts for themselves when it comes to credit. I would recommend a parallel program for credit-sharing in this region.
While the finance story here is an uplifting one, we can’t ignore the fact that the Twin Cities region has been the site of three notable police murders of Black men: Philando Castile, George Floyd, and recently Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center.
What’s the lesson here? A first thought is that redistribution of resources through financial cooperation among municipalities cannot and will not stop police murdering Black men. There’s a sad structural point here: creating better policies that get people more of what they need economically will not go hand in hand with decreases in Black death at the hands of repressive apparatuses in the United States.
Some socialists think this is the case, so let my analysis here be a cautionary tale: better redistribution is not a replacement for prison and police abolition or, less transformative, defunding police. These demands must be pursued together and we should not fall into mystifieid, essentialized thinking which configures one as causally impacting the other.