In an Op-Ed column in today's Pioneer Press, I noted that the activities proposed by the Saint Paul School District, as justification for the levy on the ballot in November, make sense. If implemented, they have the potential to increase student achievement. At the same time, I pointed out that, if the District obtains the funds they seek through the levy, the superintendent and other administrators must be held accountable for installing the educational features that research shows can be effective. Increased funding does not automatically translate into better results, without enhanced curriculum, classroom features, and instructional techniques that research shows can influence learning. Funds can’t just stabilize the budget and preserve the status quo.
Both all-day kindergarten and early kindergarten for 4 year olds have support from the research. While not yet definitive, studies give good reason to believe that these two measures will improve academic achievement, especially for children most at risk of failure. Reduced class sizes do not have as strong an effect, unless the numbers go below 20 and unless teachers with average and less-than-average skills improve their instructional performance.
What about alternative sources of funding? Should school funding be completely a state responsibility, for example? (While I have not come to a final opinion, I tend to think so. We need all of the state's children to become competent community members, parents, and members of the workforce. Whether they happen to spend their young years within one jurisdiction or another should not affect their educational opportunities.) Or, more specifically, should state income taxes, or a state sales tax, pay for education, rather than local property taxes? (That would perhaps move more responsibility to the state. However, I have not thought through all the pros and cons of these options.)
I focused on the effects of specific education activities. Research speaks to those effects. Research does not indicate that those effects differ if the dollars used to finance them come from different sources. We should consider, however, whether more equitable or productive ways exist to finance what we need in our schools.
No matter what, as I stated, "We all have the obligation to work together to educate our young people, to produce new generations of competent employees, parents, and community leaders, and to strengthen our region within the global economy."
If you don't have today's paper, you can read the online version at: http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/editorial/15831464.htm