Minnesota Education legislative leaders agree, disagree on new law

Joe Nathan
Contributing Writer

“The shift is not ideal, but we did give school districts the extra money (and then some) to pay for any of the additional costs.” (Rep Pat Garofolo  Republican) “My biggest concern is the terrible school funding shift, going from 70/30 to 60/40. (Rep Mindy Greiling, DFL)

Those quotes help illustrate views of four current and former chairs of the House School Funding and Education Policy committees about the new k-12, 140+ page education law.. They shared reactions with me last week. Republicans Rep. Sondra Erickson, and Rep Pat Garofalo are current chairs. DFL’ers Rep. Carlos Mariani Rosa and Rep Mindy Greiling are former chairs.

Rep Pat Garofalo of Farmington sees the most important features of the bill as:

“Elimination of the wasteful and ineffective “integration funding formula.”

The significant mandate relief for local school districts….

…for the first time we are tying teacher effectiveness to student achievement. “

Garofalo believes that the “Early grad bill will motivate kids to try harder, make college more affordable, and save the taxpayers money. It is a triple win.”

Rep. Erickson taught English/Language Arts and reading for 34 years with public school students in Princeton, Milaca, Pine City and Mora. She wrote, “In the end, I thought it turned out pretty well. The two reform issues most important to me were the Reading/Literacy provision that ensures that from K -3 teachers and others provide intervention when a child is not reading at grade level; and the creation in… law of frameworks for evaluations of teachers and principals.”

She continued, “My goal as chair… was to enact laws that empower parents, improve the skills of teachers and principals and, most of all, provide…ways to improve learning and ways to raise achievement…I was disappointed… that we could not get A-F Grading of Schools because we grade students every day but for some reason are afraid to grade schools? Parents need that kind of information to know where they want their children to attend.”

Erickson believes, “the integration program has failed and needs reform. Our students and parents self-integrate so we must stop doing something artificial.”

Rep Mindy Greiling of Mounds View wrote “I am most pleased that, due to Gov. Dayton, students at least got some return on the money borrowed from them… in the form of $50 per pupil on the funding formula each year.  Republicans were going to cut $44m.  I am also pleased that the bill passed included a proposal Terri Bonoff and I tried to pass last year to stop the short-term borrowing from school districts with fund balances. Minnesota has never shifted more than 20% of school aid payments until last biennium when we made it 70/30 due to Pawlenty. Now to go to 60/40 is unheard of and terribly dangerous in terms of schools ever being paid back. If they are, it could be decades. Only one other state in the country exercises this practice: California, not a state we should value for its fiscal integrity.”

Representative Carlos Mariani Rosa of St. Paul told me his biggest concerns were, “The 2014 Sunset of Integration Revenue. Total devaluing of racial integration marking a historic retreat from efforts to build racial equality in Minnesota by equipping our K12 students with cross-racial experiences and competencies.”

He also wrote: “…there are always good small items however, none of these outweigh the two concerns…Perhaps the most pleasing outcome is the fact that an outright cut to K12 school funding, immediate end of the Integration Rule, private school vouchers, mandatory 3rd grade retention, a simplistic grading system based on shaming schools and an expensive over-proscribed approach to evaluating teachers, all which were in the original bill sent to the Governor, were removed from the final outcome.”

Clearly the law is complex and controversial. Full disclosure:  our Center receives some federal “Voluntary Public School Choice” funding via the Minnesota Department of Education.

Joe Nathan, a former Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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