Minnesota House DFLers propose eduction spending increase, with achievement goals

/ 9 April 2013 / eunice

Doug Belden, Pioneer Press, April 9, 2013 – Minnesota House Democrats are proposing a $15.7 billion budget plan for K-12 education that would bump up the basic funding formula by $315 million and add money for all-day kindergarten and early childhood education.

The bill also would require school districts to create strategic plans to achieve some daunting goals by 2027:

— Erase the achievement gap between whites and students of color.

— Demonstrate 100 percent literacy by third grade.

— Reach a 100 percent high school graduation rate and 100 percent career and college readiness by graduation.

House Speaker Paul Thissen and Majority Leader Erin Murphy appeared with education committee chairs Tuesday, April 9, to outline what Thissen called “a cornerstone of our budget.”

“It’s very clear that we are making a very significant priority and investment in education this session,” Thissen said.

The Senate DFL majority is expected to unveil its plan Thursday. It has set the same $15.7 billion funding target as the House, which is slightly higher than Gov. Mark Dayton’s $15.5 billion.

The House plan is a $550 million increase — about 3.6 percent — over projected spending for 2014-15.

It would spend an additional $209 per pupil on average and appropriate $105 million for all-day kindergarten and $50 million for early childhood scholarships.

The bill also would extend funding for all-day schooling to an estimated 59,000 kindergarteners starting in 2014, with early childhood scholarships for about 8,000 3- and 4-year-olds.

The proposal also aims to decrease funding gaps between urban and rural schools districts and to pay back about $850 million in IOUs to schools that the state used to balance previous budgets.

The plan is to pay back the school shift with a temporary special income tax on incomes above $500,000.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who chairs the House education finance committee, said districts will be held accountable for making progress toward the 2027 goals.

But Marquart said there would be no “scarlet letter” for falling behind, as there has been under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Under the bill, districts or charter schools that failed to make adequate progress could have part of their general education revenue diverted toward efforts to help them improve.

If it failed to hit targets for three consecutive years, a school could be required to implement a turnaround plan.

Marquart acknowledged that getting to 100 percent on key student achievement measures in about a dozen years would be difficult.

“Is every school going to hit that goal? It’s going to be tough,” Marquart said. “You just can’t give up on anyone.”

Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, said he and other Republicans support adding to the funding formula, issuing early education scholarships and paying back the school shift. But he said he would rather support adding money to the general formula than “funding bureaucracy.”

Woodard also questioned the need to “dip into Minnesotans’ pockets” to support the funding increases.

Democratic legislators and Dayton are considering different tax increase proposals — on cigarettes, alcohol and income taxes for the top earners in Minnesota.

Thissen said House Democrats “are not shying away from the fact that we’re going to have to raise revenues” to accomplish the education goals.