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What would eye-popping budget cuts mean for schools? St. Paul shows the pain

The deficits Minnesota school districts anticipate if the cuts on the table at the Legislature stand are beyond eye-popping.

The budget chasms yawn so big, in fact, that it’s easy to lose perspective in terms of what they mean for the ultimate stakeholders — kids and their families.

From St. Paul Public Schools comes a fact sheet (PDF) containing some painful but illustrative nuts and bolts.

The state’s second-largest district, St. Paul has 38,000 students. Almost half come from homes where English is not the native language, 71 percent are low-income and 2,000 experience homelessness each year.

The district already faces a $20 million shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. If the omnibus education finance bill ends up setting next year’s budget, that deficit would swell to $34 million.

Most of the bloodletting would take place in two areas: integration revenue and special-ed funding. Because its purpose is to ensure students from diverse backgrounds have opportunities to learn together, most of the $19 million in integration funding the district currently receives is spent on transportation, magnet programs and the student placement center.

Integration revenues account for one-third of the transportation budget. Never mind that St. Paul just announced a strategic plan that would cut transportation costs dramatically by curtailing school choice, it may have to find another $9.5 million in savings.

In addition to supporting magnet programs, the funds pay to bus kids to 16 language academies for pupils learning English. Within the magnets themselves, $7 million in cuts will need to be made. That’s the equivalent of 60 teachers and 15 paraprofessionals, some of whom work for programs that provide academic interventions to struggling kids and access for low-income students for International Baccalaureate programs.

All-day kindergarten is one of the most cost-effective means of helping position kids from impoverished families for academic success. It could disappear for many.

On the chopping block, too: language and curriculum for the district’s American Indian program and its $300,000 share of the East Metro Integration Program’s budget.

Nearly all of the budget for the Student Placement Center would be eliminated. In addition to processing some 13,000 school applications every year, the center works to identify kids who need help from Day One, including language screening, immunizations, testing for asthma and hearing and vision problems and developmental delays. Some of the 7,500 kids screened are homeless, and some are coming from refugee camps. 

The other part of the finance bill that’s particularly problematic is funding for special ed, which the Legislature proposes freezing. Because districts can’t cut services and funding has long lagged behind costs, St. Paul already taps its dwindling general fund to pay the 40 percent, or $37 million, not reimbursed by the state or federal governments. The freeze would force the district to divert more funds to make up new shortfalls.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by John Egan on 04/20/2011 - 11:42 am.

    Explain to me how we ever got along in this country before these vital programs existed? How did German immigrants manage to learn the language and assimilate into this nation? Or the French, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese, etc. for that matter. From the sound of the article you would think that immigration would be stopped without these supposed vital programs. Folks we don’t have the money and we can’t tax enough to cover the promises made by politicians for the votes they purchased with those tax dollars. The well is dry.

  2. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 04/20/2011 - 11:45 am.

    When I read articles such as this, the millions in funding for the arts provided by the Legacy Amendment seems sillier by the day. It is that type of frivolous spending that got the Democrats booted out of office.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/20/2011 - 12:35 pm.

    John (#1): The “good old days” for immigrants was not so good. Their life was characterized by disease, illness and injury. Their schooling was sporadic and short. They worked in jobs that paid little, were dangerous and unhealthy. They died young, many had malnutrition, they lived in dangerous and unhealthy slums and tenements. They were taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers, landlords, politicians and gangs. In other words, they had a third-world life in America.

    I’m not sure how it can be considered as progress to tear down the support structures that were put into place over the past century. As for “we don’t have the money”, tax rates for the highest income classes are at the lowest rate since WW2. The well is not dry.

  4. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 04/20/2011 - 01:10 pm.

    Since when is it the job of the school district to test kids for asthma? Maybe the district needs to get back to it’s core mission – education!!!!

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/20/2011 - 01:13 pm.

    Welcome to Mississippi-North.

    Mr. Egan’s point is well-taken. Millions of immigrants have learned English on their own, and with little or no special assistance. As a retired teacher, I can speak with some experience to both sides of the issue, having had students who were basically academically crippled by their lack of English, as well as others who learned the language so quickly that they wrote better at the end of the year than their peers who were native to the country. Motivation makes a great deal of difference, but I’m not sure figuratively throwing all immigrant children to the linguistic wolves is necessarily the most efficient (or, in the long run, cost-effective) means of dealing with the issue.

    I can’t go along with Ms. Hoover at all. As a newbie to the state, one of the few things about Minnesota that has made a positive impression is the Legacy Amendment. Would that more states adopted such a far-reaching and thoughtful approach to preserving cultural and natural heritage.

    Just out of curiosity, and speaking as both a former teacher as well as a former head coach, I wonder how much the St. Paul district (and other districts throughout the state) spends on interscholastic athletics? When I was coaching, about 10% of my high school’s annual budget went toward the interscholastic athletic program. That’s a significant amount of money, no matter what the size of the school or district.

    If Ms. Hoover wants to take a look at frivolous spending, she might consider what it costs to field a varsity football team at the high school level – an activity that typically involves a tiny percentage of an urban district’s student population, but that consumes an inordinate amount of money from taxpayers whose children don’t want to, or lack the physical ability to, participate in the program. The percentage of student involvement in a rural district might be significantly higher, but then, so is likely to be the percentage of the district budget devoted to organized and formal athletics.

    The countries that routinely beat us in international academic competitions not only have students spending more time per day, week and year in class, they also virtually never have school (read: taxpayer) sponsorship of athletic events. Kids who play sports in those countries do so by joining sports clubs, which often have no affiliation at all with local schools. More importantly, from the budgeting standpoint, those activities are paid for by participants and their families, with “scholarship”/sponsorship help from local businesses and philanthropists, rather than the general population.

    In terms of “bang for the buck,” early childhood education has repeatedly demonstrated that it’s essentially the gold standard. Cutting back kindergarten, especially for kids from impoverished backgrounds, is one of the most short-sighted and counterproductive policy decisions that could possibly be made. Legislators who support such a policy as a means of balancing the budget while simultaneously opposing, for example, raising taxes for the state’s top 5 percent of households by income, are intellectually, morally and ethically bankrupt.

  6. Submitted by Jill Underwood on 04/20/2011 - 01:14 pm.

    Rebecca, did you know that there is an entire pool of money from the Legacy Ammendment dedicated to Arts Learning grants? These grants enable arts organizations to deliver high quality programming and instruction to K-12 students in every corner of the state. The findings of a nine-year research project led by Stanford anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath concluded that young people who participate in high quality arts programs are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools and four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair. Many other studies highlight the effectiveness of arts education in enhancing creativity, deepening students’ conceptual understanding of history, and the development of communication skills and other core competencies needed for employment.

    If you would like to learn more about what Legacy funds have actually accomplished in the face of declining school budgets, please visit

  7. Submitted by John Egan on 04/20/2011 - 01:44 pm.

    Neil, My Grandfather came to this country from Germany. He spoke no English upon arrival in 1905. His parents spoke German as well. Each leaned English well enough to get along quite quickly. They had little money, yet found work and place to rent and basically survived for the first few years. It wasn’t easy but the children went to school and worked hard as well because they knew the opportunity existed in this country to succeed if the effort was made.
    My Grandfather died in 1957 at age 57 and was the owner of a leasing company and part owner in a bank. Now if his family was taken in by the false promises of politicians and went for welfare vs. work my guess is the outcome would have been dramatically different. This country owes each of us the opportunity to succeed, it does not owe us a monthly stipend in return for a vote in the ballot box. Poor people on welfare with lots of safety nets are far less likely to succeed anywhere because the motivation to study, work and be self reliant are removed. We also have the highest Corporate tax structure of any developed economy and those tax rates fall on owners of small businesses who make 100K or more and file sub chapter S. Give me facts sir; not talking points from the promoters of socialism.

  8. Submitted by Steve Marchese on 04/20/2011 - 01:46 pm.

    The level of short-sighted thinking that seems to run rampant at the Legislature and in certain political quarters astounds me. Public schools represent the collective expression of a community’s belief that it’s future lies with educated people capable of contributing to the whole and living up to their potential. The choices facing the St. Paul schools demonstrate how hostile political rhetoric and lack of will have debased these values. If the intent is to roll back societal standards to the early twentieth century, there will be many consequences for our state — a poorly educated workforce unable to compete or perform at a level necessary to keep the state competitive economically. Sacrificing public education on the altar of tax and deficit reduction condemns us all to a third-class future.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/20/2011 - 03:33 pm.

    It seems to me that any article about “budget cuts” should include a mention of what the budget is.

    Well here it is: The 2008-09 budget for the St. Paul Public School System was $658,651,850. With 38,000 students enrolled that comes out to $17,333 per child.

    (For some reason, the 2009-2010 budget is not available)

    Think about that. If you had $17,333 per child per year to spend on their education, would you send them to the government schools? Me neither.

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/20/2011 - 04:38 pm.

    John (#7) says….Poor people on welfare with lots of safety nets are far less likely to succeed anywhere because the motivation to study, work and be self reliant are removed….

    So you’re saying that people with no safety nets are more likely to succeed?

    I would suggest you google “third world”. You will find many examples of lot of people unencumbered by safety nets, taxes, education and government “interference”. You might be surprised to find out, that even with all of those “advantages”, their well is “dryer” than ours.

  11. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/20/2011 - 04:58 pm.

    And, Jon (#7), I would suggest that you look at the actual tax collected from corporations in America, it has fallen from over 30% of the total tax revenue in 1930 to about 6% in 2010.


    And, the effective corporate tax rate in the US is less than that of Germany, Canada, India, China, Brazil, Japan and Italy. Oddly enough, most of those countries and their companies are doing quite well.


  12. Submitted by will lynott on 04/20/2011 - 07:18 pm.

    Mr Egan, I can’t believe you’re comparing educational and cultural conditions today with your rose tinted view of circumstances over a hundred years ago. The two couldn’t be more different.

    Back then it was possible for a man with a third grade education to get a job that would feed a family, IF the wife kept a garden and did a lot of canning. That aside, it was pretty common for boys to drop out of school well before the eighth grade and go to work to help keep the family afloat. And, back then, labor intensive jobs for the uneducated were to be had, digging ditches, mucking out mine stopes, felling trees in the woods. They didn’t pay all that well, but a man (or boy) took what he could get.

    And, he was often condemned to live on that for the rest of his life. He had no alternatives. That kind of life wore people out fast. Life expectancy was a lot less then than it is now. Good on your grandfather for owning a bank when he died, but, let’s get real here, it’s nonsense to think that everyone is going to wind up getting rich. There’s not enough gold in the world. If everyone owned a bank, they would abound on every block. Your grandfather’s story is what is known as an “anecdote,” and it proves nothing.

    Today, schools have to deal with one-parent kids, many of whom can’t speak English and get no support for their education at home, not because the parent doesn’t care, but because she’s working two or three jobs. This was rare in your grandfather’s era, unless you count industrial accidents that resulted from an utter lack of health and safety regulations.

    Anyway,the days when you didn’t need an education to get a decent job are long gone. If you don’t go to college or trade school these days, good luck. Nowadays there are drugs, gangs, homelessness, hunger, on a scale that has never existed before, all of them major obstacles between today’s kids and the education they need to thrive. Whether you like it or not, schools today are in many cases the only thing that stands between these kids and perdition. What do YOU want to do with these kids? Throw them away?

    BTW, the implication that corporations pay the highest taxes in the civilized world is off-point crap, and has been debunked many times over. You need to go back and look at what they ACTUALLY pay–that is, the EFFECTIVE tax rate–and you’ll see the picture is quite different. Look no further than GE, which pays NO taxes.

    Those are facts, sir. So spare us your talking points from the promoters of fascism.

  13. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/20/2011 - 08:44 pm.

    What would eye-popping budget cuts mean for schools?

    Answer: Change and hope!

  14. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 04/21/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    The reason that people are disgusted with the public schools has nothing to do with an antipathy towards education. It has all to do with what poor results we are getting for the $17,000 + we are spending per student.

    There’s an attitude that to fix a problem, all you have to do is throw more money at it. We’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.

    What we need to do is roll the clock back to the way the schools operated in the 60s. Neighborhood schools with minimal busing; Shop classes in all the junior and senior high schools so that you could graduate with marketable real world skills and didn’t get forced into going to college if you wanted to get a decent job.

    What made that all possible was home-grown leadership, instead of big bucks administrators who fly into town with lots of promises, and then move on 4 years later when the shine starts to wear off.

  15. Submitted by Derek Schwartz on 04/21/2011 - 02:40 pm.

    Pointing out what worked 100, 40, or even 10 years ago in education is moot – the world we have today is radically different than the one of the past.

    I think we can all agree that high-quality education is important for our children to succeed in life. The alternative is a severe breakdown in the model many of our social systems and even our economy are based upon. Namely that future generations will be better off than we are today.

    So the real question in my mind is what’s the best way to do that? It’s obvious that operations as the status quo are unsustainable from a resource standpoint – there’s only so much time, money, and people to go around. What’s a way to satisfy stakeholders – families, children, and taxpayers that high quality education will still delivered but with innovative, more cost-effective methods?

    The research shows that the earlier in life a student is set up for success, the greater their chances for success are. So let’s support early childhood and Kindergarten programs since they will reduce costs and increase revenues in the future. If this means we need to accept reduced transportation and school choice, that certainly seems acceptable to me personally. How about you?

  16. Submitted by Carol Logie on 04/21/2011 - 09:45 pm.

    Children’s Defense Fund report of Jan 2011 says MN spends $9,159 annually per public school student, not 17k. We spend almost 3 times that amount to imprison someone for a year, minimum. Do the math.

    It never fails to stun me that people think this is alot of money. It’s not nearly enough, and when the schools fail, we seem to elect people who think cutting it further will do the trick. We are dooming generations of children to poverty and hardship by this misguided punishment of schools and teachers.

    Education is not a frill. It’s our future.

  17. Submitted by Mike Lund on 04/23/2011 - 11:26 am.

    Carol, the number you quote is the average spent per student statewide and not for St Paul as originally stated.

    I think the main point should be that we have doubled the amount spent per student in the last decade with no substantive progress in test scores.

    This shows that money spent has no direct bearing on the education provided, or it is being spent on salaries, current & legacy benefits, and other costs having no relation to our kid’s education.

    As every other government program, education is a failure. 100’s of billions spent on the federal dept. of education with no return on investment.

    It seems time to cut unneccesary spending to balance the budget and put the education of our kids back in the hands of parents and not an ineffectiove nanny state.

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