On Wednesday, the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the watchdog body that evaluates government programs for effectiveness and proper use of taxpayer dollars, released a report on compensatory funding that was presented in the House Education Finance Committee. Compensatory funding is directed to school districts based on the number and concentration of children living in poverty based on student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. The report’s main takeaway was the state sends $531 million to school districts that spend it on a wide array of programming designed to support struggling students. Also, it is not possible to determine if the funding increases student achievement. That caused considerable consternation from committee members on both sides of the aisle as accountability is a key buzz word at the Capitol. Schools combine various funding streams such as compensatory, English language learners, preschool, and general education to provide programming, and isolating the effect of the compensatory dollars is impossible. Read more / Report Summary / Full Report and More Details (links to the reports are on the right side)
Compensatory funding is linked to the basic formula, when the formula is increased so is compensatory funding, which allows districts to maintain existing programming that supports struggling students. Several years ago, flinging the concept of local control aside, the legislature required compensatory increases to go to extended time (outside the regular school day) programming, which is just one of a multitude of effective strategies that are increasing student achievement. Districts must have the flexibility to use scarce resources in programming that works best for their students. The House is moving HF3316 – a bill that would eliminate the extended time requirement. The bill passed through the House Education Finance Committee and sent to the floor for an upcoming vote.
But wait a minute. . . the Senate is prioritizing literacy with the focus of having all children proficient in reading by the end of 3rd grade, a critical indicator of student success. Chair Carla Nelson of the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee believes the LETRS Suite of Professional Learning is the tool that will deliver on literacy proficiency. LETRS is professional development that provides teachers with the skills they need to master reading instruction focusing on science-based and phonics-based proven strategies. I understand LETRS is very effective and very expensive. Chair Nelson plans to require all schools to train their K-3 teachers in LETRS. She has a bill – SF2990 – that funds LETRS through existing literacy aid and the compensatory funding increases described above. When speaking to her on a SEE Capitol visit, she said she is backing away from using the literacy aid but intends to require districts to use the compensatory increases until all K-3 teachers are trained.
The House is moving a bill (HF3106) that establishes a standardized assessment task force. The number of parents opting their children out of taking the MCA tests is escalating; a majority of these students live in middle- and upper-class families, who tend to perform better on assessments. A few Minneapolis public schools have over 75% of their students opting out. Also, in the spring, when it’s time to take the MCA tests, students are distracted. They know the MCA does not do anything for them. High school students are in the middle of finals, AP testing and ACT testing, and something has to give. The Edina public schools decided to allow 11th-grade students to use the MCA science test in place of their science final. As a result, the MCA science proficiency score jumped from 70.6% to 92.8%. With statistics like this, the validity of the MCA tests is questionable. It brings deeper context to stories like this that report Minnesota graduation rates are at an all-time high while results on the MCA tests are stagnant or dropping.
As always, check out Brad’s Blog for more detailed information on what is happening at the Capitol!
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