A poor grade on education for lawmakers

/ 15 May 2012 / jennifer

Star Tribune Editorial, May 15, 2012 –

Lawmakers didn’t make much progress on education reform.

“Our members are really worried about integration aid — just about every one of our metro school districts receive those funds. Next June the funding will sunset, but the desegregation rule was not repealed. Will it turn into an large unfunded mandate?”

-SCOTT CROONQUIST, executive director, Associated Metropolitan School Districts

On K-12 education issues, the 2012 Minnesota Legislature will be remembered more for what didn’t happen than for what did.

Due to Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto, the state missed an important opportunity to ensure that schools can retain Minnesota’s best teachers during staff reductions. Under current state rules, teachers must be laid off according to seniority — unless an individual district has negotiated something different.

Research shows that effective teaching has a tremendous impact on student learning. That’s why school managers need the flexibility to keep their best instructors, even when times are tough.

A legislative proposal, passed this year by both the House and Senate, would have included performance among the considerations when determining layoffs. Using longevity as one of several factors — but not the only factor — when making staff cuts would serve students well.

It’s disappointing that Dayton rejected the change. But given the wide range of public support the measure attracted, lawmakers will consider it again in 2013.

Another disappointing case of inaction occurred on school integration aid. Last year, lawmakers decided to sunset — as of June 2013 — the $108 million that is spent on voluntary school desegregation.

During this session, a bipartisan legislative task force recommended a good compromise between continued support of integration and holding the programs more accountable for results. But lawmakers did nothing with the suggestions.

Uncertainty about whether those dollars will be available could cause major budgeting problems for school districts in the spring. The Legislature should decide early next year about the fate of integration aid.

And even though the 2012 session was not a major budget year, lawmakers could have made more progress on plans to restructure the way schools are financed. The state should be working toward changes that would lessen school dependence on local property taxes and bring more stability to state funding.

There were a few successes at the Capitol. In the plus column, lawmakers improved the management of state school trust lands — a move that is expected to drive more revenue to schools in the future.

And the governor was right to veto a misguided proposal to strip rulemaking authority from the Education Commissioner and department. The proposed bill was unnecessary. It would have required legislative approval of state academic standards and graduation requirements.

But the state’s existing review process for such standards includes ample opportunities for input, review and revision. It has produced strong standards without an additional legislative review.

Lawmakers were also smart to expand eligibility for dual credit or early college programs to ninth- and 10th-graders. Participating in such programs better prepares students for college work. The programs also save money and improve graduation rates.

And in concert with the required teacher evaluation passed last year, the Legislature approved a plan to develop statewide principal assessments as well.

As with classroom teachers, a certain percentage of school leaders’ job reviews will be based on student performance. That’s another wise way to keep the most effective educators on the job.

Though a few things were accomplished, on balance the 2012 session did little to advance important K-12 education reforms. We hope for better results next year.


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