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.
Many leaders agreed with Independent School District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn, who wrote that his top priority for the legislature is to, “Adopt a funding formula and policies which at the very least allows schools to maintain current programs in place. This would include built in inflationary increases and finally providing the funding for special education programs as promised. When special ed. and other costs raise with no inflationary increases, schools are forced to reduce programs and services for children.”
Lunn continued: “Of course I am all for increases in the funding formula, a new formula system based on the needs of today’s schools and students and early childhood education. However without a new funding sources, a billion dollars still owed to schools and a billion dollar deficit we need to do what we can now to prevent further damage to the future of our schools and students while at the same time planting seeds for the future.”
Tom Kearney director of New Heights School in Stillwater (newheightsschool.org) told me his two top priorities are, “relief on the 40 percent holdback…” and that “charter schools receive the same interest rate on borrowing as traditional district schools, especially during this time of funding shifts. Currently charters must borrow funds at much higher rates than district schools. In order to balance its books, Minnesota currently holds back 40 percent of what it has promised to pay schools, thus forcing them to borrow.”
Many others cited early childhood as a top priority. Along with greater funding for K-12, 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.”
Lisa Hendricks, director of Partnership (charter) 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.“
Education leaders mentioned several other priorities. These include greater funding dedicated to special education, no more unfunded mandates, repaying the money already owed to public schools, and greater flexibility. Lunn urged legislators to “create more flexibility in how schools can use their funding sources. During these financial challenges we are often forced to spend money in certain others versus others because we have no choice due to the specific allocation and use of funds.”
Curt Johnson, formerly a Minnesota community college president and long-time reformer now with Education Evolving, wrote that the group’s top priority involves greater flexibility by allowing “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.”
The 90 percent response rate shows that what the Legislature does 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 are welcome at [email protected]forschoolchange.org.