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Minnesota Schools Get Big Funding Boost in New Budget

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a 2014-15 biennial K-12 budget that is $485 million more than what public schools received last year, and includes funding for all-day kindergarten programs on a statewide basis.

In addition, the $15.7 billion education funding plan for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years approved by Dayton, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party (the state's affiliate of the Democratic Party), removes the graduation exam high school students must currently take to receive diplomas. (On a side note, Minnesota is one of the states that has experienced problems with computer-based testing this year.) The Associated Press reports that when Dayton signed the bill May 22, he stressed not so much the importance of increased funding itself, but the damage that inadequate funding does: "More money for education doesn't absolutely guarantee success but less money for education absolutely guarantees failure."

Back in March, I wrote about Dayton's proposed public school funding increase and compared it to similar plans from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. Dayton had pledged this year that Minnesota school districts would no longer have to suffer through "deferrals," essentially the state's decision to withhold money from districts and write them an "IOU" to eventually pay the money at some future date.

The all-day kindergarten plan was a very prominent part of the proposal, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius told me at the time, as part of a broader philosophy that the state should "mitigate those barriers" that students encounter early in life based on their families' income levels or other difficulties. That's also the idea behind the new "early learning scholarships" funded in the budget, which will be provided to 8,000 students to be used on early-child care programs and preschool.

"All-day kindergarten should have happened years ago; we're catching up and we're moving ahead," said Dayton in a statement announcing that he signed the legislation.

In practical terms, the budget Dayton signed increases per-pupil spending by $78 for the 2013-14 academic year, and by $80 the year after that, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. I pointed out in the March story I wrote that the proposal is made possible through tax increases that Minnesota Democrats are expected to approve, likely in the next few days according to the paper, a plan that has Republicans grumbling.

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