I find it very ironic that on the very same day the headline in the Brainerd Dispatch about Gov. Tim Pawlenty's visit reads "Education = Jobs", the headline right next to it reads "Five More Teachers Have to Go". What a sad commentary on the state of public education under this governor.
The governor's rhetoric is at best misleading, and at the worst, just plain wrong. First of all, he says the percentage for education being funded from the general fund is equal to or greater than the ratio that was in effect in the 1970s. While this may be close to being the truth, he certainly doesn't tell the whole story. In 1970, the 49 to 50 percent of the state budget that went to education covered about 90 percent of education expenses. That same 49 to 50 percent today covers about 60 percent of the costs. In other words, revenue isn't keeping up with expenses. As a result, schools have been forced to make staffing and program cuts, decrease necessary services such as busing, increase class sizes and in some cases, even close schools.
On top of this, he faults high schools in our state for being 40 years out of date. Let me ask you, how can our schools stay up to date without adequate funding? Not only are costs skyrocketing past state funding levels, schools have also been dealt a blow with unfunded state and federal mandates. No wonder property owners are reeling from rising property taxes - someone has to pay the bill.
The governor would also like to short-circuit teachers by allowing mid-career business people to become educators without the required education. It's kind of like saying that just because an auto mechanic knows how to diagnose problems and repair a vehicle, he could also be a doctor. As a former teacher myself, and a huge fan of the profession, I can tell you it takes a lot more than just knowledge to spark a young person's mind in the classroom. To suggest that someone can walk in off the street and fill their shoes is demeaning.
The ultimate irony is that all of this is coming from a man who helped Minnesota lose 26 thousand jobs in the last six months. Over 60 teaching jobs have been lost in Brainerd alone, many more if you add the Crosby-Ironton district, because of his failure to adequately fund schools. Add to this the number of support staff and administrators who have lost their jobs and the number of families who have been hurt swells over 100. Education does equal jobs, Governor, but education isn't free. It's time to return to the rich Minnesota tradition of investing in our future by adequately funding schools.
REP. JOHN WARD is a Brainerd DFLer who represents District 12A. He is a retired educator.
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