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Dayton unveils education plan

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius briefs reporters Friday on Dayton administration education plans. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton laid out what he called his vision for education reform Friday, but a key Republican lawmaker said she saw nothing new in the seven-point plan.

Dayton suggested increasing education funding, concentrating on early childhood education (including improving reading by third grade), allowing professionals from other fields to teach and providing more state support to teachers.

However, Dayton said that he would not discuss how he would increase funding until he releases his budget proposal on Feb. 15. Part of his proposal is to establish a commission to study whether there is a better way to fund schools than the current formula.

Among the Democratic governor's ideas is to give schools funding to launch all-day kindergarten programs if they wish. That fits with Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius' idea that students should be able to read well in third grade so they can read to learn the rest of their lives. The Dayton plan would require standards to measure the success at reading by third grade.

Part of the early-childhood push would include "clearly defined" standards for preparing children for school.

"The governor's seven-point plan creates a seamless process from pre-K through post-secondary education that will prepare our children for the rigors of formal education, raise the bar to close the achievement gap, focus on early childhood education and literacy, support quality teaching and redesign the Department of Education to better serve our students, parents, teachers and schools," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer, a Democratic education leader.

Among the most-discussed education issues this year is providing an easier path for professionals in other fields to become teachers. Senators passed a bill doing that on Thursday and a similar House bill is pending.

Dayton would not say if he supports either measure, but praised lawmakers for moving the so-called alternative licensure measures forward.

"While the governor agrees and is supportive of quality alternative teacher licensure, he knows -- and I agree -- that this cannot be the sole response to the educational crisis facing our state," Stumpf said.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said that Dayton's plan is fine, but "we have done this all before. There is nothing new."

All-day kindergarten is a good goal, Erickson said, but many rural schools do not have the space or money to expand.

Erickson, the House Education Reform Committee chairwoman, said that with a new governor and education commissioner, she had hoped for a new approach to education. "I don't see anything different here."

Dayton said he wants the funding study commission to report to him by the end of March. He promised that both major political parties will have a say.

"It remains to be seen whether they can agree on something or not," Dayton said.

It was unclear if Dayton wanted to incorporate any recommendations into the two-year budget that he and legislators must adopt this spring.

While the governor said he would fulfill his campaign promise to increase education spending, he gave no hint about how he might accomplish that given the state's $6.2 billion deficit.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.