Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

2/07/2004

Editorial: K-12 education/Undermining proven programs

The Strib does a good job of bringing this set of issues to the table. What will things look like under a State takeover of Minnesota schools?
Considering the unparalleled bargain Minnesota schools have been, doesn't it make sense to invest in children rather than divest? M


Published February 8, 2004

Next month, 8,000 Minneapolis students who are now working to catch up academically will have to find something else to do after school. Programs that have helped them improve their behavior, attendance and academic achievement will shut down because of state budget cuts for extended learning.

That is but one of the consequences of K-12 budget reductions the Minnesota Legislature made last year. Gov. Tim Pawlenty claimed to hold schools "harmless" by maintaining funding through the state's core per-pupil formula. But the final 2003 education bill reduced overall aid to public schools by $180 million, including $70 million for special education, $25 million for summer school and after-school programs, $46 million for compensatory aid to disadvantaged children and $3 million for Head Start.

Schools took a lesser hit than some other state functions, but nevertheless many districts now find themselves pushed up against a daunting financial wall. Some of the reductions districts make today could cost the students -- and society -- a lot more tomorrow.

Take, for example, the $15 million Minneapolis schools had to trim from their summer school and after-school extended-learning efforts. Though solid data prove that the programs improve student performance, they are being eliminated. This year 10,000 kids got additional help every day at more than 90 sites. By the end of March, only 2,000 high school students will be served.

"It's an unfair and destructive choice," says Jim Grathwol, a lobbyist for Minneapolis schools. "We have to bail on 8,000 kids. And we know what the research says about those after-school hours when children are more likely to get in trouble."

It is tough to put a dollar cost on this missed opportunity. However, it is certain that some districts will pay right away. Many of the schools, in Minneapolis and other districts, that lost extended learning funds are also schools that have not met or are close to missing state and federal academic requirements. Schools that don't meet adequate yearly progress benchmarks under the new federal No Child Left Behind rules must provide additional services -- at a higher cost than the current programs.

The impact isn't limited to urban districts such as Minneapolis. Across the state, more than 2,000 teachers have been laid off, prompting even middle-class districts such as Roseville, Burnsville, St. Louis Park, Edina and Mounds View to increase class sizes.

In Stillwater, officials say that cuts in funding for special-education students already have resulted in larger class sizes for everyone else. Because schools are legally required to offer programs for physically and developmentally challenged kids, school leaders made up the difference by increasing the number of pupils in other classrooms. As more students are crammed into a room, teachers have less time to deal with disruptive or slower students. The result: More kids are referred to special education at $12,000 per pupil instead of the usual $5,000 for regular programs.

In Princeton, state cuts have forced the small district of 3,500 students to draw down reserves and go into deficit spending. In the long run, paying interest will cost more.

Last year's Legislature had to make a series of budget cuts, many of them necessary and some of them wise. But during the current legislative session, lawmakers should take a hard look at the consequences of those decisions. Saving that $180 million in the short run from education could cost millions more in lost opportunities as class sizes grow and more children are denied the help they need to succeed.