Minnesota schools will see a $167 million bump from the federal government’s EduJobs stimulus program. The money is meant to stimulate the economy by keeping teachers in the classroom and earning a paycheck rather than collecting unemployment.
It’s important to remember that while the EduJobs cash is an economic stimulus program, Minnesota’s problems with school funding are not the result of the current recession. For eight years, Minnesota’s politicians have made a conscious decision to underfund education.
Since 2003, schools have seen a 14 percent inflation-adjusted drop in state aid for education. Also, the state is delaying $1.9 billion of the money it owes schools in an accounting gimmick to balance the budget.
This underfunding is not the result of hard times or flagging state revenue. The underfunding is the result of a “no new taxes” strategy that aims to starve government services. The policy has worked wonders: School districts are now holding classes only four days each week to save money; class sizes are ballooning past the point of teacher effectiveness; preschool programs, classes for gifted and talented students, extracurriculars, classes in art, world languages, industrial arts and others are all being cut.
You can see how much each school district is receiving by going to the Minnesota Department of Education’s homepage and clicking on the “View the Estimated Allocations Spreadsheet” link.
MinnPost reports that, since school is ready to start and hiring decisions have already been made, many districts will put away some of the EduJobs money and spend it next year. They understand that with a nearly $7 billion state deficit, schools are not likely to see their $1.9 billion in deferred payments. They will also be lucky if their budget isn’t cut. The EduJobs money could mean the difference between kindergarten classes with 30 students or those with “only” 25.
The state has no inclination of adequately funding education. The EduJobs money is welcome and is certainly a stimulus of sorts, but what Minnesota really needs are leaders in St. Paul who can provide our educators with the tools they need to do their jobs. Until that happens, we will consistently be sailing against the wind.