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‘Kids first. No excuses. No exceptions.’

Published (1/7/2011)
By Kris Berggren
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A light-hearted tone prevailed Jan. 5 at the first meeting of the House Education Finance Committee. But Chairman Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) took time to lay out serious goals for its work this year. The committee’s motto is all business: “Kids first. No excuses. No exceptions,” he said.

Members introduced themselves and stated their priorities. School funding inequities, mandate relief and greater local control are common themes.

Rep. Kurt Bills (R-Rosemount), a high school economics teacher, said “teacher pay and portability” are priorities, as is “giving individual districts and principals more sovereignty.”

Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) hopes to address “issues of equity and fairness” in funding that “property poor” districts like hers face, bound by caps on property tax levies and ineligibility for “compensatory” funding intended to provide additional services where needed.

“Our school districts are really in a state of crisis, I would say, and they are really looking for some state leadership,” she said.

“I am amazed at the complexity of education funding and financing,” said Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), adding that most schools in his district face declining enrollment — which means declining funding. The message he’s heard from school districts he represents is that if cuts to education must be made, they would like them to occur “sooner rather than later” for planning purposes.

Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), a high school physical education and health teacher and coach for 34 years, also singled out funding inequities across his nearly 4,000-square mile district in northwest Minnesota.

Garofalo vowed to prioritize correcting the achievement gap, calling that goal “crucial for the future of job creation.” He said there is no reason students in poverty cannot achieve academic success, adding that he hopes the committee will visit some schools in the Twin Cities metropolitan area where students in poverty and those of color are defying the likelihood they will fail to thrive academically.

Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield), an eighth-grade history teacher, said “equity as it relates to poor kids” is her priority. “I believe in compensating for concentrations of poverty. It makes a difference if the services are there. It makes a difference for poor kids.”

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