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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