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Beware the ‘no new taxes’ siren song

In an Aug. 12 Community Voices article Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, again sings the siren song that more revenue will not help the state’s declining education results. (Remember, this is the same man who in September of 2007 at an educational forum stated “class sizes of 100, 200 or more” would not be detrimental to the education process.)

Well, Krinkie might be right that merely throwing money at a problem is not necessarily a solution in itself; but conversely, underfunding a mandated activity such as education will almost certainly be damaging. Beyond the educational ramifications, Krinkie fails to recognize school districts are also wrestling with inflationary pressures, as are all organizations.

There is plenty of room for argument about educational processes that are effective, but Krinkie’s contentions that teachers are overpaid for the work they do, and his previous suggestions that “high need” children are holding back the rest, have little merit.

Starting salaries for teachers in Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree are about $37,500 per year — but top salaries after decades of dedication to the profession are only a little over $50,000. In other words, teachers who choose this profession have really limited their long-term financial potential to serve our children and communities.

High-need students need more attention, not less
Moreover, Krinkie’s suggestion that we segregate “high-need” children to special schools is a move 180 degrees in the wrong direction.  He would have the “majority” of children (whatever that means) getting the most attention, and the others relegated to some other educational system, likely lesser, since he also wants reduced funding as well. Test scores show that it is precisely the high-need children who need extra attention, not less. In our democratic society we generally view education as a process which will allow every child to reach his/her potential for full development and opportunity.

But this is less about a debate on education than it is on the league itself. One look at its website says it all.  What you find there are words like “lower taxes … limited government … reduce and reform taxes … government waste,” etc. Where are the words that speak to improving the lives of our citizens … maintaining the high standards we have come to expect in Minnesota … and the value of cooperative public/private partnerships to move the state forward? They are totally absent.

No new taxes: a noble goal, but a siren song — one with an irony, and a consequence. The irony: There is ample evidence that taxes in Minnesota have been dropping, not rising, as compared to other states, in recent years. Currently we are about 10th on the list — but that includes all forms of taxes we pay, including property taxes, sales taxes, etc. (Along with this data, there is also the recent report from the Government Accountability Office that two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid no federal income tax between 1998 and 2005! And that includes 25 percent of “large” corporations with at least $50 million in annual sales.) 

Consequences speak for themselves
The consequences need no explanation from me; they speak for themselves. Massive deficits, reduced services, a falling dollar, turbulent financial markets, and an economy in trouble at the national level. And the highest unemployment rate in 20 years, crumbling infrastructure, and declines in almost every indicator in which Minnesotans have formerly led the nation, during the Pawlenty stewardship. There is no “smoke and mirrors” to explain all this away. It stands on its own. 

So, where do we go from here? Do we continue to heed the siren song of no new taxes, corporate shelters, and protecting the top 1 percent or even 5 percent (who earned 37 percent of all income in the country in 2006) from paying fair shares? Do we continue to run the country by massive borrowing from less than friendly creditors? Do we ignore the condition of our roads, bridges, dams and infrastructure to save on paying for them now so our children can do it for us? Do we “buy” what the Taxpayers League is selling? Or do we cut through the fog of the siren song and say: “this is not working, this plan has failed us; let’s do something better”?

Remember, in Greek mythology, those who sailed too near the sirens’ enchanting music and voices ended up shipwrecked on the rocky coast.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his entire business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Vonya Ereye on 08/21/2008 - 11:07 am.

    Mr. krienke is correct in his assertion that throwing more money at education is not solving the problem.

    A couple things you neglected to point out in your argument are.
    #1. Thanks to such strong teachers unions, salary is not the only factor in determining someone’s compensation for their work. For example, in Minneapolis, the average teacher makes $54,000 in salary, but receives more than $84,000 in salary and benefits which include the pension, medical etc. Statistics have shown they make more than 95% of professionals (when broken down by hours worked), ahead of all but 1 or 2 engineering catagories and behind only doctors and lawyers. You can attempt to skew the facts any way you want, but considering Minneapolis school district is one of the poorest performing districts in the state, I would hardly think they are in a position to complain about their compensation or tie it to performance. There is something seriously wrong with the funding formula. I would love to take home $84,000 a year in compensation and work the schedule teachers do. Face it, you would too.

    #2. The other thing worth mentioning is the segregation issue of high needs students. By integrating them into the mainstream, you may boost their self-esteem, but it comes at the expense of the rest of the students. Teachers end up spending 50% of their time dealing with the 10% of the trouble-makers who are constantly disrupting the learning process. the remaining 50% of the time needs to fulfill the functions of educating the other 90%, which is not efficient or fair. It’s time to let the teachers have a voice in how they can be most effective and stop forcing them to adhere to ridiculous mandates that end up hurting the majority of the students and renders the teacher less useful as an educator and more like a babysitter.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 08/21/2008 - 12:46 pm.

    Ms. Ereye’s comments cannot go unanswered because they are not only wrong, but inaccurate. I happen to know, because I have first hand knowledge of the Minneapolis school system — my daughter has taught in the system for 14 years. Starting teachers get about $36,000 per year; and the average is $42,000. Ereye’s “take home” $84,000 number has no basis in fact. True, teachers get a “comfortable” pension (not great by any means) after long tenure, and medical insurance — as do persons working for any decent company in the PRIVATE sector. Benefits to which THEY CONTRIBUTE I might add.

    As for her support of somehow segregating or “warehousing” students with high needs and not bringing them into the mainstream (to use her words)– the failure to apply resources to this issue will, in the end, cost society far more in terms of crime, wasted lives, and an under-educated populace. We can, and must, allow every child to reach full potential whether they are gifted, or need added help. It has been one of the attributes that has made America great.

    Ms Ereye’s comments are common themes from the Taxpayer’s League. Yet, history shows failure to solve problems early on (whether it is a bridge, a road, or a child’s education)will cost society — and taxpayers –far more later on.

    The Author.

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