by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
The Democratic-led Legislature approved its omnibus E-12 education finance and policy bill Sunday (May 19) that slates an additional $485 million to education.
“This is a very bold and ambitious plan,” House Education Finance Committee Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.
Included in the $15.6 billion bill is funding for voluntary all-day, every-day kindergarten and $40 million in early learning scholarships.
These scholarships could provide up to $5,000 per year for needy families to send youngsters to top notch early learning or child care facilities.
The bill provides $234 million for a three percent basic funding formula increase over two years, and slates $38 million in extra special education funding.
The House proposal for a temporary income tax surcharge on the wealthy to immediately pay back the school shift was scuttled.
Under the banner of creating the world’s best workforce, the bill requires school districts to develop plans to meet readiness goals — third-grade literacy for all students, for instance — and allows the education commissioner to use up to two percent of funding to craft remedial plans for school districts failing to show adequate progress.
“Powerful accountability,” House Education Policy Committee Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said.
The bill provides $2 million tocreate additional Regional Centers of Excellence.
It scraps the GRAD tests students currently must passto earn a high school diploma, turning instead to an alternative assessment model including the use of college placement tests.
The so-called “high-stakes” GRAD test was called antiquated and punitive by a recent assessment work group and by education officials in committee testimony.
Republicans argue Democrats are dumbing down high school diplomas.
“I will continue to have grave concerns about this new direction,” Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said.
“I just think that’s shameful that Minnesota is moving in that direction,” she said.
But Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, lauded the proposed change.
“It’s a much higher standard, and a much higher level of accountability,” Brynaert said.
“You will not see social promotions under this assessment systems,” she said.
One of the sharpest critics of the omnibus E-12 bill wasn’t a Republican but a Democrat.
Rep, Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the early learning scholarship provision was “deeply flawed.”
Winkler blamed Department of Education officials for insisting on certain scholarship language.
“Unfortunately, the bureaucrats won,” he said.
Other features of the bill includes the allocation of $1 million to the Department of Education to implement anti-bullying policies.
The bill allows school districts officials to increase their safe school levy by $4 per student and expand its usage to buying laminated glassand hiring mental health professionals who aren’t school district employees.
The bill increases the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 17 years old.
It prohibits school boards from firing coaches based solely on parental complaints.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, calledthe “world’s best workforce” theme as “largely a set of platitudes.”
He criticized the bill for lacking accountability, lacking courage in addressing the learning gap.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]