Partisan Ugly or Not?

In a discussion of Education funding on his blog, Rep. Cox finds Senator Mark Dayton’s factual remarks about under funding public schools ‘partisan’ and the remarks made by Commissioner Seagren to be ‘factual’ and not ‘partisan’. I found her remarks as quoted by Cox very misleading as they implied that funding allocated was more than adequate, when in fact she’s talking about funding that is not available to all districts.

Let’s consider these facts: the Northfield Public schools is organizing for $1,000,000 in cuts this coming year with hope they won’t have to cut that much. Last year they cut $3,000,000 from their budget. The district does not have a human resources position; that work-load was assumed by the Superintendent, and teachers are spread pretty thin.

Rep. Cox seems to suggest that that is all fine and good, and that the School District on whose board he used to serve must have been living beyond its means.

But is that the case? Was the district too generous and careless with its funds? Did it have aspirations beyond what the taxpayers could afford? Is his understanding of the figures a clear and accurate one? Does he demonstrate a clear understanding of why Northfield struggles for funding? Not that I can see.

He goes on to say that our schools will have to prove they can do a better job if they want more money. He says reform is needed, but what reforms? What evidence does he offer that the Northfield Schools are doing a poor job and aren’t worth the extra money it would take to save programs and bring down class size? None.

To avoid partisanship, we need to begin upfront with a clear, careful understanding of the figures, and not try to beat each other with data.
In order to make progress toward this goal, we need to be honest and accurate about the effects of inflation on state education spending. We need to recognize that apples-to-oranges comparisons don’t help when dealing with years before and after 2001 when education financing was shifted from local property taxes to the state budget. We need to account for the ways rising health care costs are taking larger chunks out of teacher’s actual take-home pay. And finally, we need to recognize that under-funded federal mandates and testing from programs like No Child Left Behind are giving the states less funding than the expenses they create, which makes for yet another drain, another giant sucking sound, further reducing what districts have to spend per pupil. If we account for such facts, we might come to very different conclusions from the same data.

This might help us at least begin to avoid some of the partisanship. If we don’t do this, it may continue to seem to Mr. Cox that everyone else is playing partisan politics except those in his own party who are using numbers the same way he is.

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