ST. PAUL, Minn. – After hours of discussion, House and Senate leaders announce they have arrived at a compromise E-12 Finance Bill. The bill directs an additional $400 million to Minnesota public schools, which includes a 1.5 percent and 2 percent increase to the per-pupil funding formula for FY16 and FY17 respectively. The new money will help schools minimize the need for painful cuts to the classroom. The new investments amount to $87 per pupil in increases the first year, and $118 per pupil the second year. The bill also prioritizes early childhood education by investing $30.75 million into School Readiness, and another $30.75 million into Early Learning Scholarships.
Senate E-12 Finance Chair Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) says this session’s investments will bring the legislature’s additional investments in the E-12 system to nearly $1 billion since 2013. However, he adds he wishes the two bodies could have come to an agreement on additional pre-k investments considering the overwhelming research that shows how successful pre-k programming is in closing the achievement gap.
“While the Senate did prevail in securing more money for our state’s K-12 schools and that is a victory, we stand with Governor Dayton’s statement that our final budget target should have been much higher,” said Wiger.
“Sometimes you take different paths to get to the same place – the Senate’s investment in Great Start School Readiness is visionary, but it’s also practical, giving parents another free option to prepare their youngsters for a successful academic career. While I promise to keep on fighting for greater early education funding, k-12 schools across the state can look forward to another two years of growth and success, rather than facing cuts.”
Highlights in the bill include:
Repairing School Facilities – Increasing equity between metro and rural districts
Improving school facilities was also a priority this session, and Sen. Wiger fought to include $31.96 million in investments for long-term facilities maintenance. School districts across the state are struggling to fix leaking roofs, mold, condemned swimming pools and a myriad of other expensive repairs. This is an equity issue for school districts. Currently only a handful of districts are allowed to raise dollars locally to improve school buildings. Now all Minnesota school districts will be able to do this.
Early Education – Preparing our youngest Minnesotans for future success
The legislature’s $60 million investments in School Readiness and Early Learning Scholarships are on top of previous and ongoing funding for these important programs. Including this year’s new investments, the School Readiness program now receives $55 million per biennium, and Early Learning Scholarships received $86 million per biennium. These programs directly lead to closing the achievement gap and ensuring more 4-year-olds are prepared for kindergarten.
Licensing – Getting quality teachers in the classroom
Minnesota is experiencing a severe teacher shortage crisis, particularly in rural areas. In some districts that used to receive hundreds of applicants per position, the stream has turned into a trickle that makes hiring qualified teachers difficult to close to impossible. In response to this crisis, we streamlined the licensure process. We made it easier for teachers to get their licenses by removing unnecessary barriers, while still maintaining the high standards to which Minnesota teachers are held.
Testing – More learning time for students We reduced the amount of time that students will have to spend on standardized testing. The point is to increase learning time and decrease testing time. Students in grades 1-6 will take no more than 10 hours of testing per school year, and students in grades 7-12 will spend no more than 11 hours of classroom time taking tests. These measures also protect students and schools from the online MCA testing failures this spring and puts NCS Pearson Inc. on notice that the legislature can and will respond to an inadequate product. The provision also give the Minnesota Department of Education the tools to respond to future testing problems.
Earning College Credits – College in the classroom To expand students’ opportunities for concurrent enrollment, we adopted spending an additional $4 million to allow this successful program to double. This will allow many more juniors and seniors to earn college credit while still in high school, thereby saving money on student loans and allowing them to remain at their high school.
Minnesota Reading Corps – Literacy skills for little ones We also invested an additional $3.5 million into the highly successful Minnesota Reading Corps, whose goal is for all Minnesota children to become proficient readers by the end of third grade. The third grade reading benchmark is an important standard as research shows when students can’t read at grade level at this age, they will continue to fall further and further behind their peers.