Education leaders recommend priorities for Legislature

Joe Nathan
Center For School Change

What are the top recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature from superintendents, charter public school directors and other leaders? More than 90 percent of 51 leaders responded when I contacted them recently. They have clear, strong suggestions about the most important steps the legislature can take to help students and schools.

Ben Barton, Caledonia superintendent believes, “The last several years of flat funding have forced school districts to tighten their belts and become more efficient. Now it’s time invest additional dollars on the formula to allow districts to move forward to prepare our students to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Like it or not, there is a need for resources to maintain and enhance programming that our students need.”

Lynn Gluck Peterson, executive director of Cologne Academy (a charter public school), was among those who responded.

Gluck Peterson wrote, “One priority that all school districts would appreciate, and certainly many of the newer charter districts would enjoy, is a proposal to repay a the state aid deferral/holdback. Another priority is equalizing aid to kindergarten students so that districts can support early learning with financial support from the state that recognizes this grade as a full student not two thirds of a student.”

Of the 48 responders, more than 35 cited a combination of increasing overall unrestricted funding and supporting recommendations from the statewide School Funding Task Force that will present its findings to the Legislature. As the column is being written, Governor Dayton has not commented on the task force recommendations.

After suggesting additional funds and greater equity among districts, the next most frequently cited recommendation was more funding specifically for early childhood education. Fifteen superintendents/charter school directors and Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota cited this as a top priority.  Some suggested greater funding for programs involving three- and four-year-olds. Nine specifically suggested support for all day, every day kindergarten.

For example, Lisa Hendricks, director of Partnership Academy in Richfield believes,” In order to eliminate the staggering achievement gap we have in Minnesota we need to start making Pre-K a priority.” Dooher wrote, “We also need to make 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 working 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, and encouraged to try new and different ways of achieving success with students, and judged only on the results they get.”

A number of superintendents suggested greater flexibility in how they can spend funds that the state provides.

The more than 90 percent response rate shows that what the Legislature does matters a great deal. 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 public school teacher and administrator, is director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul.  Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org. 

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