By Don Davis
Adding money to early childhood education and all-day kindergarten programs, as Gov. Mark Dayton suggests, is important to Minnesota’s future, the state House education finance leader says.
“Those two programs really pay dividends into the future,” Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said Tuesday before he presented the Dayton budget proposal to his committee.
Dayton’s $15.5 billion two-year education budget proposal would be about $1 billion more than for two years ending June 30. Nearly a third of the new money would go to early-childhood education and pre-kindergarten.
Public school funding would be 41 percent of all spending from state tax money.
Much of the increase would go to pre-first grade education and increasing per-pupil state aid $52 next year. The new pupil aid would give school districts an average of $5,276 next year.
The budget also would spend $10.5 million more for schools with declining enrollment. However, the Dayton plan does not provide specific funds to districts, especially in rural Minnesota, that have less ability to raise money.
The budget plan “does not create any huge changes in distributions of dollars targeted to low-revenue districts,” Tom Melcher of the state Education Department said. “There is some movement in that direction, but we are not seeing a dramatic change.”
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said he has heard rural school officials complain that urban districts get far more state aid than rural schools, and he does not want to see that difference grow.
Melcher said Dayton looked at the situation, but “there would have been a significant cost associated with that.”
The Education Department’s Kevin McHenry said provisions Dayton suggests, such as reducing paperwork requirements, could especially help rural schools. “We are trying to provide some more flexibility.”
Marquart, an outspoken proponent of rural Minnesota, called the Dayton plan “a good starting point.” While he said the final school funding bill likely will be similar to the Dayton plan, changes will be made.
Among provisions in the Dayton plan are:
— A requirement that schools districts offering pre-kindergarten education to test children to ensure they are ready.
— More funding for all-day kindergarten, although state money would not fully fund the optional program.
— Funds to keep at least the same amount of money flowing to schools as they now receive.
— Programs to help low-achieving students do better.