Weather Forecast


Education bill drops tenure, maintains funding

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota teachers no longer would keep jobs based on tenure under a Minnesota House plan that also would keep public school funding static.

The bill considered late Tuesday night would spend slightly more money on public school students while the state Education Department itself would sustain a major cut. Opponents complained about Republican cuts in Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul schools' aid designed to help desegregate schools.

In the next two years, the GOP-written House bill would spend about the same $14 billion as in the current budget. The entire state budget will be about $34 billion.

Among the provisions is one to tie some state funding to schools' marks on a new grading system. Modeled after a Florida program, it would give schools getting the best grades funding bonuses.

The measure also requires schools to replace the traditional tenure-based pay system with a plan based half on student achievement and half on locally determined factors.

"A-F school grading and teacher evaluation changes are big steps forward," House Education Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said. "We owe it to kids to do this heavy lifting so we're providing the best world-class education possible."

State funding per pupil would increase from the current $5,124 to $5,255 in 2014 under the bill.

At the same time, the measure reduces another funding stream, one that was to help districts integrate minority students. Garofalo's bill includes $17 million for a pilot program to reduce the achievement gap that primarily affects minorities.

Integration aid would be cut to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, although some still would be available to other districts.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he opposes the integration aid cuts, and in a letter to legislative leaders this week he also said he opposes policy items tucked in massive budget bills. The education bill contains many of those policy measures.

He said he would veto bills that contain policy provisions he opposes. Such items should "be presented to me as separate legislation," Dayton wrote to legislative leaders.

The teacher union Education Minnesota has argued against provisions such as one that forbids teachers from striking. Republicans say that would protect communities "from divisive strikes."

The bill also keeps current funding for Head Start and some other early-childhood programs. And it eliminates a Jan. 15 deadline for settling teacher contracts. The deadline has cost districts more than $3 million since 2006, Republicans say.

Garofalo said it is time to reform education policy and financing.

"If we continue to rest on our laurels, we'll get leap-frogged by other states more willing to take on reform challenges," he said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.