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LSSD gets modest hike in state education budget

Lake Superior School District Superintendent Bill Crandall said the state budget passed by the legislature in May didn't hold any big surprises for the district.

"That is what we were thinking we were getting," Crandall said.

The budget will increase state aid to school districts by three percent over two years, or $156 per pupil. This is the same amount upon which the district based its own budget.

The legislature also passed a provision to pay for all-day kindergarten for all districts, beginning in the 2014-15 school year. LSSD already offers all-day kindergarten to families free of charge, but now the money supporting that programming will come from state coffers.

In total, the state increased funding for public education $485 million over two years.

"This is a very bold and ambitious plan..." House Education Finance Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said. "It will make a difference in the lives of every single student in this state."

House and Senate negotiators merged the two bills their chambers originally passed and returned the new bill for approval. The House passed the bill 78-56 on May 18 and the Senate followed on May 19, voting 41-26. Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Reps. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, and Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, all voted for the bill.

"Frankly, we've put our children's education on the back burner for far too long," said Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia. "This bill takes serious steps to fix that problem. We're making long overdue investments that are paired with strong accountability measures to make sure taxpayers get the most bang for their buck."

Crandall said another provision passed will allow the school board to levy up to $300 per pupil without voter approval. The provision only applies to districts that currently don't have operating levies, like LSSD.

"We're going to have to start having discussions," Crandall said, adding that any levy passed wouldn't go into effect until 2014.

The bill also overturns a law that requires high school seniors to pass a test before graduating.

Crandall said the Minnesota Department of Education hasn't specified yet what this will mean for districts and exactly what standards will replace the test.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said removing the graduation tests weakens the value of a Minnesota high school diploma.

"The sum total of your experience in school shouldn't be evaluated ... on whether you pass a 40-question test," Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said. "The high-stakes tests don't cut it."

"Life is a high-stakes test," Thompson argued.

Wiger said students still would have to obtain academic credits and school boards would have more control over standards.

Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, said it is not fair to judge a student's future based on one test.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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