Pawlenty wants schools to spend 70 percent of their money in classroomsby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
On the first day of school for most Minnesota students, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's reelection campaign started running a TV ad about education. The Republican governor is calling for at least 70 percent of education funds to be spent in the classroom. That proposal failed to pass the Legislature, and Pawlenty's political rivals say that's because it's a gimmick.
St. Paul, Minn. — Pawlenty's second television ad shows a smiling governor in rolled-up shirtsleeves. As he calls for more education funding, Pawlenty points to four children seated at schooldesks. He then strolls past rows of bureaucratic-looking cubicles, and puts his arm around a boy with a backpack.
"Let's put 70 percent of the money here. In the classroom. Not here on more bureaucracy. Here on kids," Pawlenty says.
Pawlenty tells viewers he's the only candidate who will fight for the 70 percent requirement. That's true. The two other major party endorsed candidates -- DFLer Mike Hatch and the Independence Party's Peter Hutchinson -- say Pawlenty's plan is a bad idea.
Hutchinson, the former superintendent of the Minneapolis school district, says the requirement would distract superintendents from focusing on whether kids are learning.
"Putting in some kind of arbitrary requirement like this just forces the superintendents back into this accounting game. We don't want them spending their time doing them. They should be asking themselves, have we got the right curriculum, are the teachers well enough trained?" said Hutchinson.
DFLer Hatch says if Pawlenty is worried about too much education money going to bureaucracy, he should have his education department review school district budgets, as Hatch did to HMOs as attorney general. Hatch says one reason districts have to spend so much money on administration is the numerous requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which Pawlenty supports.
"We're now in the process of demanding more reports, more forms, more tests, more time, from administrators and teachers, and as a result, the time that's spent teaching a child is cut out," said Hatch. "The problem he identifies in large part is caused by his own conduct in being a handmaiden for No Child Left Behind."
Pawlenty campaign spokesman Brian McClung says the governor supports No Child Left Behind because it aims to measure student achievement.
About a fifth of Minnesota school districts currently spend at least 70 percent of education funding on classroom expenses, according to the Education Department. That includes the three largest districts of Anoka-Hennepin, Minneapolis and St. Paul. The districts that spend less than 60 percent of funding in the classroom are in rural Minnesota, which is why many rural lawmakers opposed Pawlenty's proposal when it was debated at the Capitol the last two years.
Some legislators said the measure would restrict local control, and wondered why it was needed, when overall, districts spend an average of 69.2 percent of their funds in the classroom.
When the measure failed to pass the Legislature, Pawlenty said his proposal was opposed by "the guardians of the status quo". Spokesman McClung says the governor plans to push the requirement again in the 2007 session.
"The core mission of our schools is student achievement," according to McClung. "And we want to make sure that we get the dollars we spend on education directly into the classroom. And by setting a 70-percent standard, we can be more certain that that money is getting to where it needs to be."
McClung says Pawlenty also supports more money for Minnesota schools in the next budget. During the state's budget crisis three years ago, Pawlenty cut $185 -million for some education programs such as after-school activities and early childhood education. Pawlenty maintained funding for the basic per-pupil formula that districts get for every student.
- All Things Considered, 09/05/2006, 5:19 p.m.