Cologne, other school leaders suggest education priorities for the President

What should the top educational priority be for Congress and the Obama Administration? Twenty-six Minnesota education leaders responded when I asked them last week. Their responses fell into several major areas, some general, some specific.

Lynn Gluck, Cologne charter school director, wrote: “The one priority in education for the next President to help our public schools is to keep leadership for charter schools at the national level so that states can continue to revise their charter school laws that support educational value in innovation, growth and leadership.”

Edina Superintendent Ric Dressen wrote, “My number one priority is to move education’s vision for our nation forward with a greater focus on power of technology and need to ensure the funding commitments for special education are met.”

Eden Prairie Superintendent Curt Tryggestad stressed that the federal Special Education funding should be a top priority. His top priorities included

1. Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/Title I as soon as possible. It is already far overdue.

2. Mandatory funding for IDEA (federal special education law) at 40 percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure.”

According to the non-partisan publication Education Week, Congress promised to pay approximately 40 percent of the cost of special education costs when the initial federal law was passed in 1975. But current federal spending is about 16 percent of the costs.

Providing 40 percent would involve going from about $11.5 billion to about 35.3 billion. Legislation that would do this by 2021 was introduced earlier this year. It did not pass.

Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, agreed and added to these priorities. He wrote: “My top priority for the next president is to stop treating federal education policy like a political football and bring some stability to our schools. That starts with closing the Pell Grant shortfall once and for all, actually honoring the federal government’s promise to pay for special education in the states and replacing No Child Left Behind with a new law that creates sensible accountability while preserving flexibility at the state and local levels.”

Jason Ulbrich, Executive Director of Eagle Ridge Charter in Eden Prairie wrote “My number one priority in education for the next President … is to encourage high performing schools to share best practices and reproduce. This would include providing promised funding on time and to give flexibility in utilizing federal monies.”

Finally, Cam Hedllund of the Lakes International Charter in Forest Lake, spoke for many district and charter leaders, “Please move away from standardized test scores as the sole measure of a school’s success. Please insist that states measure school success by how well educators meet the needs of the whole child, by how well they help students become well-rounded world citizens, by how well they help students maintain physical and emotional well-being and balance and by how much students come to love learning and maintain a sense of inquiry throughout their lives.”

Our taxes have paid for development of new assessments that are supposed to give a broader, more complete view of student progress. Standardized tests measure some, but not all important things we want students to learn.

It may be naïve to think that Congress and the President will agree on most, or even all of these suggestions. But I think it’s a good list. I hope legislators are listening and learning from these folks.

By Joe Nathan, who has received many awards for his work in education. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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