If there's a theme that sums up the local reaction in public education circles to Gov. Mark Dayton's education funding proposals disseminated earlier this week, it's that it's good to hear of actual "new" money being invested in K-12 education, but that it's very early in the Minnesota Legislative session and that what shakes out later in the spring could look far different than what the governor's pitching this week.
At the heart of Dayton's plan is an increase in funding amounting to $52 per-pupil unit (PPU). While, statewide, that adds up to around $600 million, Crookston School District Superintendent Chris Bates told the Times that everyone needs to realize the impact on the revenue ledger specific to Crookston would be around $65,000.
"The public sees $600 million and thinks, 'Oh, my gosh!'" Bates said. "But, not to say we're ungrateful, that's less than 1 percent for us."
An increase of $52 PPU would bring about $65,000 more into the district. "That gets us another teacher, maybe, or a series of books for a particular curriculum area, so it's better than nothing, without question," Bates said. "My first six years of being a superintendent, it's been virtually flat funding, so any talk of an increase is great."
Second grade teacher Kim Davidson, also the current president of the teacher's union, echoed many of Bates' thoughts. "It's great that there don't appear to be any gimmicks attached to the proposal; this appears to be actual new money," she told the Times. "It's the first time in a long time that a session has started with talk of actual new, real dollars to invest in education, so that is encouraging."
Bates said taxpayers in the Crookston district and in school districts across the state have been leaned on for too long when it comes to providing needed revenue for education. "Crookston people have stepped forward, thankfully, but sadly that's not true everywhere in the state, and students are being shortchanged," he said.
Kindergarten, special ed funding
The part of Dayton's proposal that has Bates most psyched involves funding for all-day, everyday kindergarten, which is already in place in Crookston. If that part of Dayton's proposal survives, the superintendent said Crookston's bottom line could be boosted by around $200,000. "That would clearly be huge for us," Bates said. "That would be very near the top of our wish list."
There is also increased special education funding in the governor's proposal. Crookston has a higher than average bill when it comes to special ed, Bates said, "So that would have the ability to impact us in a significant way as well."
Page 2 of 2 - Bates doesn't expect any resolution on education funding over the next budget biennium until May, at the earliest. "By the time the session ends, we could get nothing and they'll tell us we're lucky to get that," he said. "By the time this is all said and done, who knows?"