Why does educational equity occupy a collective blind spot on our legislature’s and governor’s consciousnesses?

What am I talking about?

A recent Forum news story titled, ”Explorer Academy opens, ‘challenging boundaries’ of education”, told the story of what a large urban area can do when it focuses its attention on an education opportunity.

A key component of the Explorer Academy is the SMART Lab. The SMART Lab is an innovative approach to learning, particularly learning how to learn. It is a turnkey classroom which can be installed in any school, regardless of school size.

There are hundreds of the SMART Labs throughout the United States and the world. SMART Labs are the invention of Creative Learning Systems, Denver, Colorado, who continues to support and improve the “explosion of opportunities” made available to every student who enters the SMART Lab. Twenty-four schools in North Dakota currently have installed the Labs.

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Why not more than 24 in ND? Price tag. The SMART Lab is not cheap. It is especially formidable for a small North Dakota school. But should it be?

North Dakota’s coffers are overflowing; spending on all types of projects is unprecedented. However, OMB as directed by legislators, when asked to provide funding towards the purchase of SMART Labs, tells the schools they must use their local funding. Implied is that a small school already has enough funding.

Regardless of OMB's and our legislators' reasoning, I wonder why all schools can’t access this innovative approach to education, one that prepares all types of students to learn how to learn. North Dakota has the money.

Perhaps our legislators do not realize that learning how to learn is the capability that undergirds the ability of individuals, and therefore a community and country, to prepare students to acquire the skills that are needed by a 21st Century workforce. The reality today is that schools, especially ND's smallest schools, which must rely on their current funding to acquire a SMART Lab, can’t afford to purchase and implement one.

What am I saying?

Using current funding works for school districts like Fargo that are supported by a large tax base to purchase innovative educational developments. Making this type of purchase only works for a smaller district willing and able to apply its limited state limited funding toward a SMART Lab by foregoing something else that is also needed.

Why not, with the state and federal funds available to North Dakota, doesn’t our legislature provide enough special funds to allow every school who wishes to install a SMART Lab, install one? Doing so would go a long way toward providing parity to access innovative learning situations, learning situations which prepare all students to learn. Learning capability, the most important factor to establish and maintain a capable workforce.

Alan J. Peterson lives in West Fargo.

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