Gov. Pawlenty’s education resume a little thin

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s appointment to lead a national education commission would suggest that Minnesota, under Pawlenty’s leadership, is a national education policy leader. A look at the past six years suggests otherwise.

Opinion: Gov. Pawlenty’s education resume a little thin

The state has been less than supportive of education during Pawlenty’s tenure. State investment in education dropped an inflation-adjusted 14 percent. Meanwhile, local property taxes nearly doubled to make up some of the loss. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that between 2002 and 2005; Minnesota ranked between 30th and 33rd nationwide in the amount it invests in education.

A respected school quality index gave Minnesota a “C” in 2007, the 25th spot in the nation. The state excelled in one category and nearly failed in teacher support categories.

Minnesota’s economy is heavily dependent, both today and for the future, on the health care and technology business sectors. However, Minnesota ranks 33rd in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in health care fields and 14th in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The respected Education Week magazine examined each state’s performance in STEM subjects and found Minnesota ranks a “C” compared to the national average of “C+.”

The NAEP national math test shows an achievement gap of 40 percent between whites and blacks when Pawlenty took office in 2003. That percentage did not budge in 2005, and dropped to “only” 34 percent in 2007.

This summer, Pawlenty will take the helm of the Education Commission of the States. The group, based in Denver, says it improves public education by helping “the exchange of information, ideas and experiences among state policymakers and education leaders.” Pawlenty replaces Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Before becoming the National Governors Association chair, he was chair of the NGA’s education, early childhood and workforce committee.

ECS’s press release announcing Pawlenty’s appointment said one of the governor’s accomplishments was “increasing K-12 education spending,” but spending on education in Minnesota has been poor at best. Using a true calculation of state expenses and property tax revenue, state education spending dropped more than 14 percent between 2003 and 2008 when adjusted for inflation. Pawlenty, a “no-new-taxes” advocate, saw a 96 percent property tax increase for education.

Another report, “Education Counts,” is produced each year by the respected Education Week magazine. It assigns points to each state on a variety of standards, then assigns a letter grade and ranks the states. In 2007, Minnesota rated a “C” and finished at the U.S. average.

The state grade for early education was the only “A” the state earned. K-12 education earned a solid “C,” while school spending rated at “D+.” The poorest performance was saved for the Teaching Performance category where, after five years of the Pawlenty administration, the state tallied “D’s” in accountability, incentives and support.

Minnesota was ranked high in student achievement in math and science, but ranked worse in achievement gains in those subjects over several years and in closing the poverty achievement gap between poor and other students.

The poverty achievement gap was also examined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When looking at the gap between students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch against those who don’t, Minnesota ranks 36 among states for fourth graders and 35th for eighth graders. When looking at closing the gap between the 2003 scores and 2007 scores, Minnesota ranks 30th among states for fourth graders and 37th for 8th graders.

Leadership, especially on the national scale, requires more than Pawlenty’s rose-colored glasses. When Minnesota makes a true commitment to students, we’ll be ready to lead once more.

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