Posted: 03/08/16 02:10
by Dave Mindeman
There is this Republican talking point that comes up every election year. It goes something like this....
We spend too much on education. You can't just keep throwing money at the problem and expect to get better results. It's not working.
MPR put together a study and this is one of the conclusions:
Many schools here and elsewhere have improved their graduation rates in part by following a simple formula of early intervention. They identify students who are at risk of dropping out, then match them with the support they need. But the effort requires staff power, and Minnesota as a whole lags in that support, especially for at-risk students. Schools here spend 2.6 percent of their education dollars on pupil support, a smaller portion than every other state. And it has been that way for a decade, according to an MPR News analysis.
We talk about the embarrassing achievement gap regarding students of color in Minnesota. We have talked and studied and commissioned to just about every possible angle, and still the problem remains unchanged.
We discuss the general needs of more revenue for the schools, but we don't get specific enough on the need for student support services. We need to identify and focus on students that need that extra help....that can help them overcome the barriers that leave them trapped without opportunity.
Here are some of the problems that this study identified....
1. Schools would need to spend $75 million a year more to get back to 2002 levels of student support.
2. To match the national average rate of 5.5 percent, they would have to add about $260 million, doubling what they spend now.
3. Today Minnesota has one of the most severe counselor crunches in the country, particularly in elementary schools.
4. State education officials say it would cost about $7 million to hire the number of high school counselors needed to bring Minnesota's ratio up to the national average.
5. The fastest-growing segment of the future workforce is students of color...the students least likely to earn diplomas.
6. If you're Hispanic, black, Asian-American or Native American, your chances of completing high school are worse in Minnesota than in almost any other state.
These are sobering facts. And Republican assertions that we are just throwing too much money around is just plain wrong. In 2006, Gov. Pawlenty proposed a plan that would require all districts to spend at least 70 percent of their budgets on classroom instruction. A noble undertaking, but in order to do that, support services had to be sacrificed....and we have never recovered. Identifying students at risk is the key to solving that achievement gap....and once they are identified, it is imperative that they have the student support services to help them.
Gov. Dayton has been repeatedly calling for more investment into early education. That is another key to solving this issue. Early learning can reduce the need for support services...it will not solve the problem alone, but it is a key component.
We need to look deeper into the achievement gap. We still need more investments, but they also must be smarter and more targeted investments.
One thing is certain though - do not buy the argument that we are spending too much on Minnesota education. Yes, it is a large portion of our budget, but that goes for almost all other states as well.
This is Minnesota and we expect better. We are better. Remember that during this legislative session.