Here are Scholar's picks for the top education reform news of the past year, with a preview of their implications for the year to come:
- K-12 funding - the Minnesota Legislature approved the largest increase in more than a decade for K-12 education, $800 million total new revenues. Of that total, $139 million is from board-authorized and voter-approved levies. This represents a 4 percent increase each year of the biennium, raising the per-pupil basic formula to $4,783 in FY 2006 and $4,974 in FY 2007. With funding defined for 2006-2007, funding should be a lower priority this session, but Governor Pawlenty had the audacity this week to suggest that 70% of a district's budget should be spent in the classroom (more on this later).
- Referendum cap - raised to 26 percent of the formula allowance. A perennial point of debate between property-rich and property-poor districts, even with equity aid going to the latter. Gives districts more freedom to ask its voters for excess levies.
- Q Comp - A total of $86 million for Quality Compensation (Q Comp), Minnesota's version of Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). To date, seven school districts and two charter schools have been awarded Q Comp funds:
- Minneapolis, $1.2 million
- Hopkins, $2.1 million
- St. Francis, $1.5 million
- Mounds View, $2.7 million
- St. Cloud, $2.5 million
- Northfield School of Arts and Technology (ARTech), $24,180
- Duluth Public Schools Academy (DPSA), $200,720
- Alexandria, $1.1 million
- Fridley, $656,240
- Early Childhood - $5.2 million increase for ECFE, $1.2 million increase for health screening, and $4 million increase for Head Start. Early childhood education provider interest group Ready4$, I mean Ready4K, and the "public-private" nonprofit Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF) will be lobbying for more state money to get kids ready for kindergarten (I thought kindergarten was supposed to get kids ready for first grade). What's next, "universal preschool" or "mandatory age 0-4" programs? Scholar would prefer to leave the preschool choice to parents, and to target pre-K dollars to specific children truly needing extra help to succeed.
I think you have to start somewhere to step away from steps-and-lanes, but Craig Westover says that school choice is the ultimate answer: "Feeling that programs like Q Comp will significantly improve public education is delusional. Until all schools are challenged by families, regardless of income, seeking out the best schools for their children, we are merely feeding the beast — with our tax dollars and the futures of our children." I am not so delusional as to think that Q Comp 1.0 is perfect, but now that we have it, and its integrity is being protected by Alice Seagren's Department of Education, let's win some elections and tune it up in the next legislative sessions.
- Curriculum & Instruction
- American Heritage Act - finally, after years of tenacious dedication to this act by Rep. Mark Olson (R-Big Lake), hoo-rah, and EdWatch, the Legislature has said loud and clear that teachers need not censor our founding documents in the classroom just because they reveal our nation's Christian heritage.
- Intelligent design lawsuits - the controversy involving ID and the theory of evolution has received more overheated media attention than it merits, because atheists and the liberal media have gleefully used it as an opportunity to bash Christians and Christianity. If the theory of evolution is fact beyond all doubt, why are ID opponents feeling so threatened by it?
- Longer school year - an interesting idea, but where's the money going to come from?
- NCLB lawsuits - the states continued to insist that since education is not delegated to the United States (federal government) by the Constitution, it should be reserved to the States, or to the people (see the Tenth Amendment). The unfunded and underfunded mandates of this law don't help, either.
- Minnesota Education Reform News - my education reform web site celebrates its 6th anniversary with an education news aggregator, a one-stop source of education news from newspapers, blogs, and organizations. Check it out!