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Withholding state funds from schools

Published (8/11/2011)
By Mike Cook
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Republicans call it a good law for the state’s children, while DFLers say the moving of money is a poor way to balance the state’s budget.

No matter what it’s called, a $780 million shift in school aid payments is included in the $14.5 billion omnibus education finance law.

Under the funding shift, schools will receive 60 percent of their anticipated funding during the first year of the biennium with the rest bought back when the economy recovers and state revenues increase enough to build up a budget surplus. The remaining 40 percent will go into the state’s General Fund.

“The good news is that unlike previous shifts in previous years, we’re actually paying the school districts for this,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), who sponsors the law with Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista). “We’re giving them additional money to help finance those costs: a $50 increase in the per pupil funding formula the first year, a

$100 per pupil increase in the second year.”

Critics orated it is the second straight biennium that education shifts have been used to balance the state budget: a 70-30 shift was used last year. Before this the ratio had been 90-10. While the shift helps the state balance its budget, critics say it will force school districts to scramble to make up for the lost revenue and that many school districts have already resorted to short-term borrowing to meet cash-flow needs because of last year’s shift.

Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) said the law brings the total amount owed to schools to more than $3 billion, with no plan to pay the money back.

“We’re borrowing from junior to deal with adult’s issues,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul). “I really worry greatly about the long-term future of public education in our state by doing these borrowing schemes. I think it’s beneath us.”

The law contains $4 million in early childhood scholarships.

“We believe that low-income parents have the same right and access to quality preschool education just like wealthy people do,” Garofalo said.

The law calls for a 5 percent funding reduction to the Department of Education each year. The same will be true for the Perpich Center for the Arts Education. The original House bill sought to eliminate the center as a state agency.

An integration funding program — which helps districts comply with state desegregation laws — will be eliminated at the end of fiscal year 2013, replaced with a statement that Minnesota “does not condone separating school children of different socioeconomic, demographic, ethnic, or racial backgrounds into distinct public schools. Instead, the state’s interest lies in offering children a diverse and nondiscriminatory educational experience.” A commission will be convened with legislative and executive appointments to decide how to better spend the program money to improve student performance.

Other provisions in the law include:

• a restatement of a goal that the Legislature seeks to have every child reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade, requiring districts to provide reading intervention to accelerate student growth;

• requiring local districts and the state to develop teacher evaluation plans where at least 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation depends on student performance;

• extending by two years the relief from requiring local districts to spend 2 percent of their basic revenue on staff development;

• repealing the state’s authority to borrow from school districts with reserves during a fiscal year;

• districts are to develop and implement a performance-based system for annually evaluating school principals;

• repealing a law that financially penalized school districts for not reaching a contract deal with its teachers by Jan. 15; and

• the Board of Teaching and the commissioner of education must jointly convene and facilitate an advisory task force to develop recommendations for a statewide tiered teacher licensure system.

A plan to provide vouchers for poor families at low-performing Twin Cities’ schools so students could attend private schools did not make it into law. A special education funding cap and a plan to grade schools A-F were also left from the final product.

“We have provisions in this (law) that will empower parents, we have in this (law) provisions that will improve teaching, provisions that will improve principals and we have provisions that will improve learning, increase achievement and hopefully close our achievement gap,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton). “This is a great day for the children of Minnesota, for the parents of Minnesota and for our teachers and principals because we’re moving forward.”

2011 Special Session: HF26*/ SF11/CH11

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