House Democrats propose workforce-readiness legislation

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

House Democrats look to having all third graders reading, the glaring achievement gap closed, and total career and college readiness among high school students by 2027.

“This is not a slogan,” House Education Finance Committee Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, insisted of the workforce readiness goal.

House Education Finance Committee Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
House Education Finance Committee Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The House Democratic education finance bill unrolled on Tuesday (April 9) begins to provide the tools for achieving workforce readiness, Democrats argue.

In the $15.7 billion bill, they propose a two percent increase, about $104, on the basic funding formula per pupil each year of the upcoming biennium.

Early fiscal “runs” show the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the state’s largest, receiving a one percent basic funding formula increase in 2014, a 4.4 percent increase the year after.

The Burnsville Public School District would see a 1.3 percent increase first year, 4.4 percent the second.

In addition to the $315 million increase to basic funding, House Democrats plan to fully repay the remaining $850 million school funding shift and make changes to equity and referendum revenues.

House Democrats slate $50 million to early-  learning scholarships. This could provide poor families with funding to cover the expense of enrolling young children, ages three through six, in early learning programs.

The scholarships, which would be handled by the Office of Early Learning, would allow parents to send children to Head Start, public schools and private day care.

About 8,000 youngsters could receive early-learning scholarships.

Cost could be around $7,400 per student, the dollars layered on top of other subsides.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has a similar scholarship proposal and a pilot project has been tried.

In their pursuit of workforce readiness — something that could perk up the state economy by $5 billion a year, Marquart said — House Democrats want  school boards to chart strategies and hold public meetings, in pursuit of the ideal workforce.

In a proposal similar to the federal No Child Left Behind, House Democrats, keying on Dayton’s plan of developing new Regional Centers of Excellence, propose to redirect up to four percent of a lagging school district’s funding to a regional center so  the center can assist the school district in reaching its goals.

Three consecutive years of under performances by a school district could result in  the commissioner of education and regional center stepping in to reorganize the school district.

But Marquart insists there will be no “scarlet letter” of failure that No Child affixed to troubled districts.

2027 was picked as a target year because children starting all-day, every-day kindergarten, which House Democrats propose to fully fund, will be seniors by then.

Education is by far House Democrats’ No. 1 priority, House leaders insist.

“We’re not shying away from the fact we’re going to have raise revenues to do that,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said of pursuing their proposals.

“Is this going to happen overnight? Of course not,” Marquart said of achieving the goals.

But Democrats wager that if the public comes to appreciate the strategy, they’ll be willing to pay.

“You just can’t give up on anyone,” Marquart said of achieving complete readiness.

“Is every school going to hit that goal? I don’t know. It’s going to be tough,” Marquart said.

Republican criticize the House Democratic proposal for setting a strategy that could result in “social promotions.”

There were other criticisms.

Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, Republican education finance committee lead, said in a statement that there are areas of bipartisan support in the bill.

“It is disappointing, however, Democrats propose spending new money to create new layers of government bureaucracy, while thrusting even more unfunded mandates on our schools,” he said.

Other features in the House education finance bill includes an increase in the safe school levy for enhanced security and mental health services.

It also includes integration aid reform.

Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]