Vouchers, Minneapolis Public Schools, and a legislative action committee

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The issue at hand today is about  scholarships or “vouchers” for low-income students to attend tuition-based, non-MPS schools. This bill was debated last session, but was not included in the final omnibus package.

With many of the articles that criticize Minneapolis Public Schools as the district compares to privates, charters, or open enrollment alternatives, there is a misunderstanding of how much money is spent. MPS does NOT use $20K per year to educate students. Per pupil expenditures cannot be calculated by dividing the total district revenues by the total number of students. MPS has adult basic education, community education, overage expenditures on charter school and private school busing, etc., that are included in its overall budget, in addition to capital funds, which cover building asset management.

The per pupil cost for MPS is closer to perhaps $14K. We used to be able to get this information from the Minnesota Department of Education on documents called “Report to the Taxpayers” for each school and district, using UFARS (Uniform Financial Accounting Reporting System). By using a standard report format, we knew that Edina and MPS, for example, were reporting revenues and expenditures in the same fashion. Unfortunately, MDE has NOT included all those reports for all those years on their website redesign, and they have not yet finished the formats for the SY2011, nor are they posted. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t download the pdfs when they were accessible. I’m looking at a saved copy I have from Andersen Community school (high poverty, high percentage students of color) for 2007-08 that shows Andersen spent $13,990 per pupil, MPS average was $13,097, and the state average was $9,937. Nova, a high-performing charter in St Paul with low poverty and a high percentage of white students, spent $8,508 per pupil during that year.  Wish I had better data to use for analysis, but I’ll work with what I have.

Many of the policy initiatives brought forward in 2011 are being re-introduced. It’s a good year to pay a high level of attention to the activities over in St Paul. Minnesota is a target for many education reform policy and management initiatives. If we are paying attention, we won’t be surprised by the budget deficit projections. We might have some better ideas about cost containment if we understand “where did the money go?”, a Jesse Jackson quote, if memory serves.

MPS has a legislative agenda that was jointly developed with staff and the School. At least a dozen districts in the metro area seem to have healthy, high-functioning, parent-led, district-approved legislative action committees (LACs.) I was impressed with a Hopkins LAC I attended last fall that involved the joint development of their district’s Legislative Action Plan.

The formation of a local LAC would necessitate that we discuss the most productive way to operate, given the roles that exist today. The MPS 2012 draft legislative action plan was discussed at the regular Board meeting on 12/13/11, but is not posted on the website in final form. The 2011 plan is still listed, perhaps because the 2012 may yet need to be approved by a Board vote.