Educators talk about 2nd Minnesota Miracle

Published 9:26 am Friday, September 19, 2008

With what is being lauded as the “Second Minnesota Miracle” on the horizon for the state, educators from Freeborn and Mower counties pleaded Thursday for fair funding of all students throughout the state, along with help on tough issues like special education funding, levies and budget cuts.

During a special meeting with Minnesota House of Representatives K-12 Finance Division members at Albert Lea High School, educators got the chance to voice their opinions on the proposed House File 4178 and make known what parts should be applauded, ammended or changed altogether.

The file proposes to modify the school finance system and create a new education funding framework.

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“There are many parts of this bill that are so strong, but I look at it as a work in progress, and that’s why the committee is here tonight,” said District 27A Rep. Robin Brown, who led the public portion of the meeting.

“I know your comments tonight will directly have an impact on this bill.”

In attendance to make their voices heard were superintendents, school board members, teachers, business managers and special education teachers, to name a few.

House Research Analyst Tim Strom explained some of highlights of the proposed House File 4178.

He said the goals of it are to provide adequate funding for all public school students, equitable funding formulas, a more fair funding system, a simplified funding system and one that is scalable to allow for phase-in over time.

House File 4178 sets the basic per pupil formula high enough to cover school districts’ basic instructional needs while having other component formulas to match specific additional need, he said.

It fully funds the state’s share of special education costs, and increases options for school district facility needs. And it restores equalization in the school property tax system, Strom said.

Brown said what she sees as the most important part about the bill is that legislators are really striving for fair and adequate funding for all children in Minnesota.

Going into specifics, he said, all students, including kindergarteners, are counted as one pupil, which ends current pupil weighting by grade level. It increases the basic formula allowance from $5,124 per adjusted pupil unit to $7,500 per adjusted pupil unit.

Paula Buendorf, a special education teacher in Albert Lea, said: “It warms my heart to think there might be a possibility to fully fund” the special education students.

She said usually when she asks for something for her students, she knows it’s important, but she also knows there’s other students in the school as well. She’s worked hard to be as creative as possible with the budget she’s allowed, but she’d rather put her energy and efforts into her students.

Albert Lea School Board Member Bill Leland noted he thinks there’s several great things in the bill and touched on a few areas of concern.

Albert Lea teacher Riley Worth spoke of how he grew up in a small town and graduated from high school in 1993. He came to Albert Lea five years ago because he found his dream job as a writing teacher at the high school and is also in charge of the school newspaper and yearbook.

“Five years later, I can still say it,” Worth said. “I want to retire here. I want to finish here.”

But, he said, there should be no reason he should have to consider moving his family to the Twin Cities because he’s worried about budget cuts.

“I’m an outstate guy and I’ve seen too many people move to the Twin Cities area because of this,” Worth said.

He noted the things the Albert Lea School District has been able to do with its budget have been amazing, but right now students are having to look into their family budgets to see if they can afford things like sports and other extracurriculars.

Worth said he some hopes to be able to one day sit down one-on-one with his students and conduct writing workshops and work with them individually, but that’s a tough challenge with 150 students.

“I just want to make sure outstate schools have the same opportunities,” he said. “We should be proud to live in the outstate areas like I do … We shouldn’t feel any pressure to migrate.”

Albert Lea Superintendent Dave Prescott said he’s glad he’s stayed in the education profession long enough to see this “Second Miracle” come around.

He said there’s several things in the bill where there should be a lot of celebration going on, but there are some pieces that are a concern, including the equity pieces.

Prescott asked what action needed to be taken next by educators to move along many of the ideas in the bill.

Joseph E. Brown Sr., superintendent of the Grand Meadow School District, talked of coming up with a uniform levy across the state and pushing for equal and adequate funding for all.

This year to balance his budget, he had to cut things like band, industrial tech and Spanish, he said.

“Regardless of zip code, my children down here are just as important as yours,” he said.

Other people talked of a need to revise the current state testing system and of a need to all day kindergarten funding.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, who was on the K-12 Finance Division Committee said the state has an obligation to support education. And this proposal is about a vision to help all of the state’s children truly succeed, he said.

Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, encouraged people to get involved in helping to get the proposal passed.

“Grassroots movement, enthusiasm, momentum can change a lot of things,” Dittrich said. “Don’t ever underestimate that.”

Rep. Augustine Dominguez, DFL-Minneapolis, echoed Dittrich’s comments.

“We need to see faces,” he said. “We need to see people at the Capitol pushing this issue … That’s how bills get passed.”