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First try at K-12 finance bill fails

Published (7/15/2011)
By Kris Berggren
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Despite its $14.16 billion target, just shy of his own $14.19 billion proposal, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the omnibus education finance bill because it contained “damaging cuts and harmful policy items.”

Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), the bill would have boosted schools’ basic formula allowance by $41 per adjusted marginal cost pupil unit during the next biennium, or an additional $46.6 million. Dayton proposed a $100 per pupil increase over the biennium which, added to $36 million in other new spending he proposed, would have added $164 million to base funding levels.

The governor said the bill would cut $44 million below current base funding level, with “very harmful effects on students, on teachers and on schools.”

“Within those reductions, it unfairly and disproportionately shifts funding among school districts,” he wrote in his veto letter.

For example, he said proposals to freeze compensatory education revenue at $4,709 times eligible pupil units, and to repeal integration rule and aid would “wrongfully (harm) poor children and children of color, which I will not accept.”

Integration aid would have been partially replaced with other targeted spending, including $72.71 million in innovation achievement transition revenue equal to districts’ expected integration revenue for fiscal year 2012, then lowered to their 2012 innovation levy amounts for fiscal year 2013 and later. Aid for Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth would have been reduced to levy only for 2012, with aid partly added back in 2013. The bill also would have retained the 70-30 percent state aid payment shift indefinitely.

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Governor rejects special education cuts

Dayton particularly opposed the bill’s special education cuts, which he stated “would create significant funding gaps that would force school districts to shift funds from general education programs, increase class sizes, or raise property taxes, just to maintain their current levels of special education services.”

The bill sent to the governor would have lowered the growth factor for regular special education revenue from 4.6 percent to

2 percent, capping the appropriation at $1.63 billion for the 2012-2013 biennium. The growth factor for special education excess cost aid would have risen from 2 percent to 3 percent, capped at

$230.2 million for the biennium. Excess aid is for districts with unusually high unreimbursed expenses.

Special education services are federally mandated to make education fair and accessible for students with a wide range of cognitive, physical, mental or behavioral disabilities or disorders from birth through age 21, though federal funds cover only about 17 percent of excess costs beyond the state’s 60 percent responsibility. State appropriations don’t fully cover special education costs for most districts. About 15 percent of the state’s public K-12 students receive some special education services. According to the Education Department, it would have taken an additional $143 million to fully fund special education in fiscal year 2011.

Possible common ground in early literacy

Dayton proposed $32.2 million to expand all-day kindergarten for low-income children beginning in 2013, plus $2 million to fund a quality rating system for child care providers. The original House proposals to fund the statewide quality rating system, plus

$10 million for early childhood scholarships for low-income children at their parents’ choice of providers, were dropped from the final bill.

Legislators offered $34 million for a new category of literacy incentive aid in fiscal year 2013, to be distributed according to formulas for proficiency aid based on schools’ third graders meeting or exceeding proficiency on the reading Minnesota Comprehensive Exam, and growth aid based on fourth graders making medium or high growth on the reading MCA.

The Minnesota Reading Corps would have expanded with $8.25 million for reading specialists to work with struggling readers,

$5.5 million more than the original House bill.

Included in the bill was an enrollment options scholarship for low-income students attending low-performing schools to fund their tuition at a nonpublic school for up to the basic revenue per pupil allowance. It would have reduced the general education appropriation by $15.87 million while costing $17.5 million to implement for

1,000 students estimated to participate.

“Until our public schools are funded at adequate and sustainable levels, a diversion of public dollars to private schools is unwise,” wrote Dayton.

The Perpich Center for Arts Education budget would have been cut 5 percent per year, but not entirely eliminated as a state agency, which had been proposed in the original House bill.

Dayton opposed numerous policies in the bill. He called them “controversial, punitive to teachers, and have little research to support their efficacy in improving student learning and closing achievement gaps.”

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