SEE Witness Shine! It was a busy day with hearings in both the House and Senate and I’m glad that I was able to help get two SEE superintendents before committees to talk about bills of interest to their districts. East Central Superintendent Stefanie Youngberg addressed the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee in support of HF 456 , bill authored by Representative Maria Isa Perez-Vega that would expand and make permanent the voluntary pre-kindergarten program that a number of school districts throughout the state are utilizing. It is important to expand the program, but it is equally–if not more–important to make this funding permanent. Given the debate on how best to fund early education, whether through scholarships or school-based programs, funding for the voluntary pre-kindergarten program has always hung in the balance during conference committee negotiations, which has left districts that rely on this funding stream not knowing whether they will be able to continue the program until late-May each budget year. The program was established late in the Dayton administration and has continued on a biennium-to-biennium basis since, but funding has never been put into the base, which has led to great uncertainty. In addition, it has often been depicted as a program that only assists metropolitan area districts. Superintendent Youngberg did an excellent job pointing out how valuable the program has been to her non-metro area district and how they have used the resources surrounding the East Central district to create a unique and valuable program that prepares its students academically and socially for kindergarten.
Albert Lea superintendent Dr. Ron Wagner was able to testify virtually on Senator Clare Oumou Verbeten’s SF 21 , a bill that would phase out the English Language learner cross-subsidy over the next few years.in the Senate Education Finance Committee As I’ve often said, the EL formula is probably the most transparent of all education funding formulas in that you know exactly which students qualify, you know the exact costs you are incurring as you serve these students, there is progress monitoring throughout the time the student is served in an EL program, and there are exit criteria. The problem (excuse the CAPITAL LETTERS) is that it is WOEFULLY UNDERFUNDED! This has become a statewide issue and I was happy that Dr. Wagner was able to provide valuable insight from his Southern Minnesota school district. The Senate committee also heard SF 28 , Senator Bonnie Westlin’s bill that would eliminate the special education cross-subsidy. The issue of special education paperwork entered into the discussion and it would be great if some paperwork could be eliminated, but the underlying causes for the underfunding of Minnesota’s special education obligations go much deeper than the paperwork issue.
The House Education Finance Committee heard from a variety of students and their testimony was extremely good and provided what should be valuable insight as decisions are made throughout the session.