Education administrators identify legislative priorities

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

What are the top recommendations to Minnesota legislators from superintendents, charter public school directors and other leaders? More than 90 percent of 51 leaders responded when I contacted them recently. Here are their priorities.

Many leaders endorsed recommendations from a statewide task force on school funding. For example, Jackie Saunders of North Lakes Academy believes “The task force has proposed some much-needed reform in school funding. The legislature should adopt the reforms allowing individual districts and charters, those who actually have ‘boots on the ground,’ the decision-making authority to direct funds where they will have the greatest impact on student learning.”

Linda Madsen, Forest Lake superintendent wrote: “Although there are a myriad of topics and issues to be discussed at this legislative session, there are two which seem to impact our students the most. Increasing the basic formula will benefit all students in a system that is working to be efficient and also provide opportunities for all students to be engaged in success. The second priority is funding all-day, every-day kindergarten that focuses resources on students in the early years of their school career to build a strong academic foundation.”

Shannon Peterson of Lakes International agreed.  She told me, “The priorities for LILA are equitable funding for education, and legislative support for all-day, every-day kindergarten, as research indicates how valuable this is for children.”

Along with greater state funding, Tom Dooher, Education Minnesota president recommended “targeted investments to close the achievement gap, such as by making all-day kindergarten available to every child.”

Education leaders mentioned several other priorities. These include greater funding dedicated to special education, no more unfunded mandates, repaying the money already owed to public schools, and greater flexibility.

Curt Johnson, former a Minnesota community college president and long-time reformer now with Education Evolving wrote that the group’s top priority is to, “allow charter school authorizers, as well as school district boards, to designate a limited number of departments or whole schools for participation in an ‘innovation zone.’ Schools, or parts of schools, so designated would be essentially deregulated, would be encouraged to try new and different ways of achieving success with students, and judged only on the results they get.”

Several superintendents suggested greater flexibility in how they can spend state funds.

The 90-percent response rate shows that what the Legislature does matters a lot. Upcoming columns will focus on several of these suggestions.  Final legislative decisions are several months away, so concerned readers can share their views with legislators.

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