By Sam Walseth, MREA Lobbyist
As the dust settles on the 2013, and there’s a lot of dust to settle, it’s clear that several rural legislators played instrumental roles in advancing public education goals supported by Minnesota’s rural education leaders. They deserve a “thank you” from school leaders.
MREA members developed a state policy platform last fall that focused on adequate, stable and equitable funding for education. The platform also focused on reforming a less useful set of assessments with a suite of assessments that would measure academic growth in real time and show students where their academic trajectory is taking them.
The platform called for relaxing MTLE exams while we figure out a better way to insure quality of new instructors and local flexibility in designing evaluations for veteran staff.
This session, the legislature not only listened to the voices of educational professionals calling for change, they delivered on it. Here’s a look at key rural education leaders last session:
House Education Finance Chairman, Paul Marquart (Dilworth), led the charge for a large budget target for schools. His efforts were successful in bringing over $500 million to conference committee for E-12 educational programs. Despite being out numbered 2:1 with the Senate and Governor bringing about $180 million less for the classroom, Rep. Marquart and crew secured $485 million for E-12 education programs.
His “World’s Best Workforce” requirements are frustrating when looked at through a political vacuum. However, when taken into context with the rest of the education debate it was clear the new DFL House Majority would need to talk about more than taxes, spending and amending the accountability system. They would need a clear message about high expectations for student achievement and closing the achievement gap.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (Plummer), longtime Senate E-12 Chairman, served an important role on the Senate E-12 committee. His historical perspective led to reinstatement of a general education levy; now called Student Achievement Revenue that will be levied on a district’s ANTC. His strong support for Career & Technical programs lead to new revenue for CTE next school year and beyond.
Rep. Kathy Brynaert (Mankato) and Sen. Kevin Dahle (Northfield) undertook a huge battle to reform the state’s assessment and accountability system. The new system will deliver an assessment system that has more value for students, educators, families and businesses. Repealing the GRAD exams came with some explosive politics at times and we haven’t heard the last of cut scores, but MREA’s membership has called for this type of assessment reform for years.
Sen. Dahle, Rep. Dean Urdahl (Litchfield) and others also took on the sticky issue of teacher licensure exams. Again, high stakes and high cut scores that sounded good in the legislative arena had the effect of denying a large segment of much needed teachers candidates an opportunity to teach kids. Those same teacher candidates now have two opportunities to pass their licensure exams and an interim task force group is to come back with recommendations on what to do with the MTLE exams.
Last, but not least, is Sen. Rod Skoe (Clearbrook), chairman of the Senate Tax committee. Sen. Skoe had several goals in mind when he entered this session. Reducing property taxes and closing the 5th-95th general education gap were two of them. He set out to increase equalization aid for operating levies as part of a property tax reduction plan.
Seeing that 54 districts had less than $300/pupil in referendum authority while the average authority had grown to $1,035/pupil, he realized the inequity in the system and decided to focus equalization aid at a new “tier one” that would allow school boards to establish the first $300/pupil in levy authority. This move alone would reduce the general education 5th-95th gap from 31 percent to 24 percent.
Rural education leaders can be proud of the work they put into the development of MREA’s legislative platform. They can be proud of the many rural legislators who have stepped forward to be leaders on education issues. 2013 will be remembered as a seminal year in education finance and policy. Learn more about results and the value of membership.