When the 2013 legislative session kicked off last January, it was no secret that Minnesota’s schools were struggling. Republicans had taken more than $2 billion from our schools to cover their budget; middle-class families were being squeezed due to skyrocketing local property taxes and rising student fees, and the student achievement gap threatened our state’s economy.
Voters wanted a new direction in education and elected DFL legislative majorities on their pledge to make the investments in our students needed to strengthen our economy now and into the future. And that’s exactly what we did.
That is why we are surprised by the Sept. 5 commentary from Reps. Kelby Woodard and Sondra Erickson (“Minnesota schools get money and mandates”).
After a decade of disinvestment from Republicans, DFLers developed a new game plan that makes historic investments in our children’s education and future and provides greater funding equity between districts.
We targeted those investments to efforts and strategies with proven results and from which taxpayers would get the most “bang for their buck,” including areas like all-day kindergarten and scholarships for early learning. Plus, we accelerated the repayment of the funds that Republicans took from our schools.
Investing now in early childhood and in all-day, every-day kindergarten to prevent the achievement gap will save billions of dollars later in trying to close the gap. Also, parents of the 10,000 students currently enrolled in fee-based all-day kindergarten will save $26 million, and property owners will see a $32 million cut in school taxes. These smart investments save taxpayers money.
We combined these investments with rigorous new achievement goals designed to maximize college and career-readiness. For example, schools must adopt a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan to improve teaching and learning that is aligned with creating the “world’s best workforce,” which is exactly what Minnesota needs to become a leader in an increasingly global economy.
Among other marks, school districts must show progress toward closing achievement gaps, have students reading at grade level by third grade and have 100 percent of students graduate from high school. The historic education bill provides our excellent educators around the state with improved resources and tools to meet these ambitious goals.
We also changed the direction of the failed student assessment system backed by Republicans that ill-prepared our students for careers and college, with almost half of our graduates needing to take remedial classes upon entering college.
In order to make sure our kids have the knowledge and skills needed for success in the workforce or at a postsecondary institution, students will no longer be subject to the GRAD test and instead will take new career- and college-readiness exams beginning in middle school.
These exams will provide parents, students and teachers with important information that will empower them with early planning for their career goals and success in learning.
By starting these tests when students are in middle school, we allow parents and teachers to help kids correct course before it’s too late. It turns our testing system into a tool that helps our learners move forward instead of acting as a punitive barrier that holds them back.
Education is the key to Minnesota’s economic future. We are confident that the investments and reforms we made this past legislative session — dubbed by many as the “education session” — have put us on the path to success and have improved every child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.
The doom-and-gloom outlook held by Woodard and Erickson, who serve as the Republican leads of the Education Finance and Education Policy committees, respectively, simply does not square with the facts. It is our guess that they were not paying attention in class.
Paul Marquart, of Dilworth, and Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul, are DFL members of the Minnesota House. They are the chairs of the Education Finance and Education Policy committees, respectively.