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House considers $15.7 billion education plan

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ST. PAUL - Education funding, the largest single part of the Minnesota budget, would rise $550 million in the next two years under a House Democratic plan being debated this afternoon and tonight.

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Early-childhood education, including funding all-day kindergarten statewide, is the foundation of the $15.7 billion, two-year plan.

“We are going to get every single child to the starting line on time,” said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, House education finance chairman.

Among items in the bill representatives are expected to pass:

-- Increasing per-pupil payments to school districts by $209.

-- Adding $50 million to various early-childhood programs.

-- Paying back schools $850 million in loans by adding a surcharge on the richest Minnesotans’ income.

-- Replacing the existing graduation test with a new system of evaluation beginning in middle school.

Among the major goals Marquart laid out is to make sure every student graduates from high school by 2027.

Minnesota schools show a 76 percent graduation rate, the chairman said, but students of color achieve a far lower rate.

To increase graduation rates, the Marquart plan requires school districts to prepare plans with a goal of graduating every student. The state would check to see how districts are doing and if a district fails three straight years, the state could take over district administration.

The plan would replace current law that requires high school students to pass a test before graduating.

A coalition of businesses support the existing test and in a letter to representatives coalition leader Charlie Weaver called its elimination “devastating.”

Weaver called the Marquart plan “the elimination of state expectations for student achievement on the state’s reading, writing and math standards to earn a high school diploma.”

Half the states have such tests, Weaver said. “Minnesota is poised to return to the time when we had no common expectation for high school graduation.”

However, Marquart said, Federal Reserve officials say the state’s economy could get a $5 billion-a-year boost if what he sees as a more effective education system is implemented.

By Don Davis

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