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ST. PAUL NOTES | Schools under attack
In San Diego, budget cuts are wrecking the schools. In St. Paul, the legislature is sending us down the same path.
San Diego increased English proficiency from 45 percent to 56 percent in three years, and one of their tools was class size, reports the New York Times:
Imagine if the poorest public school children had the same opportunity. That is what has been happening for several years in this urban district of 130,000 students. Using state money and federal stimulus dollars, San Diego has held class size to 17 in kindergarten through second grade at its 30 poorest schools.
With federal stimulus money gone and state aid cuts on the way, San Diego is now looking at kindergarten classes jumping from 17 to 30 students.
In St. Paul, with federal stimulus money gone and state aid cuts on the way, MPR reports that the school board voted in June to cut more than 300 positions. (In Minneapolis, according to the Star Tribune, there will be 118 layoffs.)
Republicans insist that they are not cutting school aid, just shifting it. One of the biggest sifts comes in integration aid, which helps diverse districts like St. Paul. A fact sheet from the St. Paul Public Schools describes some of the uses of integration aid:
Integration funding provides $1.5 million for the Student Placement Center (SPC). The SPC processes 13,000 applications a year to place students in 64 schools, providing an efficient, one-‐stop shop for parents to choose, apply and enroll their children in a school. The SPC removes barriers to enrollment and provides access to school enrollment for English Language Learners (ELL), low-‐income families, students who are homeless and other underserved families with year round outreach efforts with staff that is multi-‐lingual and multi-‐ethnic. Districts are required by state law to provide language screening and services to students whose home language is not English so that they can be assigned to the appropriate school and program. This year, the SPC screened nearly 2,000 K-‐12 ELL students.
SPC provided intake services for 7,500 students last year including many who are non-‐English speaking and from refugee camps where no education or health services are available.
SPC services include: Language testing and identifying special learning or health needs to assign students to the most appropriate programs.
Republicans also plan to shift other money from large to small districts, including charters, each of which is a district in itself. As Beth Hawkins wrote in MinnPost:
Adding insult to injury, the cuts will be devastating to a number of districts — including places we rarely think of as urban like St. Cloud and Duluth — but will not save taxpayers money nor help to solve the state’s current budget crisis
Shifting school funding payments, a strategy begun by Pawlenty that looks likely to increase this year, also costs the schools money. This means that state payments due to the schools this year will not be made until next year. That shifts the budget liability to the future. But schools have to pay for teachers and heating and books now, so they have to either use reserve funds or borrow money.
Borrowing costs money. The interest and fees go to lenders — not to schools and not to deficit reduction.
According to MPR, interest and fees are likely to be half a million dollars in St. Paul alone, and more than $5 million in metro-area districts combined. That includes borrowing by charter schools, which generally have to pay higher interest rates.
Even when the state payment eventually comes, the value to the schools is reduced by the amount of interest and fees they have had to pay. Every dime of interest and fees is a reduction in the actual value of state payments to the schools.