ST. PAUL NOTES | Schools under attack

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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. 

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