K-12 bill falls short of lofty goalsby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
The Senate has passed a nearly $13.8 billion education bill funding Minnesota schools and early childhood initiatives. The bill, which passed on a a 51-to-15 vote, would boost education spending by nearly $800 million. But it falls short of the lofty hopes for education this session, and it doesn't include all of the governor's key education goals.
St. Paul, Minn. — The bill would boost the basic amount that Minnesota schools get for each student by 2 percent next year, and 1 percent the following year. It would also increase special education funding by more than $300 million, a key priority for Senate Democrats.
DFL Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud says that money will help school districts pay the rising costs of special education programs.
"We would have liked to have seen more resources," she said. "We believe that our school districts have been having to pay for special education that the state had committed to pay for, we were trying to fix that, we didn't get quite all the way there."
But Gov. Pawlenty doesn't share the Senate's desire to put more than a third of the new education spending into special education. Spokesman Brian McClung says the governor would rather put more money on the general education formula that schools get for each student.
"We want to make sure that schools are fairly funded across the state," McClung said. "The general education formula does that in a more broad manner. And so theirs is more targeted to specific school districts, and particularly in Minneapolis and St. Paul."
Pawlenty's budget proposed a 2 percent increase in the basic funding formula in each of the next two years. McClung says DFL leaders put together their education bill without the governor's approval, and there's no guarantee he'll sign it.
The bill does fully fund Q-Comp, Gov. Pawlenty's performance pay for teachers program. But it doesn't have any money for his high school reform proposal. It does includes more money for advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs that the governor supports.
"The governor ram-rodded through every one of his proposals in this bill ... The details, of course, were done in a very unsatisfactory matter, but this is the governor's bill," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, the chair of the House K-12 Finance Committee. She says there's no reason for the governor to veto the bill.
Pawlenty spokesman McClung notes that legislators write the bills, not the governor's office.
Legislative leaders say the education package makes some strides in early childhood funding, although nothing close to the calls for statewide all-day kindergarten and a significant expansion of preschool programs that were heard before the session started.
The bill would increase funding for all-day kindergarten by more than $30 million, but that's not enough to expand full-day kindergarten statewide. It does not fund the governor's proposal for preschool scholarships for low-income children, although legislative leaders say a $6 million pilot program is in another budget bill.
Education advocates are putting a positive spin on the bill, although it's clear it falls short of their expectations. Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, admits he wasn't happy with the bill as negotiations were wrapping up Sunday night.
"I was really quite upset, feeling like once again, the schools were stuck in mediocrity in terms of funding," he said. "I kind of calmed down overnight and analyzed what was possible, and decided that the best thing for us as school leaders is to try to make the best we can."
Kyte says the special education funding will help school districts across the state. But he says the general education formula increase of 2 percent the first year and 1 percent the second will create serious problems for districts in the second year of the budget.
Kyte had called for a tax increase to pay for more education spending, but Gov. Pawlenty rejected the Legislature's attempt to raise income taxes.
- All Things Considered, 05/21/2007, 5:24 p.m.