An increase in per-pupil funding, fewer mandated tests, improved teacher licensure regulations and a greater investment in early education are just some of the reasons to be excited for the new school year.
The investment the Legislature made in education earlier this year will benefit everyone from our youngest learners to high school students. It amounts to an average of $364 more this biennium per student in the schools comprising the vast majority of House District 18A. This funding was provided without red tape so school districts can use local discretion to direct dollars in ways that will help meet their particular needs.
There also is a $95 million investment in early learning initiatives in effect to fund scholarships and school readiness aid for early learning programs. This allows us to specifically target pre-kindergarteners who need special assistance most so they will be ready for the 13 years of school our state requires to earn a high school diploma.
This year's changes extend far beyond dollars and cents. Education reform remains a top priority of mine and the insight I gained during more than three decades teaching was helpful in leading to passage a number of new laws this year.
My focus is to help sustain a high level of quality teachers in Minnesota and the bills I authored to enactment reflect that mission. They include incentives for getting a master's degree in one's content area, strengthening teacher mentorship programs and creating a pilot program through MnSCU for a school year-long student teaching program.
Other reform-minded legislation of mine which passed into law will help College in the Classroom students save on tuition by ensuring credits they earn through the Postsecondary Enrollment Option in high school are transferable throughout the MnSCU system. Another new law I authored aids low-income students through a program called College Possible, which assists high schoolers in preparing for college. One of my bills provided funding for that program.
I also co-sponsored bills to make it easier for teachers from other states to become licensed in Minnesota and to lower the number of required tests in our schools. This new law will be especially helpful in Greater Minnesota, where schools sometimes face challenges in filling vacant staff positions.
The common thread among these system reforms is they will positively impact the future of education in our state to help our children succeed and prepare to join the workforce.
It is good to see recent reports that our state again leads the nation in ACT scores, but more work remains – including closing the achievement gap. I look forward to continuing this discussion as we prepare for the 2016 session to begin. There are a number of other reforms I would like to examine further and your input always is welcome but, for now, here's wishing students and teachers all the best for the new school year with the latest round of improvements already in place.
Rep. Dean Urdahl