Sorry, Charlie

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Minnesota’s business community is deeply concerned with Minnesota’s educational quality. Since worker preparedness strongly correlates with education, flat and sliding student performance suggests that Minnesota’s future workforce will be unable to staff industry’s innovation and fleet-footed growth.

You’d think that Minnesota Business Partnership executive director Charlie Weaver would be more concerned. Apparently, he’s not, at least not according to his recent op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Opinion: Sorry, Charlie

Weaver resists public education investments, arguing that strategic spending should be delayed until detailed cost-benefit analysis is performed. He’s not against investments, you understand; it’s that prudence demands sober study.

We’ll suffer July blizzards before Charlie Weaver advocates overdue systemic educational investments. Just don’t be surprised by his argument. It’s straight out of the conservative playbook.

Charlie Weaver is a former state representative and Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s first chief of staff. Weaver guided Minnesota’s 2003 progressive-to-regressive tax policy shift, a critical conservative triumph.

Now, with public concern growing and pressure for change mounting, Weaver steps forward to preserve that strategic victory. His choice of Pawlenty playbook pages reveals an extraordinary amount about conservative strategy for next year’s legislative session: Do nothing, at all cost.

Our great progressive strength and weakness is our commitment to rational thought. I know this sounds silly, calling it a weakness, because most of us view rationality as a good and necessary thing. Yet, much as conservative scholars challenge scientific methodology using the very methodology they reject, Weaver appeals to our rational tradition without a commitment to the same.

Weaver outlines education’s many and varied problems, but with no desire to solve them. He seeks delay, arguing that investment in public infrastructure shouldn’t be rushed. His standard means we never reach his investment trigger point. He will always find a different metric to consider.

In the meantime, educational investments and property tax reforms are continuously pushed into the future, tantalizingly close but always beyond reach.

We can expect a lot of that from Gov. Pawlenty in 2008. He will wield the projected $373 million state budget deficit (not counting inflation) like a sword, fighting progressive change. His conservative allies will work diligently to outflank the state legislative leadership. Pawlenty will divide, conquer and preserve his regressive tax structure that rewards a few at growing cost to the many.

So, what do we do?

First, don’t be suckered by Charlie Weaver’s “too many candles” educational spending analogy. It’s a fallacy, not a genuine argument. Second, and I don’t mean to sound Pollyanna-ish, speak truth to power. Stay focused on what really matters: educational investments and outcomes.

A good education, one that prepares people for a complex, fast-changing future, requires human and financial capital. Insisting on a 1950s functional equivalent fails families facing a 21st century marketplace. We can and must do better.

Conservatives seek very different public policies than those envisioned by progressives. An appeal to rationality is a subversive stab at the progressive conscience. Light a single candle, don’t curse the darkness and move the progressive public policy agenda forward.

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