Pawlenty wants education focus
ST. PAUL - Minnesota lawmakers will decide whether to demand that 70 percent of school districts' spending goes to the classroom. Gov. Tim Pawlenty made the proposal Monday, saying many schools pay too much for administration and other nonclassro...
ST. PAUL - Minnesota lawmakers will decide whether to demand that 70 percent of school districts' spending goes to the classroom.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty made the proposal Monday, saying many schools pay too much for administration and other nonclassroom expenses.
"There are too many layers between the student and the superintendent," he said.
Opponents say such a requirement is micromanaging schools and it will not fit all situations.
"It tells me he is not very trusting that the school boards and administration are spending their money wisely," said Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Minnesota Education Department figures show 67 of the state's 343 districts meet the 70 percent figure. If legislators pass Pawlenty's proposal, the other districts would have three years to reach 70 percent.
Districts that meet the 70 percent threshold are from urban and rural areas - including Moorhead, Frazee, Detroit Lakes and Pelican Rapids. Examples of districts that fall short of Pawlenty's goal are Fergus Falls, Barnesville and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.
"This is a gentle solution," Pawlenty said, adding that districts with special circumstances can receive waivers from following the law.
The North Dakota Legislature requires 70 percent of all new state funds to go toward teacher salaries and benefits.
The Minnesota House sponsor of the measure said she thinks fewer than a dozen school districts would be given waivers. Rep. Karen Klinzing, R-Woodbury, said those districts would need to face "extraordinary circumstances."
Education Commissioner Alice Seagren called the proposal "a rather modest change."
Pawlenty said he would not tell school districts how to meet the 70 percent requirement: "I don't think we need to tell school districts how this money is going to be spent."
Education Minnesota President Judy Schaubach said Pawlenty's 70 percent is an arbitrary "one-size-fits-all" approach. She said the proposal is designed to divert attention from the fact that schools get too little state money.
Grace Schwab of the Minnesota School Board Association said her group voted 120-1 against the state mandating how districts spend money.
The governor's proposal is too simplistic, Schwab said. Heating, libraries, new roofs and guidance counselors are not included in Pawlenty's definition of classroom spending but are necessary, she said.
Skoe said he fears rural districts would be hurt by the proposal. Although Pawlenty does not include transportation costs in his plan, many rural districts already are spending more on busing than they get from the state, meaning they are fiscally behind from the beginning and have less flexibility to meet the 70 percent mark.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707