Senate committee considers prekindergarten program, one-time technology aid

KevinDonova4-8-2016

MSBA President Kevin Donovan (seated front left) testified Wednesday in support of a bill sponsored by Sen. Matt Schmidt (center) that would appropriate some one-time technology funding for school districts and charter schools.

Sen. Katie Sieben brought forward a school-based, voluntary, four-year-old prekindergarten program bill designed to prepare students for kindergarten.

Sen. Sieben presented the bill (SF 3095) during the Senate Finance Committee’s E-12 Budget Division meeting held Wednesday.

MSBA and other education stakeholders have been working with the Senate since the last legislative session to encourage them to design a bill that would closely reflect the early education policy position passed during the MSBA Delegate Assembly in December 2015. We asked that any expansion of early education be fully funded, and flexible in design and implementation.

Some of our concerns were addressed and we will once again each out to the Governor and the Senate with our concerns. Here are the components of the bill:

Sen. Sieben’s bill requires:

  • A minimum of 350 hours of instruction
  • Includes costs (approved by the commissioner) for remodeling through long-term facilities to accommodate pre-k instruction
  • Changes the operating capital equalizing factor to offset increased levies associated with prekindergarten pupil units
  • Provides $1.30 for every breakfast served and prohibits charging a fee for school breakfast
  • Program requirements for assessment, instruction, parent engagement etc.
  • Mixed delivery system partnering with Head Start, child care and others
  • Maximum group size of 20 (ratio of 1-to-10)
  • Licensed teachers by 2022-23
  • Sets a 0.6 cap on pre-K pupil units

School districts or charter schools must apply to the commissioner of education by July 1, 2016, for FY2017. The commissioner is required to proportionally allocate the funds among four groups of applicants:

  1. Minneapolis and St. Paul
  2. Metro region school districts
  3. Rural regions school districts
  4. Charter schools

Within those categories, priorities will be given to concentration of poverty and availability of three-star or four-star Parent Aware programs in the area.

This bill creates a template that may be used to grow into universal pre-K for the future. Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius testified in support, highlighting the bill as a “pathway to kindergarten for all.” This bill is almost identical to Gov. Mark Dayton’s early education proposal.

Visit http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily/SDView.aspx?StoryID=10107 for Session Daily’s story on Gov. Dayton’s K-12 supplemental budget bill click here.

Although everyone in the room agreed that all children should come to kindergarten prepared, there was still strong division within the committee and among testifiers regarding who should deliver the service. The discussion escalated as stakeholders tried to advocate for their preferred method of delivery.

Technology aid

During that same hearing, Sen. Matt Schmidt brought forward a technology bill (SF 3381) that would provide a one-time, $20 per-student appropriation. School districts would be able to use the $20 per-pupil for technology-related expenses listed in the allowable uses of the operating capital revenues statute. That list consists of 25 allowable uses — from land and buildings to telecommunications equipment.

MSBA President Kevin Donovan (Mahtomedi School Board) testified in support of the SF 3381. Here are some highlights from Donovan’s testimony:

“Technology for schools and for all of us is growing exponentially:

  • Media centers are not called libraries because of the technology. 
  • Shop classes are becoming digital fabrication labs with high-speed connectivity to Fab Labs worldwide and teaching open-source coding.
  • Smartboards not blackboards.
  • Student data.
  • Student testing.
  • iPads or 1-to-1 devices.
  • Digital text books and online learning.

The list goes on and on.

Access to technology can increase learning opportunities and student engagement. Funding in the past has been dependent on property taxes or general fund revenue, which creates a digital divide between the haves and have-nots.

Without technology innovation in our schools, we are marginalizing our students who are not prepared to be participants in the 21st century workforce.

We are educating the next World’s Best Workforce. We need to provide our schools with the tools and training to do so. Please support SF 3381.”

MSBA REPONSE: MSBA supports SF 3381. MSBA wants to thank Sen. Chuck Wiger and Sen. Matt Schmidt for their leadership in elevating the issue of technology in schools. Although the bill is one-time funding, the revenue will help every district in the state provide technology tools and resources to develop digital literacy in all students as we educate the next World’s Best Workforce.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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