St. Michael-Albertville Superintendent Jim Behle has to, at this point, feel like a bit of a broken record.
For the past two years, since the 2013 Legislative Session in Minnesota, Behle has been among a consortium of statewide superintendents that has presented funding problems to various committees in the Minnesota Capitol (and to any other group that will listen). He made the hour-plus trek to St. Paul again last week to testify in front of a Legislative committee as more bills have been presented to assist his district, which is among the lowest funded in the state.
In a meager sense, all of the talk has helped. Some excess money has been thrown at education to boost the per-pupil formula, and a bill hoping to define St. Michael-Albertville as part of the metro school system could, again, assist in boosting that pot of money.
But the overall problem lies in the second pot – the Compensatory funding that assists lower-income students and is meant to close the “gap” in student performance.
St. Michael-Albertville, and, in fact, many Wright County districts and others around the metro, get none of this.
Picture this – Edina, which has one of the highest median incomes in the state, gets compensatory funding on a higher level (on average). So do various other Hennepin County districts, because of their location.
And because of other various tax-based revenue streams – outstate schools have it much worse because they don’t attract the corporate headquarters or industrial park land a place like, say, Hopkins, can.
The problem has gotten so frightfully bad the state’s largest district – Anoka-Hennepin – is taking notice.
But what everyone who is begging for equitable school funding needs is a group of leaders who isn’t afraid to embrace change and give the education funding formula the overhaul it’s deserved since before the Pawlenty administration.
To see thousands of dollars (per student, mind you) in disparity across a state that prides itself so much in public education has to bother our state leaders. Evidently, it hasn’t bothered them enough.
It’s time to make people uncomfortable and ask for real, tangible change. Without it, there will be an entirely different kind of “gap” created in Minnesota education, and it won’t have anything to do with free or reduced price lunches, and everything to do with the fact we didn’t take the challenging steps necessary to create equal opportunity for our state’s future leaders.
Republicans have a unique opportunity to use current funding to fix the problem, sticking to the conservative approach that new revenue isn’t needed to fix a problem, rather creative solutions.
They need a governor who, in his last term, will listen to those ideas and recognize that his party strongholds need to be agreeable to solutions that will strengthen the state across the board.
Without that, Superintendent Behle may as well invest in more gas cards, until he can find leadership that is willing to take risk and solve a real problem.