I have heard from too many voters in Lakeville and Farmington that they are sending their children to a school outside their home school district, or that they have seriously considered doing so. None of these voters have told me that they believe their local public schools to be of generally poor quality. Instead, these voters tell me that:
- the local public school does not offer programs that the child needs, or
- the child is not getting enough attention to succeed.
Missing programs typically include special education and the more demanding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses at the high school level. Parents usually attribute lack of attention to class sizes that are too large.
Parents should not have send their children — often without the benefit of bus transportation — to schools that may be an hour away so that the children's educational needs can be met. Indeed, some parents would not be able to drive their children to a distant school each day. These educational needs should be met within their local schools, and the next Legislature needs to help that happen.
Our Minnesota Constitution requires the Legislature to "establish a general and uniform system of public schools" and to "make provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state." Uniform in this case should not mean that every school system is identical. As communities vary, public schools will also vary. In meeting the needs of the students in their communities, public schools will achieve the uniform outcome of making students adaptable, well-rounded, and ready for college or work. When a parent sends a child to a public school elsewhere, it is a sign that this goal of uniform outcomes is unmet.
How can the Legislature fix these problems?
- We need to repay the $2.4 billion that the last Legislature borrowed from Minnesota schools.
- Once the money is repaid, we must never again use our schools as a credit card to enable the Legislature to shirk its duty to Minnesotans of a truly balanced and effective budget.
- We need to add more good teachers in classrooms to help get class sizes down and student achievement up.
- We need to fund special education programs fully so that nearly all students requiring special education services can receive them within their home school district.
- We must find a way to close the achievement gap between students of different races. Every student, no matter his or her race, must be fully prepared to enter college or the workforce.
- Finally, we need to increase high-school course offerings responsibly, particularly in the areas of science and mathematics.
Some people advocate a different approach. My opponent has stated, for example at the Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce forum on October 23, that competition among schools to attract students is the way to promote student achievement. Competition is good for the consumer in capitalism and business, but to promote the same type of competition among schools misses the point of public education. As I said above, not every parent is in a situation that allows them to send their children to a distant school in the hope of providing a better education. Further, this type of competition duplicates effort, wasting resources. In business, the profit motive combined with competition means that the duplicate effort leads to greater efficiency and lower costs. This profit motive has no place in our schools. Without question, we need to make sure that your education dollars are spent wisely and that we spend no more of your money than is needed to produce results. This task requires oversight, not competition.
Great schools today will pay off in great jobs coming to Minnesota because today's students will be ready to handle these skilled jobs. Our state colleges and universities clearly play a role in this as well, and their quality must too be maintained. Great public schools are an investment we cannot afford not to make. Elect me to the Minnesota Senate, and I will work to make this investment a priority again in Minnesota.
Find the previous installments of this series at and .