Thursday, May 28, 2009

Minnesota School Policy Now Based on Cost, Not Education

May 28th, 2009 at 1:03 pm By John Fitzgerald from Minnesota 20/20

Community involvement is good, but when that involvement is critical to the financial health of an institution as important as our education system, the repercussions can be devastating.

State funding for education has dropped an inflation-adjusted 13 percent since 2003. To keep up with inflation and unfunded mandates in areas such as testing and special education, schools have asked local voters to pick up the funding the state has dropped.

Where voters were keen to help and had the extra cash to put toward higher taxes for education, this situation worked out well. Everywhere else, schools have been forced to make awful choices that directly affect the quality of education offered to Minnesotans.

In describing Pelican Rapids’ economic plight, Superintendent Deb Wanek said all day every day kindergarten was going to revert back to part time kindergarten to save money, even though almost every piece of research available shows that all day every day kindergarten is better for the kindergartner.

This is an educational decision being made for economic reasons, not educational ones. That is truly distressing.

She then said a community group was trying to gather $100,000 to keep the all day every day kindergarten program alive.

It’s a common sight in school districts: The bake sale to raise money for uniforms, or the candy sale to buy better football gear. But in Pelican Rapids, the fundraising has taken on a very real fear. The district has cut $1.5 million over the last several years. Next year, the district is cutting $600,000 in programs and staff: Industrial arts was cut last year and German is gone after this school year, while art, math and English options are leaving as well.

It’s a complicated problem that encompasses open enrollment, non-resident homeowners, declining enrollment, charter and private schools and so on. But as the state pulls back from funding education, local taxpayers have to take up the slack. Where they won’t, schools cut costs past the point where a quality education is attainable.

What state policymakers don’t understand is that a quality education is important no matter what the cost, and it’s up to the state - not local well-meaning fundraisers - to pay for that education.

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