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Ed commissioner: Little good news for school budgets

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Commissioner Alice Seagren
Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, left, speaks to reporters about the federal School Improvement Grant program, on Wednesday May 26, 2010. At right is Pat King, director of the School Improvement division of the Minnesota Department of Education.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The state's outgoing education commissioner says schools should not expect any good budget news from the state for the foreseeable future.

Alice Seagren says a $6.2 billion budget looms for the next fiscal year, and there's uncertainty about when or if schools will ever get back more than a billion dollars the state borrowed from them last year to balance the state's books.

  "They're going to have hang on, probably, another couple years and figure out how to educate kids with very few resources," she said.

Seagren leaves office Monday after 6 1/2 years, a rare longevity for recent education commissioners.  Hers is the second-longest tenure of the 14 education commissioners Minnesota has had in thirty years. Only Ruth Randall, who was commissioner for most of the 80s under Gov. Rudy Perpich, served longer.

Seagren says she's proudest of new academic standards implemented during her tenure, as well as Q-Comp, arguably Tim Pawlenty's biggest education achievement as governor.

More than 100 charter schools and districts now get extra Q-Comp funds in exchange for having more robust professional development and merit pay for teachers.

"That is not paying teachers anymore just on years of experience and education, but is actually being based on the performance that they show and the academic achievement of their students," she said. "It's not perfect, it certainly needs to be more rigorous in some school districts."

Seagren said her regrets include not closing the achievement gap, along with the state's failure to win federal funds under the 'Race to the Top' program.