01 Apr House OKs Bill Freezing Funds for Special Education (MN)

April 1, 2011

By: Eric Roper
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune

A bill that would freeze special ed funding, eliminate other funds for Twin Cities school districts and change the way teachers are evaluated passed the Minnesota House in the early morning hours Wednesday, after a nightlong debate.

The legislation allocates $14 billion for Minnesota’s K-12 education system over the next two years, amounting to about 40 percent of the state’s overall budget. It increases the per-pupil funding levels while nixing integration aid for the Twin Cities and freezing special education funding.

“There’s a lot of great reform in this bill,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, before members voted 68-59 to approve the measure. “A lot of good stuff that you can be proud of.&qu ot;

Weary lawmakers spent much of the evening mulling over policy changes included in the bill — which Gov. Dayton wants stripped out. A “voucher” provision that would give poor families at failing schools money for private education consumed much of the debate. Republicans said it will help close the achievement gap.

“It is an insidious thing that happens when these kids are trapped in underperforming schools and don’t have a way … to go to the school of their choice,” said Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine. Democrats contended that vouchers are ineffective and inappropriate.

“A voucher program is an abandonment of our responsibilities to the children that it claims to be helping,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis.

Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, pushed for an amendment that would reduce the per-pupil funding increase to save money for flood relief efforts. It was defeated, though several Republicans supported the proposal.

A number of DFL legislators complained that the budget unfairly hits the state’s urban areas by excluding rural areas from vouchers and cutting Twin Cities’ integration money. “If I was targeting [Duluth] or the cities of Minneapolis or St. Paul, I can assure you this bill would look far different than it does today,” Garofalo retorted.

Following the vote, the state’s teacher’s union issued a statement urging Dayton to veto. Union president Tom Dooher said the bill was packed with “politically motivated policy,” including “Wisconsin-style attacks on the collective bargaining rights of teachers.”

Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said the bill will bring about a necessary “rebalancing” of power between the unions and school boards. They strongly opposed the special education freeze and cuts to integration funding, howev er.

“While some shifting might be appropriate, it’s being shifted too fast and a little bit too dramatically,” Kyte said, noting that the special education freeze would cost districts $100 million over the next two years.

The Senate is expected to pass its bill on Thursday. Unlike the House version, it does not include teacher evaluations or school vouchers but does impose a temporary pay freeze on teachers.

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