Column: K-12 education: Fewer students, more moneyST. PAUL — In the 1996 movie “Jerry Maguire,” Oscar-nominated actor Tom Cruise played the part of Jerry Maguire, a highly successful agent for professional athletes. At the outset of the film Maguire has a revelation that what his firm should do is represent fewer clients with larger contracts.
By: Phil Krinkie, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — In the 1996 movie “Jerry Maguire,” Oscar-nominated actor Tom Cruise played the part of Jerry Maguire, a highly successful agent for professional athletes. At the outset of the film Maguire has a revelation that what his firm should do is represent fewer clients with larger contracts.
As the plot develops, he writes a memo to his colleagues in which he coins the phrase “fewer clients, more money.” This appears similar to the philosophy of Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union: “Fewer students, more money.”
Today, Minnesota’s measurement of the number of students attending public schools (the average daily membership, or ADM) is almost 20,000 fewer students than just 10 years ago. However, the total spending for K-12 education in Minnesota has increased by $2 billion dollars since 2001. This represents a 2 percent decline in enrollment and a 36 percent increase in cost — “fewer students, more money,” indeed.
At the conclusion of the 2010 session, many legislators claimed some sort of victory in their budget-balancing maneuvers because there were no direct reductions in state payments to schools.
But the reality is that as other areas of spending are reduced, the percentage of the state budget spent on K-12 education continues to grow beyond 40 percent.
When legislators return to the Capitol in January, they will face a $5 billion- to $6 billion-dollar funding gap in the next budget. Does anyone really believe they can continue the practice of funding fewer students even at the current spending levels?
In the movie, Jerry Maguire loses dozens of clients because of his ill-conceived proposal of “fewer clients, more money” and ends up with only one client. Teachers and their union president must deal with the budget realities facing the state of Minnesota — or they could end up losing big.
To avoid that possibility, they must learn how to do more with less, not achieve less with more.
No private-sector business in the 21st century can survive servicing few clients and charging more while delivering the same level of service. Yet this is the approach to education the teachers union is taking.
Citizens of Minnesota don’t accept this practice in the marketplace, and they shouldn’t accept it in the classroom: Major changes need to occur in state funding of education along with the methods of instruction in our schools.
The teachers union and their president, Mr. Dooher, are clinging to antiquated operating and funding methods similar to those that have bankrupt companies like General Motors and Chrysler.
This legislative session was a key example of how the teachers union has opposed changes to the current system. In a bipartisan effort to improve student outcomes, the Legislature moved to alter traditional teacher-licensure methods. With strong opposition from the teachers union, the alternative teacher-licensure measure went down to defeat. Many other changes to education funding and instruction have met with a similar fate over the years, due primarily to objections from the teachers union.
The budget challenges that lie ahead will be even greater than those of the last two years; without changes to our funding and operation of public schools, legislators will struggle to balance our state’s budget.
Next session’s policymakers can’t ignore 40 percent of the state budget and expect to find a workable budget solution.
The days of “fewer students, more money” must come to an end.
Phil Krinkie is a former Republican representative from Lino Lakes and president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.