#627 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #48. A short seminar on Minnesota Public Schools and Public Policy

Recently, there seems a sudden reverence for public schools in Minnesota.
After years of using the schools and the local communities as a piggy bank to avoid political decision making requiring use of the word “tax” in the state political conversation, the architects of damaging schools are suddenly proclaiming that they are about the business of supposedly saving those very same schools by proclaiming that they are heroically restoring cuts they have been diligently making all these years…and the political opposition is standing in their way.
What is one to believe?
School finance, and indeed public schools themselves, is an exceedingly complex topic, and it is very easy to make mischief with data which hardly anyone, including parents, understands. Such is how it is when the schools are charged with daily care of one of every seven Minnesota residents of kindergarten through high school age.
School opens this morning, and not many pay much attention whether there are 20 in a class or 40, etc. School policy is low hanging fruit for critics. There are endless opportunities to criticize….
But it’s not as easy as “reforming” schools as political rhetoric. Not only is every student different, bringing different baggage from home, but there is great diversity in community needs and makeup.
It is unfair to compare, for example, isolated Angle Inlet, not directly accessible by road in extreme northern Minnesota, with the large urban school in the most troubled neighborhood. One can theoretically create an ‘average’ out of two extremes, but it would be an unfair comparison.
A year ago, in November, 2011, a senior group in Burnsville asked me if I would be willing to talk about the business of schools and school finance.
Though I worked in public schools for a full career, I had already been retired for eleven years.
I agreed to do the workshop, and with the help of a wonderful non-partisan parent organization, Parents United for Public Schools, MN State Department of Education and the MN House of Representatives Fiscal Analysis Department, I prepared a presentation which was well received. Recently a man, over 90, who had been at the workshop, said that he learned more about school finance in that hour and a half than he’d ever learned before.
Here is the summary handout, with definition of the basic information presented a year ago: Minnesota Public Schools001 It is, of course, a year old and thus outdated, but my understanding would be that overall there have only been relatively slight changes over the past twelve months. Anyone is welcome to update the information and interpret as they wish.
My efforts still make sense, and the link may help you the reader better understand some of the basics about Minnesota Public Education.
Those 800,000 kids in Minnesota Public Schools today are OUR future. We best pay attention to their needs.

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