Column: Apathy is the real enemy of increased education funding

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 29, 2002

What’s your choice?

Vote &uot;Yes&uot; and help save our schools from deep and painful cuts! Vote &uot;No&uot; and save myself a couple hundred dollars! Vote &uot;Yes&uot; for the children in the community! Vote &uot;No&uot; because school officials are all a bunch of liars (and I don’t like children)!

Next Tuesday, most voters in Freeborn County face a big decision: Shall we raise our property taxes so that local schools can have more money? Voters in both the Albert Lea and Glenville-Emmons school districts will have to consider their answers carefully, and their answers will reveal what voters value more.

Email newsletter signup

Over the past couple of months I’ve been helping members of TEAM (Together Education Achieves More) write some special opinion articles about this decision. At the same time I’ve started serving on the District 241 Curriculum Committee. Because of those two activities, I have learned a great deal about public education, from funding to demographic trends to testing and test scores. It’s not a pretty picture. Mandates and rules come down from federal and state lawmakers and bureaucrats. Many of these complicate what happens in the classroom from kindergarten all the way to the last year of high school. But the expectations from outside rarely come with enough money to pay for everything they ask for.

But one thing is true: Our public school system is still ranked among the top three in the country. Minnesota’s schools offer children a learning experience that provides both the basics and the kinds of extras that can make school fun. Of course this kind of quality has cost money, from taxpayers throughout the state as well as taxpayers from each individual district. So Minnesota spends more money on public education than states ranked at the middle or near the bottom do, like Texas or Arkansas. And we end up with better-educated citizens (and better educated teachers, too &045; just ask school superintendents in Texas about that!).

But unless there is a commitment to spend the money needed to maintain this system and continue to improve it, our schools will gradually slip into mediocrity. New generations of citizens will no longer be among the better-educated people in our country. Our future workforce will no longer be one of the things that attract out-of-state employers here or help entrepreneurs create new homegrown businesses. If we continue to vote &uot;no&uot; when excess-levy questions come up, schools will have no choice but to trim away more and more of the things that make a difference in the lives of children.

I have high hopes for a &uot;Yes&uot; on all levy questions on Nov. 5, because I think most residents realize that the benefits of a yes vote for the whole community far outweigh the consequences to our individual bank accounts.

But I am still nervous, because the real enemy on this issue is apathy, not an active opposition to the levy request. The last levy request, almost one year ago, didn’t fail because of senior citizens. It failed because parents of children didn’t vote. The real problem is people who don’t care enough to make it to a polling place.

Why don’t they care? Maybe because they’ve sunk into such deep despair about their own situations that they can’t see the point of investing extra money in public schools. They’ve convinced themselves, or been convinced by others, that Albert Lea and the other communities in Freeborn County have no future. We’re the last generation, they believe, and so we might as well just start shutting everything down now.

Well, I don’t believe that is the case. As long as there are people here, there is hope that things will get better &045; and not just because some outsider like Ford comes in to rescue us, but because we can invest in our communities ourselves by continuing to make them a good place for children and families.

Although I’m an outsider, with no real &uot;hometown&uot; anywhere and only shallow roots here, I’ll be voting &uot;Yes&uot; on Nov. 5 because I believe that Freeborn County will continue to be a good place to live for many, many years. My vote will be informed by the hope that as my roots deepen, the investment in public education will lead to well-educated citizens living, working and raising families in their own hometown.

David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.