Education leaders offer praise and perspective on 2013 Minnesota Legislature

Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan

Praise and perspective – that’s what more than 30 Minnesota education leaders offered last week when asked about the 2013 Minnesota Legislature’s decisions on K-12 education.

That includes superintendents Bruce Novak of the Cambridge-Isanti School District, Linda Madsen of Forest Lake, as well as Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. They agreed in most areas. But some things concern them.

The superintendents praised new funding for all-day, every-day kindergarten. Novak believes this “will hopefully be a great step in helping our youngest students be prepared for success in their education.”

Each also was happy about the 1.5 percent overall increase in funding. Novak explained this is “very much appreciated. (I am concerned that the public will think there is a large increase the second year and may not understand the impact of the weighted p/pu change). The additional increase to the formula is an adjustment made to hold districts harmless. I am also concerned to whether this amount will be permanent or just for the one year FY 15. The equalization factor is beneficial to Cambridge-Isanti and will generate much-needed revenue for the School District.”

He was disappointed that the Legislature increased funding for gifted students by only a dollar per pupil and gave modest increases to support students with special needs, “This is not even close to what the cost of special education is across the state; in Cambridge-Isanti last year we had cross subsidy costs for special education a little over $2 million. The revenue will help but certainly doesn’t come close to covering the excess costs of special education.”

In a more controversial decision, legislators decided to end the requirement that students must pass reading, writing and math tests before graduation. Instead, students will take various tests showing how prepared they are for some form of two-or four-year college and various careers. Weaver strongly disagreed with this decision.

However, Weaver believes that the Legislature took “one step forward with the new high school exams, but three steps back with the elimination of basic expectations for student performance on state exams. Under the new system, students who perform at the bottom levels in reading, writing and math on the exams can still graduate with a high school diploma. Current state expectations for student performance on reading and writing high school exams … have led to significant increases in the percent of students of color meeting state standards, graduating from high school and lowering drop-out rates.”

It’s impossible to briefly yet fully describe a law that is more than 200 pages long. But despite some disagreements, educators and business people agreed that this year’s Legislature expanded opportunities, especially for young children, in important ways.

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