Schools get a money boostPublished 10:58am Friday, May 24, 2013
St. Paul — Gov. Mark Dayton signed a $15.7 billion education budget bill Wednesday that boosts funding for public schools and early childhood education over the next two years.
Dayton credited lawmakers for passing the bill, and for passing a tax bill that raises $2 billion in new revenue. Dayton said Minnesota students were shortchanged for too long, and said the tax bill allows for a historic investment that will pay off for the entire state.
“More money for education doesn’t absolutely guarantee success, but less money for education absolutely guarantees failure,” Dayton said. “We’re not going to improve test scores, close the achievement gap, or get our kids ready for a very competitive world by reducing the investment in education.”
For the Fergus Falls School District, who will offer free all-day kindergarten for the first time next year, the bill will help make up the $130,000 the expanded program will cost, according to the district Business Manager Mark Masten.
The majority of that cost will be $80,000 in lost revenue from no longer charging families for enrollment. The rest will come from the increase in number of days teachers work, from three days a week to five. But with the new bill, Masten said he his hopeful the district will get most, if not all, that money back.
There was no shortage of hyperbole during a brief signing ceremony for the bill, which supporters claim will create the “world’s best workforce.” State Sen. Chuck Wiger, chair of the Senate Education Finance Committee, said the funding measure was a “grand slam” that will help turn the school financing tide of the past decade.
“This is the best education bill to be signed in Minnesota history,” said Wiger, DFL-Maplewood.
Comprising the biggest piece of the state budget, the bill increases education spending by $485 million over current levels. Its centerpiece is $134 million to fund a free all-day kindergarten option for families in every school district. Lawmakers also provided new money for early childhood education scholarships, special education programs and a 1.5 percent increase in the basic per-pupil formula each of the next two years.
The bill also puts in place a new system for measuring student achievement. It repeals the high-stakes tests that students are currently required to pass before high school graduation. Dayton said those tests have been “onerous” and “absurd.”
“There were kids who were denied diplomas and then found out half way through the summer that the testing company had made mistakes in their grading,” the governor said. “They were denied publicly in front of their family, in front of their friends, a diploma because of the errors of the company, and nothing was done about it. I’m for testing. I’m for accountability, but not past the point of absurdity, and that’s where we’ve gone.”
Republican lawmakers opposed the testing changes and also questioned the spending increase.
State Rep. Kelby Woodard, the lead Republican on the House K-12 Education Finance Committee, said he doesn’t believe that putting more money into the same old programs is the way to close persistent achievement gaps.
Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, also accused Democrats of using “empty slogans,” and overselling the potential impact of all-day kindergarten.
“There are many states that have kindergarten today, and they still struggle,” he said. “So, obviously that’s the basis for this idea that we’ll have the world’s best workforce in 2027, is that because we have kindergarten that all of a sudden all of the other ills in our education system go away. So, it’s being touted as a silver bullet, and it’s just not.”
Woodard said some school districts are pleased about the all-day kindergarten funding, but others would prefer using the money for different priorities. He said local school leaders should have been given more flexibility to use the funding as they see fit
By Tim Pugmire
MPR News — 91.5 FM