Friday, February 04, 2005

Education access opponents get in their licks

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:14 AM |  

In what is overall a fairly balanced article on the Education Acess legislation introduced by Republicans State Senator David Hann and State Representative Mark Buesgens today, legislation that allows low-income families in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts to apply for education access grants to send a child to any accredited, non-public Minnesota school of their choice, opponents of the bill take their first shots.

Notice how none of the objections directly address the concept of education or the individuality of children. Notice the emphasis on protection of the existing system. In the case of Mineapolis, after many discussions and admission of a significant achievement gap between white students and students of color, suddenly, there is "no problem." To the opponents, the debate is not about education, it's about a perceived attack on the system.
"We are definitely going to have to fight this," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, a member of both House education committees. "To me, it's rather abhorrent that they [Republicans] have to dilute the fact that they cut education funding for the first time in the history of the state last year, and now they're going to siphon off more money" from public schools.

"It seems to me they want to blow up public education in Minneapolis and St. Paul," said Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

St. Paul Superintendent Patricia Harvey minced few words when asked for her reaction to the bill. "I believe this is an insult to the students, families and staff in St. Paul," she said. "It's a kick in the teeth."

Harvey characterized the bill as an unnecessary attack on the St. Paul schools. She pointed to six years of success in raising student achievement, showing dramatic increases among students living in poverty and those who come from homes where English is not spoken as proof that parents don't need vouchers to find quality. St. Paul has recently been working with an influx of more than 1,000 Hmong students from a refugee camp in Thailand.

In Minneapolis, administrators will review the proposal today. Chief of Staff Steven Belton offered an initial assessment.

"The bill seems to me to be a remedy in search of a problem," Belton said. He said he's seen no data that suggest that a public-to-private-school transfer raises student performance. He added that the district doesn't fear competition, but said limiting the proposal to Minneapolis and St. Paul isn't equitable because there are poor children across the state.
A review of my previous columns and posts rebutts these objections.