School leaders list legislative priorities

Linda Madsen, Cam Hedlund, others from area comment

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Some surprising, as well as continuing themes came through when I asked superintendents around the state for a brief summary of their legislative priorities. The two most common themes were providing designated dollars for technology and equalizing funding.

Linda Madsen Forest Lake superintendent of schools wrote,  “With the multitude of research touting the benefits of All Day Every Day Kindergarten, and the governor’s initiative to have children reading well by third grade, funding resources for all day programs are vital to the success of students. Currently, kindergarten students are not funded as full time.

“School districts with tight budgets are forced to charge tuition to balance out funding if they wish to offer All Day Every Day programs. Legislative action is needed to fund kindergarten students as full time students so that all Minnesota children can take advantage of this opportunity.”

She also pointed out that, “Specifically for Forest Lake Area Schools, legislation is being pursued to craft a partnership between the school district and Lakes International Language Academy (a Minnesota charter school) that strengthens the important work that has been accomplished over the past six years. “

Cam Hedlund, director of Lakes International Language Academy, told me: “I’d like to encourage the legislature to seriously consider looking for more secure, long-term funding for public education, in general, to reduce the need for excess levy referendums, which create inequities and disparities between schools. I’d also like to encourage the legislature to be supportive of innovation in education, including incentives for collaborations between traditional district schools and charters.”

Cambridge-Isanti Superintendent Bruce Novak responded, “For me the top priority is the correcting the shift and getting back to the 90/10. It is very difficult for school districts to operate on 60 per cent of the revenues during the current fiscal year without borrowing money to meet the everyday operational expenses.

“Other issues of consideration would be to continue looking at unfunded mandates and if they do not have a direct impact on student academic achievement they need to be revisited, modified or removed as appropriate. (Progress was made in this area last session, however there are still others that should be looked at more closely).”

Novak also believes, “Special Education is growing faster than one can imagine and the formula for funding this educational need has remained much as it was when first implemented. There has to be a recognition by legislators that Special Education Funding has to be sufficient, districts do not have revenues to continue the cross subsidy (using General Education Funds to cover the excess costs of Special Education) to cover the costs outside of the funding revenue for Special Education.”

Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told me something I had not known about the state’s funding formula. His top priority is: “Equity revenue for our Hennepin and Anoka County students, seven county metro students are funded at a higher level. If my office were located in Hennepin or Anoka counties we would be included. (up to $400K)” Bezek pointed out that while the district has students from both counties, because his office was not located in the seven county metro area in 1999, the district receives several hundred thousand dollars less.

I talked with Minnesota Senate Education Committee administrator Gregory Marcus who confirmed this.

My deepest hope is that the legislature will reduce dependence on local property taxes. Nations around the world with the highest average achievement don’t make funding dependent on which community a youngster lives in.

Joe Nathan, a former a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, [email protected]