Pros, cons of governor’s education budget

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Governor Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius have been listening to many parents, educators and advocacy groups. While I hope legislators will make a few changes in what their proposals, the governor’s proposed Education Budget reflects many suggestions from local and statewide education leaders, described in last week’s column.

Proposed increases of more than $600 million for education, early childhood through college rely on another key decision that legislators will make.  First, legislators must agree on how much to revise, and increase some state taxes.

Key increases in education funding are:

• $125 million more for special education.

• $118 million increase on the formula. This provides $52 in new money for every student in the state.

• $44 million for early childhood education scholarships. This will allow an estimated“10,000 more children attend high quality child care and preschool.”

• $40 million for all day kindergarten.

• $10 million for teacher evaluation.

• $8.9 million for English language learning. The governor’s budget extends funding for English Language Learners from five to seven years “to help develop language skills…”

• Districts and charters receiving students would pay 10 percent of special ed costs (previously 100 per cent of those costs were paid by the district where students live)

• $1 million to help reduce bullying

• $4.5 million for additional regional centers, mostly rural, to help educators learn from the most effective schools

The governor also believes the budget reflects more than $10 million in savings “through forecast and accounting efficiencies” and “reducing required special education paperwork.”

Minnesota constantly debates how much to give to districts in the general (unrestricted) funds, and how much to put into various categories. So, for example, this budget provides an additional $118 million, or $52 per student that districts can decide how to spend, and $40 million that can be spent only on all day kindergarten.

Proposed changes involve folding some existing categories into other funds. For example, the $12 per pupil that must be spent on students who are gifted would go into the general fund for school year 2014-15.  Money currently being spent to help schools have a longer year would go into a fund to help students from low income and limited English-speaking families.  I’d encourage retaining those categories, and will discuss this in future columns.

Strong organizations generally include funds to develop new, potentially more effective approaches.   I hope legislators will allocate some “seed funds” to help educators, families and others create new options.  Minnesota already has federal funds to help start charter schools. I hope the state will designate some funds for districts that want to create new, non-charter options. (Note: the Center for School Change receives some funds from the Minnesota Department of Education via a federal sub-grant, not in any areas discussed in this column)

Brenda Cassellius, education commissioner, believes: “Governor Dayton’s budget lays out a vision where Minnesota students not only compete, but lead the way in the global economy. His budget would provide significant reform to the state’s education funding system, make it more flexible for districts, target resources toward proven strategies to close achievement gaps, support our youngest learners, and create better, richer opportunities and outcomes for every student in our state.”

Details available at: http://www.mn.gov/governor/budget/middle-class/education.

While some changes should be considered, the Governor and Commissioner deserve credit for looking at research and listening to people who work with, and care about schools, and making education a priority.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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