In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2004
DocumentSession 2004
DocumentFinance and taxes
DocumentHealth Care
DocumentPublic Safety
DocumentSocial Issues
DocumentSocial Services
DocumentStadium Issues
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Task force recommends new school funding system
Larger view
Alexandria Superintendent Ric Dressen, the task force chairman, says he's pleased with the outcome. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
Gov. Pawlenty's task force on education finance reform wants to give local school officials more discretion over how to spend state aid, as long as their students are succeeding in the classroom. Panel members are recommending the state provide block grants to school districts that would come with fewer strings attached than the current system. The task force held its final meeting Monday, completing a proposal that's been seven months in the making.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty selected a group of superintendents, school board members, teachers union officials and business leaders last summer to come up with ways to overhaul the state's complicated school finance formula. He asked them for a new system that would be equitable, accountable and understandable.

Alexandria Superintendent Ric Dressen, the task force chairman, says he's pleased with the outcome.

"It felt like an impossible task for many of us when we jumped into the pool," Dressen said. "I think we swam very hard and worked real hard, and I think we've got some great first steps."

The 19-member task force is recommending that the state limit its role in public education to mission, money and measurement. Local officials would determine how best to meet that mission, spend the money and reach state testing goals. The proposal calls specifically for the distribution of state K-12 funding through a system of block grants. Dressen says most of the current spending mandates placed on school districts would disappear.

"They're going to be held accountable at a much higher level, because we're going to say these are the standards you have to meet, and you have to do that," Dressen said. "But how you spend those dollars, that needs to be local discretion. The power of Minnesota's schools is independent schools districts. Let's put it where they can really make it happen."

This can be a little bit scary, but I think doing nothing can be more scary.
- Duane Benson

The concept is also aimed at encouraging principals and teachers to try new methods to boost student achievement and test scores. Frankie Poplau, superintendent of the New Prague school district and a task force member, says she thinks school districts will enjoy the freedom to be innovative.

"If you give educators an adequate dollar amount, tell them clearly what they are supposed to achieve, the creativity will emerge and the outcomes will happen," Poplau said.

The governor's task force is recommending a funding formula based on the actual cost of providing a student with an education sufficient to meet state standards. But the proposal stops short of setting that cost. Schools would still get additional funding help for certain challenges, such as poverty and students who are learning to speak English. Three independent panels of professional educators provided input last year on determining the cost of education. But Ric Dressen says the task force left that issue unresolved.

"We know there has to be a lot more study that goes into before you can really say this is the dollar amount," Dressen said. "We went far enough to say that we think the professional judgement panel is a process that proved that you can find what is necessary for funding, but we didn't go quite far enough to say this is the amount."

Similar panels have had limited results in recent years trying to improve and simplify the state's K-12 funding system. Former State Senator and task force member Duane Benson says legislators typically look only at how such changes would affect their local schools. Benson says he's optimistic lawmakers will look hard at this proposal and adopt most of it.

"Everybody that runs for office runs under this banner of I represent change," Benson said. "When change comes, sometimes it's a little scary. This can be a little bit scary, but I think doing nothing can be more scary.

Task force chairman Ric Dressen says the document needs further editing and adjustments. He says Governor Pawlenty will get the final version within the next month.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects