Schaubach, Education Minnesota pushing for school funding
WORTHINGTON -- Long a leader in education, Minnesota needs to rededicate itself against a decline, says Judy Schaubach, President of Education Minnesota.
Schaubach, who was in Worthington Monday to host the last of 15 Education Minnesota "Schools First!" public listening sessions, compared the state of Minnesota education to the proverbial frying frog during a visit to the Daily Globe. A frog, the story goes, will leap out of the pan and to safety when it is heated rapidly. But when heat is applied slowly, it is unable to understand the danger until it is too late.
"We've been resting on our laurels in this state because we've done so well," she said. "I think in some respects we're kind of slowly boiling the frog in our educational system. And I think if we're not careful, we're going to have a dead frog."
During the 2006 legislative session, Education Minnesota -- the state's top educators' union -- will lobby lawmakers to pay back money borrowed from school districts to balance the budget. The group will also push the Legislature to enact statewide health insurance for all school employees and to pass a supplemental budget providing more financial help for students in higher education.
Schaubach does not support Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to require that every district pour at least 70 percent of expenditures into classroom instruction.
"It doesn't do anything to really address the question," she said. "That assumes there's waste in the system. It's really about rearranging the chairs on the deck to avoid the real issue, which is inadequate funding."
Public school districts are facing ongoing challenges in funding, maintaining class sizes, and dealing with declining enrollments and diversity. Meanwhile, health care, transportation, heating, maintenance and special education costs are increasing, Schaubach said.
The Education Minnesota listening sessions, she added, were installed to get the public engaged.
"(Insufficient school funding) isn't the school boards' fault," Schaubach said. "Ultimately, in this state, we have to find a stable, predictable funding mechanism for our schools. How much is enough? I know it's not enough when we've got 39 students in class, we're cutting electives and we're cutting all-day kindergarten."
She said she has been encouraged by the public's input at the listening sessions. In Duluth, a man arrived an hour ahead of schedule because he was so concerned about the loss of vocational programs. In Mankato, two students brought along their mothers to hammer home their concern over large class sizes.
Worthington, with its sizable segment of non-English speaking students, is an important community to hear feedback from, Schaubach said.
"Worthington has sort of become an example of an urban center in the heart of Minnesota," she explained. "It does exemplify the complexity of trying to reach all students. ... There is a belief that in two fast years, you're going to get everybody to full proficiency. And that just doesn't happen. You really need a full five years in most cases."