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COLUMN: Sen. Rarick - "An Education Alternative That Puts Students First"

An Education Alternative That Puts Students First by Senator Jason Rarick

With the arrival of warm weather also comes omnibus bill season. With less than 5 weeks left in Session, we have a number of high-spending budget bills on the agenda. One that I find particularly troubling is the Democrats’ education omnibus bill. The Education Finance Committee spent the first few months of session hearing multiple controversial education bills, and they have now culminated into one piece of legislation that does little to address our schools’ needs and also fails to put Minnesota students first.

The plan Democrats put forward is full of unfunded mandates that burden our schools and does little to help students. They’ve strategically buried these mandates and divert attention to the formula increase, which comes back to the theme I’ve discussed all session: the devil is in the details. Though the formula increase looks good on the surface, once you dig into their entire plan, it’s apparent that they are planning to spend billions without actually prioritizing students. Their proposal leads with a 4% and 5% increase on the formula, and a 47% increase for the special education cross-subsidy, which on their own, sound good. But they also include unfunded mandates that eat up the formula increases, which means less money going towards things that will help get our kids back on track in the classroom. They have also included millions in grant money to untested non-profits, and completely neglected to allocate any funding for school safety provisions. Between 2019 and now, Minnesota students have fallen drastically behind, and instead of using targeted funding for tested programs that get kids back on track, the Democrat bill forces unfunded mandates on our schools.

Because this bill does so little to help our students, Senate Republicans have put forward an alternative plan that puts students first. The basis of our plan focuses on students and gives schools the flexibility to meet students’ needs. We have put forward a 5% and 5% increase on the formula and have not included any mandates to be tied to that increase—that means more money going directly to helping students. We also offer a larger increase for the special education cross-subsidy at 65%, or just over $1 billion. We also put forward $100 million to fund a literacy program that gets students back on track, $200 million to fund safe schools initiatives to ensure ever kid feels safe while learning, and $100 million to provide for additional property tax relief through equalization. This all-encompassing plan avoids burdensome mandates and focuses on what should matter most: putting students first.

The bottom line is that our students are behind. In August, the Department of Education released assessment results that showed a steady decrease in students meeting standards in reading, math, and science. Between 2018 and 2022, Minnesota went from 60% of students being proficient in reading to only 51%. A similar trend follows for science, going from 52% to 41%, and math, going from 57% to 44%. In fact, in 19 schools across the state, not a single student was proficient in math. We need to get schools back on track so we can set our students up for success.

Schools need funding and flexibility to help students get caught up. While the Democrats’ plan puts forward mandates that cost more than the funding that has been allocated, the Senate Republicans’ proposal focuses on putting students and their needs first. We need to address this problem before it’s too late. We want to set kids up for success and that starts in the classroom. It’s time to put students first.

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