Dayton ed budget would boost Austin schools funding

Published 10:42 am Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Austin Public Schools could benefit from more state funding if an education budget Gov. Mark Dayton proposed passes.

Dayton’s bill was introduced in the House and the Senate Thursday. Authored by Senate and House education chairs Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, and Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, the bill calls for $344 million in new investments for preschool through grade 12.

Part of that is a boost to the general education formula that would increase the money schools receive by $52 per pupil, which Finance and Operations Director Mark Stotts said would be a boon for Austin.

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“That’s actually the best place that he could put the money,” Stotts said. “Those funds are not reserved for anything specific. The school board can decide how they want to spend those monies.”

Unlike funding that caters to specific categories of the district’s budget, the general education formula gives the district more flexibility to put the money where it needs to be.

The first year of the Dayton’s budget, 2013-2014, would see Austin’s revenue increase by $351,000. Stotts said that amount is small compared to the district’s total budget. A larger jump comes the following year, when the district’s revenue is estimated to grow by $1.4 million. Stotts said the figure in part comes from the budget’s $125 million dedicated to special education reform.

“The state would pay for special education costs that we’re already paying for,” he said.

Also included in the budget proposal is $40 million to allow school districts statewide to offer all-day kindergarten to students free of charge. At Woodson Kindergarten Center, all-day kindergarten is already an option.

“The community of Austin supports it financially,” said Woodson’s principal Jessica Cabeen.

If the all-day kindergarten funds were enacted, Austin would see no change in programming, but would receive more funding, Stotts said.

The potential downside of Dayton’s budget proposal for Austin schools is the change in integration funding, which Austin currently receives. Right now, those funds go to districts whose minority population is 20 percent higher than neighboring districts, Stotts said.

The proposal would allow more districts statewide to become eligible for it. If the total amount of integration funding were not to increase, Austin would see a smaller share of the pie, Stotts said. The Success Coach program, among others, could feel the effects.

“That’s one we’re keeping an eye on,” he said.

Beside the fact that changes are likely to be made, there are too few details right now to pinpoint exactly how the governor’s budget proposal would affect the district if passed. Stotts said it was a good starting point.

“It’s contained in mounds of legislation,” he said. “The best we can do is relate on what the state is telling us.”