School administrators make legislative priorities known

BY JOE NATHAN – GUEST COLUMNIST

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.

Many leaders agreed with Dennis Peterson, Minnetonka superintendent, who wrote, “Our first priority is to finally have a significant increase in funding of the existing formula. The next priority is to have the state keep its commitment to funding a share of special education funding. They have continued to decline in the funds for their promises to the districts to help with special education costs.”

John Schultz, Hopkins superintendent told me, “It is our hope that the Legislature discovers a way to ensure sustainable funding for education. Through their deliberation, we hope they also provide resources specifically to early childhood education and reform the assessment system so tests provide relevant information to classroom.”

St. Louis Park Superintendent Debra Bowers suggested two similar priorities: “First I am interested in additional money in the general fund to address district needs and innovations. Second, I believe in investing in our four and five year olds is prudent use of the state’s money to provide equity for all learners.”

Robbinsdale Superintendent Aldo Sicoli explained, “My top priority for the 2013 Minnesota Legislature is to restore integration revenue that is set to expire.”

The next most frequently priority was more funding for early childhood education. Some suggested greater funding for programs involving three- and four-year-olds. Others focused on all-day, every-day kindergarten.

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

Kate McGuire, Osseo superintendent, was one of many leaders who endorsed recommendations of a statewide school funding task force. She wrote, “Our top priority is to support the education finance working group recommendations to the governor which result in a more equitable system of school funding and are responsible to the increasing expectations for ALL students, the needs of a changing student population, and the increased challenges of preparing all students for college and career.”

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

Curt Johnson, formerly 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, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org

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