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School Funding, All-Day Kindergarten, Special Education Hot Topics at Education Forum

Candidates from Apple Valley Rosemount and Eagan House and Senate Districts converged at Black Hawk Middle School for a Tuesday night forum.

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Two weeks after Eagan's Senate and House candidates sparred at their first forum, the politicians were back at it—this time during a candidate forum on educational issues at Black Hawk Middle School.

Candidates from across Districts 51 and 57—which together cover much of Eagan, Apple Valley and Rosemount—converged at the event, held Tuesday night in front of an audience of more than 50 attendees. The bulk of the 90-minute event was dedicated to a question-and-answer session moderated by School District 196 representatives.

Here's a breakdown of many of the important points each Eagan candidate made during the wide-ranging discussion at the forum:

House District 51A

  • Incumbent Rep. Diane Anderson (R)
    Suburban schools have been unfairly treated by school funding formulas, which favor more urban districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Anderson said at the forum on Tuesday. At a time when the state already spends a significant portion of its budget on schools, the key to getting more funding for local students is to reverse the trend so formulas favor suburban districts, she said.

    When asked if she would consider raising taxes to increase education funding, Anderson said her goal would be to decrease spending without a tax hike. When the discussion turned to the statewide implementation of all-day kindergarten, Anderson deferred to her constituents, saying that she would make her decision based on community needs.
  • Challenger Sandra Masin (DFL)
    Masin came out hard against the current level of funding for Minnesota schools, calling it insufficient and blaming the state's handling of school funding for the growth in class sizes. But the candidate stopped short of saying she would pursue outright tax increases for education funding. Instead, Masin said the state needs to look at its priorities and fund its budget accordingly.

    On the subject of all-day kindergarten, Masin said she favored optional full-day kindergarten programs made more accessible by scholarship funding. She also advocated for the elimination of unfunded mandates from the federal government for Special Education to give states and school districts more flexibility.

House District 51B

  • Challenger Laurie Halverson (DFL)
    Laurie Halverson called the school funding shortfall "troubling" and said the legislature should look at tax code reforms and budget efficiencies as potential solutions in lieu of raising taxes statewide. Halverson called for a "broad-based" discussion concerning the implementation of all-day kindergarten in the state, but felt, like Masin, that the program should be an option, not a rule. 

    To address bullying in schools, Halverson said a task force convened by Gov. Mark Dayton to look at the issue must partner with local teachers, school boards and administrative members to make sure any action taken doesn't "amount to another set of administrative tasks" for already overburdened educators.
  • Incumbent Rep. Doug Wardlow (R)
    Wardlow praised local schools and said that education should be a priority, but warned that legislators at the Capitol will have to make tough decisions regarding funding. At various points during the forum, Wardlow championed the idea that the state should foster innovation by rewarding successful programs with extra funding while phasing out unsuccessful programs.

    Any decisions on all-day kindergarten should be made by local school districts, not the state, he said. He also suggested that the state offer voucher programs to drive competition between all-day kindergarten programs. Like many other candidates, he preferred to loosen unfunded mandates on school's Special Education programs to allow districts to "innovate".

Senate District 51

  • Challenger Jim Carlson (DFL)
    Carlson voiced support for a tax increase to boost education funding, saying: "The answer is that we need to have the people who have profited from our educational system put some money back in." Carlson was also staunchly in favor of statewide all-day kindergarten. Current all-day programs, Carlson said, favor those who can afford them. But the state should do what it can to level the playing field, he added.

    Though local legislators' options are limited when it comes to federal Special Education mandates and funding, Carlson said he would do what he can to press Democratic Congressional candidate Mike Obermueller to reform the system, if Obermueller is elected.
  • Incumbent Sen. Ted Daley (R)
    When asked if he would support a tax increase to improve school funding, Daley said the state should focus on providing more funding to support teachers while reducing overhead in schools. Daley, who served on the Senate's Education Committee, pointed to the bill he authored mandating basic skills testing for teachers as evidence that he was concerned about teacher quality and its impact on education.

    Like other legislators, he advocated for local control when it comes to any decisions about all-day kindergarten. Daley pointed toward job creation and economic growth as the solution for Special Education funding issues, saying: "We'll all do better when we all do better."

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