Democrats: Minn. Education Bill Targets Poor, Minority, Special Needs Kids

In a state with one of the largest achievement gaps, Democrats say Minnesota's education funding bill ostensibly takes aim at programs for disadvantaged kids.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the bill, which has cleared the Senate, seems targeted at "programs that directly support children with disabilities, poor children and children of color," according to the Associated Press.

The Republican-supported education bill would dip into the pot of integration aid for large urban districts and re-allocate the money to incentivize districts that can improve student literacy.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, head of the House Education Finance Committee, said the integration program has done little to bring low-income or minority students' achievement levels up, the Star Tribune reported.

"We've been spending this money for a long time, and Minnesota has one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation," Garofalo said. "We have to come up with better ways to spend these dollars."

Democratic critics tell the Associated Press that plugging the integration aid pipeline is too drastic and would hurt poor and minority students.

"What this bill really says, members, is that Minnesota -- which has an issue in discrimination in employment, the worst in the country -- is going to walk away from human rights," said Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth.

The bill also freezes state spending on special education, while increasing per-pupil payments to school districts by $100 over the next two years. Republicans hope the new emphasis on literacy would mean fewer students need special education programs in the first place.

Teachers would also be directly affected under the bill, with a two-year pay freeze, merit-based salary increases and limitations on striking. Republicans say these provisions could help avoid teacher layoffs, but Democrats were critical, the Associated Press reports.

"Wisconsin-style proposals that undermine collective bargaining do not belong in Minnesota," said Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-St. Paul.

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