Under Dayton’s proposed budget, Perham schools would see more
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius says Governor Mark Dayton’s proposed budget would be good for schools across the state, including Perham schools. Cassellius was in Perham last Friday, and visited the Focus to share her support for the budget proposal, as well as some information about how that budget would directly impact Perham public schools. The governor is proposing about $600 million in new funding for education in the 2014-2015 biennium. His budget spreads dollars out across the grade levels, starting with early childhood education and continuing on up through higher ed. Cassellius said Dayton’s comprehensive funding approach aims to meet goals set by state education leaders. Those goals include a larger investment in early childhood education, ensuring all children are reading well by third grade, getting every student to graduate on time and ready for the next step, and making sure every child who wants to go on to college can afford to do so. “So the governor’s really taken this across the board approach to funding, from pre-K through college,” Cassellius said. About $240 million of the proposed new dollars would go toward higher ed, while nearly $345 million would be used for K-12 and early childhood education. Of the latter, about $125 million would be spent on special education, $44 million on early childhood scholarships, $40 million on optional all-day kindergarten, $10 million for teacher evaluation, $9 million in savings, $8.9 million for English language learning, and $118 million on a general education formula shift that would increase per-pupil funding by $52. With all these increases in place, Perham public schools would see a total increase in funding of $210 per student, according to information provided by the Minnesota Department of Education. Cassellius said the boost in funding would allow schools across the state to keep and maintain important programs and staff that they otherwise might not be able to afford. “This will really feel like a good position for the schools,” Cassellius said of the proposed education budget, “allowing them to put in the programming that they need for a well-rounded curriculum.” Mitch Anderson, superintendent of the Perham-Dent School District, agreed that the governor’s proposal is a major step in the right direction, but added that he would like to see even more of an investment. Budget recommendations made last fall by the state’s Education Finance Working Group, Anderson said, called for significantly more than what ended up in the governor’s final proposal – and some of those recommendations would have directly benefited rural school districts like Perham-Dent. But the budget is “still alive and up for debate for the next couple of months,” Anderson said. He’s hopeful that education lobbyists at the Capital will be successful in bringing some additions to the budget before it’s finalized – “additions that could open the door to more funding for Perham schools.” He’s not alone in his thinking. Cassellius said the School Boards Association, Superintendents Association and Education Minnesota teacher’s union have all expressed public support for the governor’s plan, while also proposing “some additional funding in additional areas.” Whether any additions will make it into the final budget remains to be seen, and depends on affordability. “The governor is trying to put together a smart, balanced budget; not one that isn’t doable and sustainable,” said Cassellius. “He’s being responsible about the revenue.” Cassellius was in the area to enjoy a day at her lake home just north of Perham, which she has had for the last 13 years. A lifelong educator, she was appointed Minnesota’s Education Commissioner by the governor in January 2011.