Archived Story

Harming education harms Minn. economy

Published 10:39am Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Column: Guest Column, by Carol Nieters

We can all agree that education is a Minnesota priority. And we have all seen that priority suffer during the past decade.

As the leader of 8,000 school workers across Minnesota, I hear regularly from working families that education is their No. 1 priority and concern. Parents just want to see their kids given the best opportunities available to set them up for future success. And it’s frustrating when those opportunities dwindle year after year. It’s time to get things back on track, and supporting our kids and schools with fair revenue is the best answer.

Carol Nieters
Carol Nieters

Schools faced many challenges over the past decade. This year, Lakeville School District is cutting $3.5 million from its budget. Ten districts in Minnesota are now on four-day weeks to save money. When inflation is accounted for, per-pupil funding has decreased by $2,199 over the last 10 years. Since 2001, districts have become more and more reliant on local property tax levies to keep schools running smoothly. Also since 2001 when the general education levy was repealed, the number of local levies has risen to an all-time high, creating the highest disparities the state has seen in education funding. Albert Lea has levied for the past couple years, and the district has still been forced to make cuts to staff just to balance the budget.

If education is a Minnesota priority, it sure doesn’t feel like it.

That’s why we need to increase our investments in education by raising fair revenue from the wealthiest Minnesotans and the biggest corporations. In 2011-2012, the top 1 percent of incomes in the country grew by 11 percent, and the other 99 percent went down, according to Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans.

Meanwhile, poverty is on the rise. The percent of Minnesotans living below the poverty line is 12 percent — a 30-year high up from 8 percent in 2000, according to Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower.

So the disparities between the rich and poor are growing, and our education system — the best way to help provide opportunities for all kids in Minnesota — is hurting because of it. It is absolutely time to level the playing field and support our schools by having every person and every corporation pay their fair share.

Every student in Minnesota matters. It’s time we come together and help kids and schools with fair revenue. Now is the time.

 

Carol Nieters is the executive director of SEIU Local 284, a union of more than 8,000 members working in schools and districts across Minnesota. SEIU stands for Service Employees International Union.

  • Dustin Petersen

    Education already receives close to half of the state budget, according to the figures I’ve heard from several sources. How is that not making education a priority?

    Perhaps we need to pare things down at the top instead of in the classroom, and get rid of administration. Albert Lea High School has (or recently had) THREE assistant principals. I graduated high school in 1988. We had ONE assistand principal for about 1500 students. Why are three now when there are far fewer students?

    That’s just one example, but those aren’t the cuts they can threaten to make that will encourage people to say yes to higher taxes. They’ll scare the children by telling them their teacher is going to lose his/her job, or this or that activity will be eliminated.

    One thing that might help outstate Minnesota would be to have the same per-pupil funding as metro area schools. If we’re going to take from the rich, why not let some of the richer districts supplement those with less, while we’re at it? Or doesn’t it work that way?