Session will strengthen state’s educational system

“Minnesota’s future workforce is sitting in a Minnesota classroom today.” These powerful words from Gov. Mark Dayton took root this session, delivering the most comprehensive education investment in a decade, coupled with smart policy reforms that will improve the quality of education our children receive for years to come.

From the moment the state Legislature convened in January, Dayton and his colleagues in the House and Senate began working toward an important goal: to make this session the “education session.” That’s because they know, as do most Minnesotans, that our state’s best chance for sustained economic success lies in our ability to create a highly skilled workforce. Creating that workforce starts with giving every child a great education.

The good news is that this goal is now a promise kept. The 2013 education budget will be remembered for years to come as remarkable, not only for its nearly half-billion investment in early learning and K-12 education, but for the bold strategies it delivers to help close achievement gaps, provide meaningful feedback to parents and teachers, and better meet the needs of our increasingly diverse student body.

Even more, the education bill signed into law this year provides a significant increase in school funding to meet the needs of a 21st century global economy. The budget enacted by Dayton provides greater investment while delivering on his promise of better government by enacting meaningful funding reform, simplifying what was a complex and inequitable school funding formula and reducing the over reliance on property taxes to fund local schools.

Dayton has kept his promise to increase funding for schools every year he is governor: no excuses, no exceptions. But he also worked with legislators to target those investments where they will have the greatest impacts in our children’s lives.

The education budget enacted this session starts by laying a foundation that gets our youngest learners off to a great start with new investments in early childhood education and all-day kindergarten. Now, every Minnesota student will have access to free, all-day kindergarten – reducing the financial burden on parents and providing our kids the skills and preparation they need to succeed in school and life. In addition, up to 8,000 more children will have access to high-quality preschool and child care, thanks to a historic investment in early childhood scholarships.

And funding to help repair aging school buildings will make classrooms safer, healthier places to learn, while additional Regional Centers of Excellence will support schools across the state as they accelerate their efforts to increase student achievement.

Ineffective high-stakes tests will be replaced with assessments geared toward getting our students ready for college and career, providing parents and teachers with a clearer picture of how students are progressing toward graduation. We will continue working to transform our high schools to make sure every student has the chance to obtain a post-secondary education, achieve their highest aspirations and ultimately land a good job.

For years, economists have told us what parents already know: Minnesota’s future prosperity depends on the investments we make now to educate tomorrow’s workforce. Investing in high-quality schools has and will continue to produce the skilled workers that have served our state so well. If we can ensure our businesses have direct access to a highly skilled and educated workforce, there is a strong chance those businesses will remain and grow right here in Minnesota. And at a crucial juncture for economic growth, it will help keep our state competitive in a 21st century global economy.

Our children have only one chance at a great education. These investments and reforms are critical as we strive to better meet the unique needs of every learner. These new policies deliver reforms that will help hold schools accountable in a more meaningful and collaborative way and begin cost-containment strategies that will save money and achieve better results for every tax dollar.

Perhaps most important, the 2013 education budget and policy bills reflect the voices of thousands of Minnesotans. From the numerous parents, teachers and education advocates who served on one of our education task forces, to the thousands of Minnesota educators and community members who made their voices heard at local meetings with Gov. Dayton and myself, to everyone who took time to visit, call or email with their thoughts and suggestions. That input, from every corner of the state, can be seen in every new policy and budget decision that was signed into law – a reflection of our greatest aspirations for Minnesota’s children, and a crucial down payment on our state’s future.

These are the education bills Minnesotans asked for. Now it is up to all of us to keep working together, to fulfill our shared imperative to ensure every child – no matter where they live or what their family circumstance or economic situation may be – has the chance to learn, to thrive and to reach their very highest potential in school and life. Our shared prosperity depends on it. — Dr. Brenda Cassellius (Editor’s note: Cassellius is Minnesota’s Commissioner of  Education.)

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