School time at the state Capitol

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School leaders and administrators are focused on preparing for the next school year. Spring means budget planning: calculating projected revenues, expenses and enrollment; working to create a preliminary balanced budget draft; following legislative bills through the session and travelling to the state Capitol to share the importance of education funding.

Minnesota statute requires school district budgets to be approved by the end of June. From now until then, many variables could significantly impact next year’s budget. One of the biggest is the outcome of the current legislative session.

Millions in educational dollars are at stake between the Governor’s proposed budget for education and what’s included in omnibus bills in the House and Senate. Among those are funding for early childhood programs like Voluntary Pre-K and School Readiness. These programs help decrease the achievement gap and prepare students for life-long success by ensuring more children are kindergarten-ready. Hundreds of families in Duluth are closely watching the outcomes of this legislative session because early childhood funding is on the chopping block. Educators across the state are hopeful that the governor will continue to passionately advocate for this funding not only to maintain it, but to increase it to include more children.

In addition to early childhood, local legislative priorities include increased support for the full-service community school model being implemented at Denfeld, Lincoln Park and Myers-Wilkins; increased state grants for mental health professionals; fully funding special education mandates and removing the obligation of local districts to cover special education funding gaps for charter schools.

Basic student aid from the state is based on the number of students served and the amount of time they are in school. When it comes to special education services, the legislature does not fully meet funding commitments made in state statutes. Local districts cover this gap in special education funding through a cross subsidy of general fund dollars which could otherwise be used to lower class sizes and provide professional development. Public school districts are also required to fund certain things for private, parochial and charter schools with general fund dollars. Depending on the type of school, this may include special education services, counseling services, books and materials, transportation services, etc.

A quality education is the foundation for a strong future in our community. It’s now up to conference committees to find the middle ground between the House and Senate omnibus bills. The governor will advocate for public education and I hope you’ll join us in sending the message that Duluth's children deserve strong early education programs to close the achievement gap, per-pupil funding that keeps up with rising costs and full funding for special education services.