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Another Minnesota Miracle?

December 16, 2008 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

Education is a long-term investment. School initiatives can sometimes take decades to reach fruition. However, the payoff is well-worth the investment. While educators have been asking for the tools they need to give our children opportunities to succeed, the state has been near silent, abrogating their fiscal responsibility to local property taxpayers to pick up the tab. A new idea gaining steam at the capitol, would not only reverse this trend, but could also create conditions for another "Minnesota Miracle."

H.F. 4178 will be heard in the legislature this coming session.  The legislation addresses many parts of our current flawed education system.

It all started with a 2004 report by a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, "Investing In Our Future," outlined these problems and offered solid solutions. When presented with this report, the state policymakers did ... nothing.

A group of educators, offended by the state's financial inequities, took the report, hired a consultant to finish it, and began the long, hard slog necessary to effect change. Piece by piece, meeting by meeting, they fashioned legislation that can have long-term, effective impact on Minnesota's students.

The proposal would push $500 per student away from local property tax levies and onto the state. The goal, said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, is to provide students with an education sufficient to meet all state and federal standards without forcing an onerous portion of the bill onto local taxpayers, as is currently the case. This was the vision of the 2004 committee, and it remains the core vision of this legislation today.

The plan will also save taxpayers money by eliminating levies for operating capitol, equity, transition, and Q-Comp.

By changing the way students are counted, the bill will make it easier for more districts to offer all day, every day kindergarten. There is no dearth of studies that show early education is key to a successful school career.

The state would also fully fund special education requirements. Special education costs districts millions simply because the federal government makes requirements that it does not fund. The bill also calls for more money to teach limited English proficient students, and to abolish the arbitrary five-year cap on funds for each LEP student.

"The five-year cap is unrealistic," Croonquist said. "Research shows that it takes seven to 10 years for an LEP student to catch up, and that's assuming he's had any schooling before he came into our system in the first place. It's not realistic that he'd be up to speed in five years."

School districts would be allowed to levy for deferred maintenance costs. Right now, the 20 largest districts can levy for deferred maintenance without running a bond election before voters - a luxury Minnesota's other 320 school districts don't have. This bill would spread the plan to all districts.

It requires that 1.5 percent of basic revenue go toward funding research-based practices that improve student performance; 1 percent for gifted and talented programs; .5 percent for additional career and technical programs.

The bill adjusts the Location Equity Index for districts in areas with high costs of living, and it modifies the Sparcity Revenue model of geographically isolated districts.

It increases the per student amount schools receive for poor students by $2,500.

It increases the per student amount from $5,124 to $7,500, and indexes the amount to the rate of inflation as measured by the implicit price deflator.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, the plan's chief-author,  has made it clear that the legislation is "scalable," meaning that the bill can be passed without any funding attached and as money comes available it can be funneled through this new system.   It will be a good policy framework if state policymakers step up and make the much-needed investment.

Minnesota's economy has been historically strong, not because of tax-giveaways, but because of our highly-educated workforce and standard of living.  Fully funding education in Minnesota is an investment in our children to pass on this important legacy. We look to leadership in St. Paul to make it happen.
 

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