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Published February 04, 2011, 02:21 PM

Dayton: Boost School Funding, Revise Testing

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called Friday for more state spending on schools, changes in high-stakes testing, expanded all-day kindergarten and an added emphasis on literacy as part of a long-on-goals, light-on-details education plan.

By: Brian Bakst, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called Friday for more state spending on schools, changes in high-stakes testing, expanded all-day kindergarten and an added emphasis on literacy as part of a long-on-goals, light-on-details education plan.

Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius outlined their seven-point proposal but kept critical elements — such as how much new money and where it would come from — under wraps pending the governor's budget rollout later this month. Minnesota is dealing with a projected $6.2 billion deficit.

Dayton campaigned on a promise to boost school aid every year. "No exceptions, no excuses," he said often.

The Democratic governor also has said he would ask the Republican-controlled Legislature to increase income taxes, an idea encountering stiff resistance. Dayton wouldn't say if the education money was dependent on a tax hike.

"Everything is interrelated but nothing is specifically tied from one piece to another," Dayton said.

He intends to create a new commission to study the way school money is distributed and recommend a different approach. Similar efforts have stalled in the past.

Among Dayton's goals:

— Enhance early childhood programs, implement school readiness standards and build off recent efforts to make all-day kindergarten more prevalent around the state.

— Narrow Minnesota's nagging achievement gap between white students and those from other ethnic backgrounds, although Cassellius said a measurable goal would come later.

— Align state tests so they better measure year-to-year academic growth by individual students instead of assessing progress by grade level, such as this year's fifth-graders against their predecessors.

— Set accountability targets around a goal of making sure students are reading well by third grade.

Some of his ideas will require legislative authorization and others would need sign off from the federal government.

Testing requirements are now largely guided by the federal No Child Left Behind law, which is up for reauthorization. Some states are pushing for more flexibility in how the tests are used to hold schools accountable.

"Tests now are so dominant and so frequent that they are skewing teaching so teachers are spending weeks and months teaching to a test especially in the early grades rather than teaching a love of learning," Dayton said.

The proposal drew a mixed response, with education advocacy groups issuing statements of support and Republican leaders giving either tepid or critical reaction.

"I see nothing new here. Invest means to spend more. I see nothing about parents in this seven-point plan, not a thing about empowering parents," said House Education Reform Committee Chairwoman Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton. "Parents are our first teachers of students."

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he thinks the financial boost to schools could be tough to pull off given Minnesota's battered budget.

"It just seems difficult to add a lot of money in one part of the budget without knowing where his cuts and reforms are," Michel said.

All sides said they were working toward a compromise on legislation making entry into the teaching profession easier for those who don't meet traditional state licensing requirements. It would allow the state to issue provisional teacher licenses to people with certain qualifications.

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