Is education at a ‘tipping point’?

Could the election of Barack Obama trigger a “tipping point” for education in Minnesota?  

That’s food for thought after my talk the other day with Minnesota legislator Carlos Mariani, a House DFLer from St. Paul and chair of the early childhood-12 education committee.

We were discussing the recent Growth & Justice study making a case for state taxpayers to invest another $1 billion a year in education and student support services.

The study says that’s what it would take to raise the percentage of students going to college from 50 to 75 percent. That’s a must, according to the Minnesota think tank’s “Smart Investments in Minnesota’s Students” report issued Nov. 19, or the state’s youth won’t have the education they need to compete in a global economy.  Then the state’s economy will suffer, officials there said.

As for that “tipping point” thought.

Remember the book, “The Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell? It purportedly explained why some ideas succeed and others don’t, why some spread like viruses and others fade away.

Some reach a pivotal moment — a “tipping point,” Gladwell says, where the “momentum for change becomes unstoppable” — like a tea kettle at the boiling point.

‘Infrastructure for our people’
Well, the election of Obama and the country’s will for change may be that tipping point when it comes to Minnesotans investing more in education, Mariani says. 

Sure the economy’s in the toilet, but that doesn’t mean people don’t see the need to invest in their future, Mariani said. From all he’s reading and hearing from experts and voters alike reflecting on the new administration in Washington, there are some reoccurring themes, he said, including: it’s time for our country to invest in its infrastructure. 

“Think about education as infrastructure for our people…a well-educated citizenry,” explained Mariani, also executive director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership

That surely remains to be seen when the Legislature convenes next year.

Still, folks are out there making a case. Besides the Growth & Justice report, there’s the so-called New Minnesota Miracle. Legislators, parents and educators have been traveling the state for months, soap-boxing that public school funding proposal. And Mariani is quick to mention the plan, being touted by his DFL colleague, Mindy Greiling, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee, and many other people and groups, particularly Parents United for Public Schools. (They jump-started it.)

Cost to state economy
As for that Growth & Justice report, it’s the result of nearly two years work and the project boasts a steering committee made up of a couple of dozen education movers and shakers (another must to achieve that tipping point) and an advisory council of 14 big-wig education researchers.  

“We have to invest early and stay with it,” said Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice. “We need comprehensive investments all along the pipeline, from early childhood through higher education attainment, from birth to age 25.” 

The 25-page report describes programs that help keep kids in school and spells out the economic benefit to the state when a student graduates from high school rather than drops out.

“Each year 10,000 Minnesota high school students drop out, at a cost to the state economy of $10 billion over their lifetime,” according to the report.  

With each additional high school graduate, “taxpayers gain $251,900 from increased tax revenues and lower expenditures on health, crime and welfare,” according to the report. 

As for whether that education teapot is ready to boil, whether Minnesotans are ready or able to dig deeper into their wallets? Time will tell.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/03/2008 - 08:09 am.

    This article is nothing but “big education” propaganda.

    Let us have real change and give families hope when it comes to education. All we get is the drivel of more money for the largest special interest group in MN. Where is the change?

    Let us fund children instead of unions. Let us have choice.

    Mr. Obama is a product of private education. And when given a choice for his children in Chicago and DC, his choice is private education.

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