Saturday, January 28, 2006

Stillwater: Education Funding, Again

Here's another post from Eric--he rephrases his question on the shortage of school funding here in the St. Croix valley.

I'm still a little lost on this. Have costs gone up, revenue streams gone down or both? I guess I want to know is how we could afford this stuff in the past but can no longer do so. Has the whole equation changed? Were school districts (especially ours) operating in the black or in the red back then?

Maybe this is the wrong place to search for answers, but I'll start here anyways.

11:51 AM

Eric's question is directed to "tn", a commentator who suggested that the fault lies with former Governor Jesse Ventura's re-structuring of school funding during his term of office.

I don't think I agree with "tn's" take on things. I think that he's blaming Ventura--the guy who's "out of the room" and out of favor with both of the current political parties--for the problem. That explanation might fly if Ventura was still in the Governor's mansion, but those days are long gone. "tn's" explanation sounds a little too much like the current "GOP line" on what to tell people when they ask about cuts to education--blame the guy who's out of the room.

Jesse is not one of my heros, by the way: the tax refund checks he took credit for sending out were stupid political grandstanding. Like other "low taxes, anti-Clinton governors", Ventura was enjoying the fruits of the national economic boom of the nineties; these governors were coasting along on the free ride they got out of the Clinton stewardship of the economy. It was irresponsible for him to throw money back at the taxpayers in order to make himself look good--the responsible thing to do would have been to plow it back into the state's infrastructure, pay the money owed to public employees--or fund public schools. Most Minnesotans polled at the time didn't want "Jesse checks" anyway, they wanted the money invested back into the state; a hedge against bad times in the future--which arrived, when Pawlenty took over.

No, Jesse's not the villain in the school funding issue. It's Pawlenty and the GOP. They cut the state funding to municipalities; notoriously, Pawlenty said that local officials who couldn't run their towns without the state funding should be fired as incompetent. The meta-objects of this game is 1) decrease the state taxes on the richest people in the state 2) transfer the burden of taxation to local governments and to people who aren't rich (hikes in local property taxes, hikes in fees paid by the middle class and the poor) 3) break the public schools.

Why would conservatives want to break the public schools? Because they'd love to see a privatized educational system; they hate the public schools. Reasons they'd love to see privatization: 1) The teacher's unions are notoriously Democratic--if conservatives could press a button and abolish the teachers' unions they'd do it in a heartbeat, and replace them all with charter schools and non-union teachers. Same goes for other public employees' unions, of course. Scab labor=conservative's wet dream. 2) Privatization represents a potentially huge income stream for . Imagine the money local, state and federal government spends on education, channeled to private sector education companies--you get a piece of that, you're Richie Rich, like the HMOs. A trend toward privatization, on the national scale, could be a bigger boondoggle than the Savings and Loans, than Bush's plan to privatize Social Security.

Despite what they say about committment to public education, this is the conservative agenda. They have a vested interest in seeing public schools fail, and seeing that the services offered by public schools deteriorate or disappear. The essential goal doesn't change, but the rhetoric takes different turns: this last few months, you are hearing all this talk about making sure that "our tax dollars are spent in the classroom." Sounds good, tested well with the focus groups--sounds like they're voting less tax dollars for administrative bureaucracies and more for the kids, right? Nope. Pawlenty's talking about less tax dollars for administrative bureaucracies--but also less state tax dollars to support public school's physical plant (e.g. heating the buildings, keeping them in repair) and less state tax dollars to support all those "extra-curricular" programs you're talking about. That kind of spending isn't "in the classroom."

Running down the public schools is part of a national conservative agenda, and it's being implemented at the state and local levels. Watch how they talk, compare it to what they fund, and you will have the answer to your question, Eric.


At 12:47 PM, Anonymous TN said...

To answer Eric's question, yes. The formula was changed to include transportation which used to have it's own line item. The money used for our current levy is sent to the state and then realocated by the Dept of Education. We can max out on our levy, and not receive all of the funds. The overall cost of education has gone up, due to rising healthcare costs and energy costs. If you look at the overall increase under Governor Carlson, Jessie and Pawlenty. Education funding has gone up an average of 1% per year. With many years staying flat. If you were to account for inflation, the funding has gone backwards by about 15 to 20 percent.
This is why we have 37-38 kids in the classroom at Oakland and Stillwater Jr. High and the High school.
There are manditory tests from No Child Left a Dime, that costs the district money and are underfunded by the bureaucrats in Washington.

Student fees for extra-ciricular activities have increased, parking permits and the Senior High.

Partisan? Just drink the kool-aid and we'll all be better.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

Interesting. Let's see if I got this...
State funding has gone up an average of 1% a year while costs have gone up more than 1% a year.
If we pass a levy within district 834, the district may or may not get all of the money after it is paid in through the property taxes of the citizens of district 834.
Questions: Has they state always provided a certain amount of money to the district? If so, then it would seem that the idea is to stop increasing the amount each year and leave the districts to fend for themselves? Under what circumstances would the levy money not go to the district? How could any of that be withheld from us?
Comment: I just read an angry letter from Schools for Equity in Education regarding Pawlenty's "70% Solution." In it they list some of the items that he considers NOT to be classroom expenses:
. Librarians who instruct students
. Counselors who help students
. School nurses who help students
. Heating the classrooms
. Cleaning the classrooms
. Repairing and maintaining the classrooms
. Computers in the classrooms or computer labs
. Improving teacher training to help kids in the classroom
. Security for the classroom
It did not go on to list what he does consider to be a legitimate classroom expense. It is my understanding that administrative costs in our district were thought to be around 7 - 10% of the budget, but, I'm assuming, that is using a very different set of criteria.
Years ago, someone tried to convince me that there was a push to "dumb down" America and pointed to several loosely strung together "facts" and evidence. I thought this person a well-meaning crackpot at the time, but now I'm not so sure. Keep in mind that this was about 25 years ago, but he told me that the basic idea was to nickle and dime schools and districts until they began to fail. It would be labeled mismanagement and the schools would then be taken over by private education companies. These companies would be funded by major corporations and would be allowed to set the curriculum based on guidelines set forth by the federal government. In other words, the schools would become an extension of the trade schools. Without the development of critical thinking skills, a generation would be matriculated into society to think and do as they are told. He said a lot of other things about oil interests controlling the patents to alternative fuel technologies, the fundamentalist Christion movement wielding ever-increasing political power, the dangers of the military-industrial complex controlling the know, the usual "grassy knoll" stuff. Scary thing is, he was right on a lot of these things. Is he correct here?
I love collectiong's a couple on education:
1) Of all the views of this law [for public education], none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty. - Thomas Jefferson
2) The tax which will be paid for [the] purpose [of education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. - Thomas Jefferson
3) Only the educated are free. - Epictetus
4) Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it. - Sir William Haley

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Prendergast said...

tn--thank you for answering Eric's question.
eric--thank you for your additions to "what's not included in 'classroom' spending."
eric--I am glad to hear that you are no longer quick to dismiss the conservative anti-public education program as a crackpot conspiracy theory. It is not--despite decades of GOP candidate talk about committment to public education, their ultimate policy goal is to eliminate public education by privatizing it. Elected to oversee public education, their actual political, career, and financial interests in seeing public education fail.

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Stillwater Infidel said...

I have been following this discussion. If you want further proof, check out

It lists who is funding what for these right wing wackos including Project for the New American Century.

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Marla R. Stevens said...

My father is a Reagan Republican owner of the largest shipping and stevedoring company in the Atlantic coast southeast. He believes that an underclass is a given and that merit alone will guarantee that those who deserve to rise from it will. But even he has limits when it comes to the intentional social engineering of said underclass.

He was once invited to San Francisco's Olympic Club's Russian River "Grove" seminar-campfest-drinkathon-political-networking bashes. This was in the run-up to Reagan's first successful presidential race and his first run-in with hard line neocons of the Viguerie kind.

He listened in shocked awe one session as they laid out their plan to ensure a permanent, docile underclass of workers thereby relieving American corporations from the need to outsource to places with shaky local banana republic politics with all the attenuant unrest and possibility of asset confiscation.

They planned, yes, to do exactly as Eric described with the education system and to underfund, cut, then eliminate the WIC program (early protein deficiency being the most effective means to their end), Head Start, food stamps, welfare in general, Pell grants, and more.

My father drew the line at the protein deprivation of babies.

-- Mrs. Marla Randolph Stevens, daughter of Frank Kohler Peeples


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