School's In for Fall! Alice Cooper only recorded "School's Out" and for the life of me, I can't think of any song that hails the start of the new school year, but, accompanied by an anthem-quality song or not, the lion's share of Minnesota school districts began their 2011-2012 school year today.
I hope you all got off to a great start this morning. I'm sure that there was a stranded child here or there, likely due to an unmailed request for transportation, and my guess is a number of students, especially those entering high school or junior high, bounced around the hallways a bit in search of their hourly destinations. But that's to be expected.
What has also come to be expected is a political sparring match as class-sizes continue to go up while course offerings continue to dwindle. That the Minnesota education system is underfunded should come as no surprise to those who have been watching over the past couple of decades. Numerous studies, including one initiated by then-Governor Pawlenty in 2003, have shown that the basic formula has not kept pace with inflation. I will give critics of the current system their due in agreeing that the level of underfunding is based on the traditional system of education delivery and that some changes could reduce costs. That said, the level of underfunding is so dramatic (check out this graph from the SEE website: http://www.schoolsforequity.org/files/40608084.pdf), that no amount of reform save for sending about 20% of the kids home would put a dent into the funding shortfall.
New Cannon Falls' Superintendent Beth Giese sent me two articles today, one of which discusses the funding issues facing Minnesota schools. You can see several SEE schools listed in the story, which outlines fairly accurately the challenges being faced by a number of Minnesota school districts. Link: http://www.startribune.com/local/129240583.html
DFL house members held a press conference today, maligning former Governor Pawlenty and the Republican-controlled Legislature for failing to adequately fund schools and delaying payments to schools to balance the state budget. The House DFLers are planning a string of town hall meetings in school districts throughout the state to discuss the issue.
Here's a blurb from the StarTribune's Hot Dish Politics blog outlining the press conference. Link: http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/129316618.html
And here's a Pat Kessler Reality Check from the Channel 4 six o'clock news regarding the issue.
The other article from the StarTribune that Superintendent Giese sent me deals with the elimination of the market value homestead credit (a state aid to local units of government) and its replacement with the newly-established market value exclusion. The net result of this exchange will be an increase in property taxes for pretty much everyone in the state, but property taxes in low-property wealth areas will increase more than they will in high value areas. This was one of the things that former Representative (and current judge) Ron Abrams, who represented Western Hennepin County, wanted to do and a phase-out was included in Governor Ventura's "Big Plan" of 2001. Well the proverbial something-or-other hit the metaphorical fan this past session and this exchange was made.
Because SEE is largely composed of school districts with much higher levels of property tax sensitivity than higher wealth districts, this is an issue of great importance to the organization. I will be spending a lot of time as the organization prepares for the 2012 legislative session working to find ways to mitigate the negative effects of this change.
Here is a link to the article by Jim Anderson regarding the elimination of the market value homestead credit. Link: http://www.startribune.com/local/east/129270323.html.