House DFLers set high education funding goals

Marquart

By Don Davis

Goals of 100 percent high school graduation, every third-grader being able to read, ending an achievement gap and all students being ready for careers or college after graduation are lofty, but House Democrats say their sights are set on those accomplishments by 2027.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said Tuesday that the $15.7 billion House Democrats want to spend on education in the next two years would “actually make a difference in the life of every single student of this state.”

The House education financing plan closely follows one released by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, but takes a new approach to improve education.

Marquart said schools would be required to submit plans to show how they would achieve the major goals. Once approved by state officials, schools then would be required to make annual progress toward the goals.

If a school did not make good progress in meeting the goals three straight years, the state could step in and maybe even take over a school.

Marquart said state Education Department officials would be the judges about whether schools are making adequate progress.

Schools would receive an additional per-student payment of $104 each of the next two years “to give schools the resources … they need to meet those goals,” Marquart said.

The plan calls for spending $15.7 billion in the next two years, the largest part of a proposed $38 billion budget, a bit more than in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget plan. The Senate has yet to announce its school budget.

Current education spending is $15.5 billion.

Rep. Kelby Woodard of Belle Plaine, the top House education Republican, said Democrats are off to a good start, but tax increases they propose are not needed to fund schools.

“It is disappointing, however, Democrats propose spending new money to create new layers of government bureaucracy while thrusting even more unfunded mandates on our schools,” Woodard said. “Those are key areas we need to address before we gain wholesale bipartisan support.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said that education improvements, especially for young children, are “the best way to build a strong middle class.”

Minnesota used to be the top education state, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said. “We have slipped to the middle of the pack in the last 10 years.”

Marquart, House education finance chairman, said his bill would fix the problems Murphy mentioned. He said proven tactics would be used by Minnesota educators, particularly new efforts in early-childhood education.

About $50 million would go to providing scholarships to families with 3- and 4-year-olds to attend public or private preschools, Marquart said. They would need to have incomes less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for the state-issued scholarships.

Marquart estimated that 8,000 students would get the scholarships, but that only is a quarter to a third of those who need them. The average scholarship would be $7,400 a year.

Marquart said he expects every Minnesota school district to take advantage of the all-day kindergarten money.

New general money available to schools could be used as districts wish, but Marquart said they would need to use it to reach the main education goals.

The portion of the education plan to require continual progress should be treated like coaching, Marquart said. “It is coaching and working with the excellent staffs in the state.”

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