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Omdahl: A dream about North Dakota kids

Columnist Lloyd Omdahl encourages lawmakers to invest Legacy Fund dollars on education.

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North Dakota needs a dream - a dream of equality for rich kids and poor kids, white kids and minority kids, smart kids and slow kids because every kid deserves an equal chance to succeed. We have the money to lift our kids out of a mediocre education system into the brightest one in the United States. Yes, we have the money.

In this dream, we quit exploiting teachers and start treating them as professionals dealing with a wide variety of parental expectations. That means higher licensing standards and better salaries. Then we convince parents that ignorant meddling in the system is detrimental for the kids.

In this dream, education and support will be tailored to the needs of every student. For the slow students, tutors will be provided so they can keep pace with their classes. For the bright students, special assignments to capture their abilities to the fullest.

In this dream, the personal needs of each kid will be identified and met. If kids can't afford backpacks, furnish backpacks. If they have inadequate clothing for windy North Dakota, the thrift stores have a good supply. If kids don't have food at home, provide them with food for the weekend. Kids should at least have food security.

In this dream, we would have universal anxiety screening of all kids to identify emotional and mental health problems and respond to them before they become more aggravated with age. Those with inclinations to bully other kids would be identified. Universal screening would head off many adult problems and require specialized staff skills to interpret and interact with parents.

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In this dream, teachers would not have to pay for pencils, paper, maps and other supplies out of their own pockets but would be adequately supplied. Teacher salaries are mediocre enough without expecting them to shell out for school expenses but it is happening.

Of course, this dream would require funding - a lot of money - but we have it. The state is planning to commit $1 billion of its $9 billion oil trust fund to strengthen the state's economy. Good objective; good idea. But private industries have already snapped up the sure bets leaving the state with the long shots.

Building a dream education system is not an either or proposal. North Dakota should tackle both in-state investment and a first class education system. The success of the fabulous post-war veteran education subsidies resulted in billions of dollars in economic growth. There is no risk in a superior education system. It's the best investment North Dakota could make.

Suddenly, the dream evaporates, destroyed by our inability to think beyond the biennium. Happy with a mediocre education system that produces more than its share of mediocre students. Many kids fall by the wayside and become liabilities requiring public support for the rest of their lives.

The kids of this generation are entitled to their share of the $9,000,000,000 oil trust fund stashed away in state coffers.

Even though the term limit ballot measure is flawed, maybe passage would send a message to the legislature.

Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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Opinion by Lloyd Omdahl
Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

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