Balance Local ControlEarly LearningFacility FalloutFunding Student Needs

Four Key Areas to Address for Education Funding and Policy

By February 1, 2015 No Comments

The release of  Governor Mark Dayton’s budget plan calls for $373 million for E-12 education. While that represents 56 percent of the projected ongoing surplus revenue, it is closer to 15 percent of all new state revenue when considering state revenues are projected to grow 6.4 percent or $2.5 billion over the next biennium. Learn more about the Governor’s Budget Plan.

There are arguments to be made that the E-12 target needs to be much, much higher than $373 million. There’s a list a mile long of unfunded needs and inequities that should be addressed by the state (and federal government).

MREA encourages school leaders contact their legislators and tell them they need to increase the E-12 target well above the Governor’s $373 million. If not, fire up the referendum campaign machine.

Here are four key areas school leaders and advocates need to address with their legislators:

Job #1 – Increase the E-12 Target

The $373 million of the projected $664 million ongoing surplus is simply insufficient to meet budgetary needs of school districts. Legislators need to hear this and hear what it means locally if the overall E-12 target leaves us short on facilities funding and short on formula dollars.

This needs to happen ASAP. Our window to influence the E-12 target is going to evaporate in a few short weeks. Senate DFLers and House GOP members are the primary target. If your district is represented by them, you need to step up and reach out. If you have parent groups who can help, now is the time to get them engaged in the budget debate. 

Job #2 – Facilities Funding

Expanding deferred maintenance levy authority as outlined in SF 76 (Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL Northfield) remains the top priority for Greater Minnesota schools and the focus of this session.

Getting this levy authority is the most strategic method for closing basic programmatic funding inequities in the system. These additional levy dollars will enhance Greater Minnesota school district budgets over time, more so than adding a small amount of funding on the formula in the short run.

Should the state extend this levy authority to rural districts, then the next time the state does put money on the formula, it will be much more equal in terms of purchasing power when compared to the metro.

Hopefully there are some formula dollars that emerge from the final E-12 bill this year, but rural districts need to prioritize facility funding this session while the issue has the attention of the state. If we don’t, this, too, shall fade for another generation of education funding cycles.

Keep in mind, the House GOP is likely to come in with more money on the formula than the Governor proposed (and the Senate is likely to propose) as they will want to say they did better by education than the DFL did. We can’t take that for granted, but this is a likely outcome of the budget chess game ahead. Read more on Facility Fallout.

Job #3 – Make Sense of Early Learning Spending

Three competing early learning proposals are emerging for this session.

The Senate’s universal four-year-old preschool bill (SF 6, Sen. John Hoffman, DFL Anoka) would cost almost $500 million in the next biennium and almost $600 million the two years after that. This kind of middle class entitlement is simply unaffordable and defies all of the research that shows the 17:1 return on investment to society is with money invested in low-income children and their families and in the earliest years of their lives.

The Governor’s plan calls for merging the existing pot of School Readiness funding, about $12 million annually, into a new pot totaling $109 million. The new pot would reimburse school districts at a rate of .5 ADM plus categorical aids for offering a full time four-year-old preschool program (850 hours, plus 200 summer hours) at no charge to any family, regardless of income status.

The Administration is assuming that 60 percent of districts will take advantage of this program and that districts with multiple elementary buildings might consider the program for their most poverty stricken buildings. The Administration is also proposing all existing early learning scholarships, about $27 million annually, would go into the Pathway I program, which provides scholarships to families only. Pathway II, which provides scholarship funding directly to school sites, would cease under this plan.

The House GOP’s early learning plan likely will emerge this Thursday. MREA has been told that Rep. Ron Kresha (GOP Little Falls) will hold a press conference on Thursday as he introduces legislation backed by the MinnieMinds to outline the organization’s early childhood scholarship plan. The legislation likely will include a comparable amount of spending to the Governor’s plan, but it will all go into scholarships. How much, if any, would go into Pathway II or school-based scholarships is unclear. We’ll know more by the end of the week.

Where the child care community falls in all of this is a big question. Some center-based child care programs are attaining the requisite 3-4 star Parent Aware ratings to be eligible to receive scholarships. Home-based or legal, unlicensed child care programs are slow to the Parent Aware game. It’s been noted that if schools take over four-year-old preschool programs, child care centers will face economic difficulties as fees for four year-olds subsidize the high cost of infant and toddler care.

It’s unclear how these three divergent plans will find a middle road by the end of May. MREA has tried and will continue to try to add our voice to the debate. Our view is that rural communities need to work together — schools, child care programs, Head Start and others — to build out a coordinated system of affordable early learning opportunities for low-income children. There seems to be room for many programs if only the state can figure out an efficient and reasonable revenue plan. Read more about Early Learning.

Job #4 – Battle Next Wave of Mandates

Here come the mandates. The legislature simply can’t convene and fund current educational programs. It just isn’t a session without a volley of proposals mandating some new activity on the school system.

The first one out of the shoot this session is SF 343 (Sen. Susan Kent, DFL Woodbury), which caught some media attention last week. Supported by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), SF 343 would reduce high school student elective requirements from seven to five and instead mandate students to obtain two credits of physical education to graduate.

The bill would also mandate the following:

  • Require schools to conduct annual assessments of student mastery of the physical education standards and benchmarks adopted by the department;
  • Report the assessment results to the department and publish the report in the local newspaper with the largest circulation in the district;
  • Require schools to regularly assess all students to determine the attainment of physical education learning objectives, including student improvement and knowledge gain, using the outcomes recommended by the National Association of Sport and Physical Education;
  • Require schools to integrate into the curriculum developmentally appropriate health-related fitness testing as an instructional tool, except in the early elementary grades, and the testing must be used by the school to teach students how to assess their fitness levels, set goals for improvement, and monitor progress in reaching their goals;
  • Prohibit excluding a student from recess due to punishment or disciplinary action.

MREA testified against the bill in the Senate E-12 Committee last Thursday. If this legislation is of concern to you, please communicate those concerns to your legislators. The advocates for this bill will continue pressuring legislators to support including it in the omnibus E-12 bill.

Help your legislators understand other alternatives to help high school students learn and live healthy lifestyles. Nobody is doubting the importance of physical education. We’re simply doubting the wisdom of the mandates contained in SF 343.