Senate makes needed investments in education

Recently, the Senate passed education bills that send an encouraging message to students, parents, teachers, principals and administrators that we are committed to moving Minnesota’s education system forward and providing academic excellence to our kids. There is good reason for hope. These bills make the first significant investments in education in a decade and set the table for comprehensive student success, starting with early learning programs and extending through college and career readiness.

All-day kindergarten will now be a reality for any Minnesota family wishing to participate, and more kids than ever before will have the opportunity to enroll in early learning programs. The bill invests more than $130 million to schools for all-day K. The benefits of all-day kindergarten are clear; numerous studies—including one done in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage—have shown there are quantifiable educational benefits from all-day kindergarten, including improved literacy and math skills.

Currently, half of Minnesota’s children are not ready for kindergarten. We have $50 million dedicated to early learning scholarships to boost student preparedness as they enter school. A long-term study found that adults at age 40 who attended a preschool program had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool. The all-day K and early scholarship investments make significant steps toward closing the achievement gap and enhancing Minnesota’s commitment to quality education for all children.

We promote excellence in education by investing in the Math and Reading Corps, providing more tutors in these critical subject areas in schools across the state. We increase the compulsory education age to lower our drop out rate and help kids graduate. We expand adult learning opportunities, invest in special education and make a $25.3 million appropriation to help districts improve school facilities and make students safe. In addition, we provide $16 million to bolster career and technical programs in Minnesota schools.

Because we know districts need additional dollars on the bottom line to fund regular classroom programs, we boost state basic education funding by increasing the per student “formula” by $100 million. This is an important investment for schools because the basic formula provides districts more opportunities to enhance educational programs for all students.

School-related property taxes have been on an upward spiral for the past decade. To bring relief to homeowners and businesses, the Senate education bill provides $150 million to stem that tide. This is an important investment for our school districts and a direct benefit to property taxpayers without sacrificing quality school financing.

Our approach is strongly supported by those who know education. The Department of Education, MNSCU, rural schools, testing experts, and parent groups have all voiced their support. But it is more than just the experts.

We received a call from a woman who, holding back tears, was concerned her 7th grade son, diagnosed with dyslexia, would be unable to graduate under the current testing system. We address those concerns by reforming student assessment and realigning tests with college and career readiness standards. Now this woman can be assured that her son can graduate based on his educational merits, not his test-taking ability.

By implementing the recommendations of the bipartisan 2012 Assessment and Accountability Working Group, students will take a new suite of assessments that provide actionable, diagnostic feedback to students and teachers. The new system will help our students excel where they falter, instead of merely stamping a label of failure on them. With this new approach, we can achieve post-secondary success for our students and ultimately ensure Minnesota continues to have a quality workforce.

The new diagnostic examinations will enhance learning by providing targeted remediation for those who need it, promoting our best and brightest and ultimately ensuring a pathway to academic success for all students. Counselors, teachers and principals have expressed their elation and gratitude for moving toward this more effective measure of testing.

The approach we have taken this session is strongly supported by those who know education. Minnesota’s schools, teachers, parents and students gain a lot with these bills; it’s an approach that is long overdue.

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Senator Kevin Dahle
Kevin Dahle represents District 20, which includes portions of Le Sueur, Rice, and Scott counties in the south central part of the state.

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