Education Leaders recommend priorities for Minnesota Legislature

What are the top recommendations to Minnesota legislators from superintendents, charter public school directors and other leaders?  More than 90 percent of 51 leaders responded when I contacted them recently.  Here are their priorities.

Not surprisingly, the most frequently cited priority involves additional state funding, along with reduced reliance on local property taxes.

Ric Dressen, Superintendent in Edina spoke for many when he wrote:  “There are numerous educational challenges facing this legislative session and I feel funding will shape a majority of these challenges…the educational funding formula recommendations developed by the MDE working group… address many of the key challenges and provides a great framework for shaping public education into our state’s future.  I hope their recommendations receive serious consideration.”

Les Fujitake, Bloomington superintendent agreed: “As a member of the Minnesota Department of Education’s Education Finance Working Group, I encourage the Legislature to consider the Group’s recommendations for revamping Minnesota’s school funding system.   The Education Finance Working Group invested more than 18 months of study and analysis to develop the package of recommendations that we believe will be a more equitable and adequate approach to how schools are funded.”

Curt Tryggestad, Superintendent of  Eden Prairie urged“stability and flexibility in the funding that  comes from the state. Additional dollars on the funding formula would be helpful along with the ability to use state dollars in ways that will yield the best results at the local level. Lastly, the removal or easing of unfunded mandates would be welcomed at the local level.”

Many leaders cited funding for early childhood education. Some suggested greater funding for programs involving three and four year olds.  Others focused on all day, every day kindergarten.   Lisa Hendricks, director of Partnership Academy in Richfield believes, ”In order to eliminate the staggering Achievement Gap we have in Minnesota we need to start making Pre-K a priority. “

Along with greater state funding, Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota recommended “targeted investments to close the achievement gap, such as by making all-day kindergarten available to every child.”

Jason Ulbrich, Eagle Ridge Academy executive director “ would like the MN Legislature to continue to reduce the holdback monies until it reaches 10%.”

Curt Johnson also advocates for greater flexibility.  Formerly a Minnesota community college president and long-time reformer now with Education Evolving, Johnson wrote that the group’s top priority is to, “allow charter school authorizers, as well as school district boards, to designate a limited number of departments or whole schools for participation in an ‘innovation zone.’ Schools, or parts of schools, so designated would be essentially deregulated, would be encouraged to try new and different ways of achieving success with students, and judged only on the results they get.”  Several superintendents suggested greater flexibility in how they can spend state funds.

Finally, Carl Schlueter, executive director of Beacon Academy in Bloomington lists his “top three” legislative priorities as: “financing (e.g., 90/10 lease aid, state-backed guaranteed loans, per pupil aid parity), licensing (i.e., alternative and reciprocal licensure), and Authorizer accountability (for persistently low-performing schools) as the primary legislative items to address.

The 90 percent response rate shows that what the Legislature  matters a lot.  Upcoming columns will focus on several of these suggestions.  Final legislative decisions are several months away, so concerned readers can share their views with legislators.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome,