Praise and perspective – that’s what more than 20 Minnesota Education leaders offered last week when asked about the 2013 Minnesota Legislature’s decisions on K-12 education. That includes superintendents Stephen Jones, Little Falls; George Weber, Pierz; and Eugene Harthan, Swanville, as well as Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. They agreed in most areas and disagreed in one.
Each superintendent praised new funding for all-day, every-day kindergarten. Jones said, “The all-day kindergarten legislation was long overdue.”
Harthan called it, “The best part of the new education law.” He wrote that Swanville has had this for many years. “We firmly believe (in) it,” he said.
Weber wrote, “All-day kindergarten as an option is a very good addition.”
Each was also pleased by the increase in overall funding. As Jones told me, “The commitment to a dual-year student formula increase helps districts seek stability.”
Harthan wished, “They had put more funding on the basic education formula, as that is where we really need it, but realize that they can’t do everything.”
Weber wrote that the Legislature “Took some small steps (to) equalize that problem this year.”
For Weber, “The best news was what did not get approved. The mandate to move all employees into (the) Public Employee Health Insurance (program), with no choice for anyone but very large districts, cities and counties, would have been a terrible law had it come to pass. Current law already gives the teachers the right to vote for it, and they almost always turn it down, since it is very costly to schools without being any better than current coverage.”
Weber also praised the Legislature’s decision to stop requiring students to pass reading, writing and math tests prior to high school graduation, calling this “long overdue.”
Instead, students will take various tests showing how prepared they are for some form of two- or four-year college and various careers.
However, Weaver strongly disagreed with this decision. In a letter to legislators and shared with me, Weaver wrote that the Legislature did “make some positive changes for Minnesota students, such as expansion of Parent Aware early education scholarships, goals for student achievement by 2027, and a transition to high school exams that indicate student readiness for post-secondary education.”
However, Weaver believes that the Legislature took “one step forward with the new high school exams, but three steps back with the elimination of basic expectations for student performance on state exams. Under the new system, students who perform at the bottom levels in reading, writing and math on the exams can still graduate with a high school diploma. Current state expectations for student performance on reading and writing high school exams … have led to significant increases in the percent of students of color meeting state standards, graduating from high school and lowering drop-out rates.”
Because graduation requirements are so important, I’ll be writing more about this in a future column.
It’s impossible to briefly yet fully describe a law that is more than 200 pages long. But despite some disagreements, educators and business people agreed that this year’s Legislature expanded opportunities, especially for young children, in important ways.
Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, is director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschool change.org.