MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Stingy state funding for education prompted University of Minnesota officials to predict a two-year tuition increase of 27 percent -- the biggest in at least 20 years.
Minneapolis School Superintendent Carol Johnson nearly moved to Tennessee, motivated in part by what she considers to be eroding financial support for schools.
School districts throughout the state say they are cutting programs and teachers because education funding is dwindling.
Seems strange for a state known for its education.
Minnesota students continue to excel in measures of academic achievement. But in other areas like teacher pay and percentage of college-bound students, the state is starting to lag.
And some think Minnesota has become complacent about the quality of its schools, setting the stage for future problems.
"It's important in a democracy that we educate our people," said Tom Nelson, superintendent of the Buffalo schools, who was a DFL state senator from 1977 to 1987 and state education commissioner in 1990. "To do that, we need to invest in our kids. I think we're at the point where we're not willing to do that as we have done so in the past."
There's evidence that Minnesotans generally are satisfied with their schools, desire them to be quality and don't mind digging a little deeper in their pockets to keep them that way.
"Most people feel the state of schools to be good," said Bill Morris, an Augsburg College political science professor who has conducted opinion polls for 60 Minnesota school districts during the past five years. "Compared to districts nationwide, Minnesotans rate our districts much higher. ... That's a source of pride."
Those surveyed for a Minnesota Poll in April singled out more funding for public elementary and secondary schools as their top legislative priority, along with containing health care costs.
By many measures of academic accomplishment, Minnesota continues to rack up impressive results. Test scores are high. The state still ranks fairly well in per-pupil spending on public schools. But in the last decade investment in higher education has lagged behind national averages.
Since 1990, including years in which the state has had some of its biggest surpluses, the University of Minnesota has received funding increases above the rate of inflation only twice.
Some contend the state and its citizens have grown complacent and even smug about education, willing to rest on past accomplishments as the quality of schools and colleges is allowed to slip. As head of the national goals panel, Ken Nelson became convinced of that.
Southern states took education much more seriously, he said, because they had further to go and they knew it. They made funding schools a priority and aggressively set standards for schools while Minnesota "hadn't set its sights high enough, even at that time," he said.
Former Education Commissioner Tom Nelson wonders if Minnesotans understand what is happening.
"My own personal view is that people don't connect everything," he said. "They're thinking, 'I like my rebate check, I like when my property taxes go down and I'm frustrated when my third-grade child's class size goes up to 33, instead of 30.' But they're all interrelated."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.