Bill would pay back schools, amp up funding

Published 6:37 am Sunday, April 14, 2013

The education budget released last week by House Democrats has ambitious targets for raising graduation rates and funding all-day kindergarten, among other goals.

Rep. Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells, said the plan would affect local schools, and that one of the main goals of DFLers was to work on education issues.

“We are paying back the shift and adding $300 million to the education budget,” Savick said.

Shannon Savick

Shannon Savick

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One of the other parts of the bill would make funding more equal between rural and metro areas. Savick said districts in rural communities would get more money per pupil than students in metro areas to make up for the fact that property values are lower in rural areas.

Under the House’s proposal, Albert Lea School District would receive an increase in almost $500,000, or $151 per pupil, in fiscal year 2015. United South Central in Wells would receive about $60,000, or an increase of $94 per pupil.

The bill also includes funding for all-day kindergarten, something Albert Lea School District has chosen to fund itself.

“We have been paying for all-day every day kindergarten for a number of years through local taxpayer support, so it is very good to see that the Legislature realizes the importance of early childhood education and are finally stepping up to the plate to fully fund kindergarten,” Superintendent Mike Funk said.

Funk said the House’s plan detailed items that would be good news for District 241 and that he hopes it will become legislation.

“It is good to see that the House is providing an increase in funding for both years of the upcoming biennium,” Funk said. “I am hopeful that funding similar to the House bill becomes legislation.”

Mike Funk

Mike Funk

Savick is also hopeful that the House and Senate can come up with a similar plan that makes education a priority. The Senate released a $15.6 billion education budget Thursday that proposes funding all-day kindergarten across the state. The Senate’s education budget adds $52 per student to the bedrock funding formula — about $150 less than the House plan.

It also increases funding for special education programming and makes some changes to school exam policies that Senate Democrats say will better prepare students for college. Senate Republicans say they support all-day kindergarten, but would rather put more money in the general formula to allow schools to use it how they see fit. The House Education Finance Committee passed the education bill Friday afternoon, but there is still more work to do before any part of the plan could become legislation.

“I’m sure we’ll come up with a good bill in education,” Savick said.

Other highlights of the House bill include $50 million toward early education scholarships for about 8,000 3- and 4-year-olds. Ultimate goals are to have a 100 percent graduation rate, 100 percent literacy by third grade and 100 percent career and college readiness by 2027.

“We have neglected to make schools a priority at the Legislature for too long,” Savick said. “This session we want to ensure that our teachers and students get the support they need to make Minnesota a leader in education.”

Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, said he and other Republicans support adding to the funding formula, issuing early education scholarships and paying back the school shift. But he said he’d rather put more money into the general formula than “funding bureaucracy.”

The House budget would establish regional offices to help schools set educational goals, and tighten purse strings if they falter several years in a row.

“We already have a system in place to do that,” Woodard said.

Woodard also questioned the need to “dip into Minnesotans’ pockets” to support the funding increases. The Democrats in the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton are mulling different tax increase proposals — on cigarettes, alcohol and income taxes for the top earners in Minnesota.

“We’re not shying away from the fact that we’re going to have to raise revenues to do that,” House Speaker Paul Thissen said.


— The Associated Press contributed to this report.