Minnesota faces a tough economic situation but that doesn’t change the fact that education is an important long-term investment with tangible benefits. Contributing to the sense of crises, state policymakers have neglected public education, undermining Minnesota’s future growth. Fortunately, there’s still time to reverse that trend.
Last week, Growth and Justice, another progressive Minnesota think tank, released a two year study on state education investment. “Smart Investments in Minnesota’s Students, A Research-Based Investment Proposal” is a multi-decade approach to improving both our education system and our economy.
Dane Smith, the group’s president, and Angie Eilers, the group’s research and policy director, know that Minnesota’s education system is huge, the amount of research information available is vast, and the road to true reform is treacherous with numerous distractions and false turns.
“We want to set a crystal-clear goal,” Smith said – increase by 50 percent the rate of students who finish post-secondary education by 2020. Increasing the number of Minnesotans with post-secondary degrees will increase the number who participate in a 21st Century economy, and keep Minnesota competitive not only with other regional centers such as Boston and Seattle, but also with world centers such as London, Singapore and Mumbai. It not only appeals to the important notion that knowledge is good, but to the economic reality that fully developed human capital builds prosperity and underdeveloped human capitol is a drain on society via social services, law enforcement and lost wages and taxes.
To reach the goal, only research-based evidence will be used to establish the best methods. Smith also said only programs that have been proven to be cost-effective will be used. “We will invest only in changes that really work,” Smith said.
To do the job right, a program must start in early childhood to capture the years that a person’s brain develops most. Growth and Justice reported that:
Minnesota ranks 27th in the nation for access to prenatal care.
Only 2 percent of the state’s preschool students receive state funding, ranking Minnesota 37th out of 38 states that fund preschool.
Nearly 50 percent of Minnesota kindergartners were assessed as either “in process” or “not ready” for kindergarten upon enrollment. To combat these problems, the group recommends good prenatal care and quality early childhood experiences ready a child for elementary school learning.
The plan continues through the school system. Annually, 10,000 Minnesota students do not graduate from high school on time. The research found that dropouts cost Minnesotans nearly $1.1 million over a lifetime in extended social services and unpaid taxes. Therefore, interventions that include focusing on getting all students to third-grade reading level in third grade, keeping kids proficient through grades four through eight, and arriving in high school ready for rigorous coursework and help students become more prepared to enroll and succeed in post-secondary education, and sustain higher-level learning with social support. Students who have good academic preparation, social support and access to financial aid have a greater likelihood of completing their degrees on schedule, the report noted.
Growth and Justice gathered a blue-ribbon panel of educators and policy-makers to help create the plan. They break the program into three parts: Ready to Launch (birth through third grade), Ready for Higher Learning (grades four through 12) and Ready for Life (transition to college and out-of-school time).
A penny-on-the-dollar tax increase for those households that earn more than $460,000 annually will raise more than $2 billion, which Growth and Justice suggests be split between education, transportation, and health care. They propose that $1 billion be invested in education: $405 million on Ready to Launch, $255 million on Ready for Higher Learning, and $340 million on Ready for Life programs.
“Education is a chief driver for a robust economy,” Eilers said. “In the 21st Century, students will need something more than a high school degree to attain a living wage. We need to increase the number of graduates by 2020. By the nature of the education pipeline, we have to get off the dime now.”
The state budget deficit is likely sizeable. However, as policymakers work to eliminate that short-term deficit, long-term economic growth we get from education investments cannot be sacrificed.
With Minnesota facing a projected $2 billion biennial budget deficit during an expanding economic session, investing in growth is more critical than ever. A strong public education lies at the heart of Minnesota past success. Without strong, responsive public schools, Minnesota won’t have much of a future. It’s time to invest in schools now, more than ever.