Legislature’s treatment of Minnesota education is unacceptable

/ 12 May 2012 / jennifer

David Krenz, Austin Post-Bulletin, May 12, 2012 –

It’s very easy to say something is important, to tell other people it is important, and preach that it’s a priority. It’s another thing to then do something about it.

For years now, politicians have preached about the importance of education, but the choices they make at the Capitol have not prioritized educating our kids. This legislative session was no exception.

Minnesota owes a whopping $2.4 billion to schools. This is from an accounting gimmick called the school shift. A school shift is when politicians borrow funding from schools to balance the state budget, with a pledge to pay it back when they have the cash. When faced with difficult decisions in 2011, the legislature again decided to employ this gimmick.

Because of this, my district in Austin borrowed over $7 million to pay our bills and make up for this missing state revenue. That’s $7 million from our reserves that we could be using to hire teachers, buy up-to-date textbooks, or introduce an advanced level math program. Instead, it’s $7 million we’re waiting to see from the state as a result of mismanagement and bad choices.

That’s $7 million we should have had from the state, and there’s no plan to pay it back. As a school district, we need stable funding that allows us to invest in teachers, students, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and everything else in the district required to educate our kids.

Every two years when the Legislature balances the state budget, education is the last item to be considered, usually at the end of the legislative session when everyone wants to return home. What usually happens then is whatever is left is given to education and that usually means the program is on the chopping block. This is unfortunate and unacceptable.

Our kids suffer the effects of these decisions. Minnesota now ranks 47th in the nation in class size and among the top 10 states making the deepest cuts to education. Politicians have made choices that underfund our schools and kids for years. Across the state, including Austin, we are seeing the direct impacts of their choices.

Politicians continue to say education is a priority but do nothing to address the root of the problem. There are other options available. Fair revenue could be collected by closing corporate tax loopholes in a bill proposed in the House and Senate this session — but voted down — that would have garnered $450 million per year for education.

The bill that made it the furthest in the Capitol for education funding actually did nothing to help fund our schools. It took spare change from one pocket and threw it into the other, while making no real impact on education.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Action expresses priorities.” It is time the legislature took action on what they say their priorities are by making better choices and putting their money where their rhetoric is, by adequately funding schools. It’s time to finally “walk the talk” by making education a priority in Minnesota.

David Krenz is superintendent of Austin Public Schools.