Minnesota has long been a national leader in educational quality and reform. We have the highest ACT test scores in the country. We rank third nationally in high school graduation rates. We lead the nation in public school choice by passing the first ever charter school legislation back in 1991. We have done this through a stable education funding system that gave strong local control to school districts, school boards, parents, teachers and students.
Recently, Sen. Al DeKruif and Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen proclaimed that a vetoed education funding bill would have gone a long way to continue Minnesota’s quality education system. I would differ on their accounting of that bill, and suggest that we need a new focus that will lead our schools firmly into the 21st century.
The funding numbers they cite are flawed; under the Republican’s education bill they supported, the St. Peter School District would have received an additional $2 per student in new funding. This flat funding only exacerbates an already tight funding scenario that has forced the St. Peter District to borrow $3.25 million this past year to cover delayed state payments and to pay for educational programming costs.
My biggest concern with the education bills as they were drafted this session were the cuts to special education funding—which dramatically hurt the St. Peter District. The $90 per student special education funding cut proposed would have been a real blow not only to special education students, but to regular classroom programs. Why? The federal government requires school districts to fund special education. So when neither the federal government nor the state provide the funding for special education the school district must transfer funds from classrooms to provide for special education. The St. Peter School District must therefore transfer $597.45 away from each student to cover the cost of special education. Making cuts to special education services will not force reforms or efficiencies; it will only hurt education programs for all students.
My opposition to the education proposals presented this past session goes beyond the funding concerns. I cannot support a voucher proposal that will siphon $15 million from our public schools. I cannot support a Florida-based school grading system that will place blame on teachers and students. Additionally, while I agree that teacher evaluation needs to be a part of any education reform, the model of teacher assessment in the vetoed bill did not accomplish our goals and needs more work.
Obviously, we have a lot of work to ensure that Minnesota remains a leader in educational quality. We need to reform our funding system so that it will provide an equitable, stable system to benefit schools statewide. Pitting one district against another, blaming students in the Twin Cities or suburbs does not help educate our children to be productive citizens, who must compete for jobs in the global economy.
We cannot resolve the budget deficit until the solution’s content meets our common goal of a quality education system, which will benefit our schools and our students.