Local education leaders recommend priorities for Minnesota Legislature

What are the top recommendations to Minnesota legislators from superintendents, charter public school directors and other leaders? More than 90 percent of 51 leaders responded when I contacted them recently.  Here are their priorities.

Braham Area School District Superintendent Greg Winter was one of about one-third of the leaders who urged more attention to young children.

Winter wrote, “My top priority for the Minnesota Legislature is to find a way to fund all day, everyday kindergarten. There are many inequities in school funding in the state of Minnesota. Some districts have found ways to fund all day, everyday kindergarten, either through levy referendums or having parents pay the cost. However, most districts do not have the resources to provide this service. I am hopeful the Minnesota legislature can see this as a priority and give every family the choice of sending their child to every day, all day kindergarten without another burden on the district taxpayers or individual families to fund this opportunity.”

Cambridge-Isanti School District Superintendent Bruce Novak spoke for many when he offered several ideas.

“The first being one you have heard over and over, please no more mandates without adequate funding attached to the mandate. I would like to see an inflationary factor attached to the State Aid Formula so there would be adequate revenue to cover the annual increase in expenditure due to inflation, such as fuel, electricity, food commodities and delivery of products, and the automatic roll up of employee salaries due to salary schedules created 20 to 25 years ago.”

Lisa Hendricks, director of Partnership Academy in Richfield believes, “In order to eliminate the staggering Achievement Gap we have in Minnesota we need to start making Pre-K a priority.”

Along with greater state funding, Tom Dooher, Education Minnesota president recommended, “targeted investments to close the achievement gap, such as by making all-day kindergarten available to every child.”

Stephen Jones, Little Falls superintendent wrote, “My top priority for the session is for the legislature to truly hear, examine, and consider the recommendations brought forth by the Education Finance Reform Working Group. For the past decade, there has been universal agreement that education finance in Minnesota is a convoluted quagmire; the recommendations of the Working Group should receive serious bipartisan attention from the legislature. I believe children and families in Minnesota deserve that.”

Education leaders mentioned several other priorities.  These include greater funding dedicated to special education, no more unfunded mandates, repaying the money already owed to public schools and greater flexibility.

Curt Johnson, former a Minnesota community college president and long-time reformer now with Education Evolving wrote that the group’s top priority is to, “allow charter school authorizers, as well as school district boards, to designate a limited number of departments or whole schools for participation in an ‘innovation zone.’ Schools, or parts of schools, so designated would be essentially deregulated, would be encouraged to try new and different ways of achieving success with students, and judged only on the results they get.” Several superintendents suggested greater flexibility in how they can spend state funds.

The 90 percent response rate shows that what the Legislature does matters a lot. Upcoming columns will focus on several of these suggestions. Final legislative decisions are several months away, so concerned readers can share their views with legislators.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected].