Last week I participated in WTIP-FM‘s “First Thursday” community conversation. WTIP is the Grand Marais-based, independent community radio station serving Minnesota’s North Shore. It reminds me of fictional KBHR-AM in Cicely, Alaska; an observation that was probably funny the first three times but is now WTIP’s perpetual burden.
The program’s topic was a just-passed school operating levy referendum. Win or lose, WTIP had Cook County Schools’ superintendent Beth Schwarz, a school board member, a member-elect and a parent volunteer lined up to discuss the outcome.
The Cook County school district asked voters for a five-year, $650 per pupil operating levy. It passed 1446 to 1301. The money replaces lost state educational funds. My job was to explain that Cook County schools are not alone. Their experience is the overwhelmingly dominant one. Conservative state public educational financing policy has cut school funding by a state-wide average of 14 percent since 2002.
Conservative messaging declares that government is out of control like some drunk, raging tyrant. Any reduction in any level of government – a phenomenon that conservatives call “starving the beast” – produces an improved outcome. Except, government isn’t a singular behemoth. It’s actually a diffuse series of democratically elected bodies with specific responsibilities. Collectively, these entities reflect people’s desire for strong, safe communities.
Listening to the panel, I could hear their thoughtfully expressed frustration. I took the opportunity to share Minnesota 2020’s observation: You are not alone. You are doing your part. The State of Minnesota is not.
Education creates a strong Minnesota because it creates opportunity through a well-prepared, nimble, flexible workforce. Cook County School District is investing in its future but regressive, property-tax based school funding will never meet Minnesota’s need. Only comprehensive, progressive funding reform can create prosperity for Minnesota’s next generation. It’s time to stop letting conservatives divide us. The fight for Minnesota’s schools is a good place to start.