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Want to help schools? Leave a few legislators behind

Recently released data on the statewide education standards for math and reading tests show more schools in Minnesota falling behind. The list of “failing” schools grew by more than 200 from last year to a total of 937 of 1,951 schools not making “adequate yearly progress.” This year’s list is up dramatically from last year’s list of 727 schools not meeting the standards of the “No Child Left Behind” law.

While the list of reasons (or excuses) why schools aren’t measuring up is a lengthy one, many educators attribute this recent increase in the number of schools failing to keep pace on the fact that there are higher benchmarks that students must achieve in the standardized tests. But this factor alone doesn’t explain why the number of schools classified as “underperforming” has grown by over 450 schools in the last two years. I believe it is time to ring the bell that something is radically wrong with our method of funding public education.

The first place to look for change isn’t in the classroom or even in the administrative offices; it’s at the state Capitol. The worn-out excuse that K-12 funding hasn’t kept pace with inflation is false and the whine that teachers are underpaid just doesn’t cut it.

The continuous song of legislators (many of whom are teachers and former teachers) calling for increased funding for K-12 education is like another round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” all too familiar. Combined state and local funding for K-12 education has increased by $3,000 dollars per student in the last 10 years and now totals more than $7 billion per year, representing by far the greatest percentage of the state budget.

A continuing drone as schools fail
The reality is legislators continue to shill for Education Minnesota (the state teachers union), repeating the drone about more money for education, while a growing number of schools fail to achieve the student test standards the Legislature has adopted.

Maybe it’s time to recognize more money isn’t the answer. Perhaps it’s time to elect some people to state office who realize continuing to pour more and more money into the same broken system will not yield a different result. If billions of dollars in additional funding have resulted in more than 50 percent of our state high schools failing to meet achievement targets, then it’s time to try a different approach.

The first step on the road to change is to realize there is a problem — but of course there are those who proclaim we should just do away with the standards. Others merely want to lower the standards, while most still believe “if we only had more funding” schools will achieve better outcomes.

Ask candidates about public education
So when you hear the knocks on your door this fall from your local state legislative candidates, ask them what they are planning to do for public education. If the first idea out of a candidate’s mouth is to increase K-12 education funding, then perhaps you should find out the position and ideas of his or her opponent. If legislators fail to recognize that the funding system is broken, there is little hope they will find the courage to change the funding process. 

The Legislature needs to dump the current funding formula that rewards failure and penalizes success, that funds school districts for nonexistent students and that hands out more money based on parent income rather than parent participation. While we are changing the funding process, it’s also time to compensate teachers based on how they teach, not how long they have been teaching. 

And without a change in the people who fund the system there is little hope for change in the system.

Phil Krinkie is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and a former state representative from Lino Lakes.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 08/17/2008 - 06:30 am.

    We took our child out of public schools a few years back and he now goes to a private school. We have eked out the means to do it and his new school has helped immensely with his learning disability. We know we are fortunate to be able to do this.

    I will agree with the basic premise that our current public education system in Minnesota is in need of serious repair. The funding mechanism is out of whack and the patronage system that exists in the public schools in my area (and others) is just nuts. Many outstanding young teachers have been dumped at the end of their three year probationary period by the school district and the tenured ones continue along.

    While rich suburban school districts wrestle with the difficult question of what type of artificial turf to put on their football field, smaller rural school are trying to figure out how to cover their energy bills in old, outdated buildings. I wonder how many people can tell you how the education funding formula *really* works from A to Z in this state? I would guess less than a dozen. It’s that complex.

    Both political parties in this state have jointly landed us where we are in K-12 today, not just in the legislature but also in the bureaucracy. What really degrades the discussion is the tired old “you must be against children” mantra that is tossed out by both sides early and often. Its that type of attitude that has put us where we are and will keep us there in a stalemate where the kids are the losers.

  2. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 08/12/2008 - 06:57 pm.

    It’s rather interesting that former Rep. Krinkie is one of the reasons that our schools are failing. His district voted him out in 2006 because they could see how his policies were affecting the schools.

    His and the governor’s policies of shifting funding back to property tax levies and away from a state distributed allocation has meant that the poor schools get poorer and the richer schools get richer. The ones that are failing are the ones that are not getting the money, and they are the ones who will be driven deeper into a vortex of failure by the nonsense we call NCLB.

  3. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 08/14/2008 - 06:23 pm.

    Interesting Ron. You want the privilege of private education but you want the government to pay for it. So, then, it becomes public education, right?

    When I had my kids in private school I got a little help from the diocese and by volunteering at Saints games for tuition reduction.

    Pitch in.

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/14/2008 - 03:22 pm.

    Thanks Phil,

    I want my children to have the same education that B. Obama had and his children currently have (private school).

    Mr. Obama wants all to have the same health care he enjoys, but we cannot have the same education his family enjoys.

    The unions will do anything to keep my kids on the reservation of union education.

    So much for change.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/15/2008 - 01:54 pm.

    Sorry Mike,

    I want real change and to give families hope.

    Instead of the every increasing taxpayer funding for union education (there will be never enough money), lets have change.

    Let’s make children a special interest group instead of “schools.”

    Instead of throwing more money at the union schools and hope it trickles down to the kids, let us make kids a special interest group and invest directly in the children. How can you be against children?

    Let children and families choose the education that is best for their child. That is real change.

    To advocate the current special interest education system is just politics as usual.

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