Archived Story

Investments in education well worth it

Published 6:12am Thursday, October 18, 2012 Updated 8:13am Thursday, October 18, 2012

In the years following World War II, Minnesota’s fortunes began to change following many decades of stagnation.

A growing number of progressive leaders, including Republicans and Democrats, started to believe in a greater potential.

To that end, state lawmakers invested more in education. With this renewed vision, historians note that productivity soared.

Minnesota’s economy began to rapidly outdistance that of neighboring states. For instance, the state is still home to more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other state.

The philosophy of some candidates in 2012, however, is to ignore the history that led us to our greatest successes. They believe that continuing to invest in our future will make us somehow less competitive with low tax states.

“Investments in the university and state college system, after World War II, brought innovation to the economy,” said education analyst Mick McGuire of Mankato. “Increased support for public schools led to one of the greatest increases in educational attainment in the nation.”

In 1970 tuition was free at Minnesota’s vocational schools, but standards were high. Being absent from classroom instruction was not tolerated. Adequate state funding made college tuition affordable, for most students in this state, even as recently as 12 years ago, at the turn of the century.

Contrast that philosophy with what’s happening today. State lawmakers make one-time solutions to the budget woes, such as delaying school aid payments. Tuition assistance is far less than what it was only a few decades ago.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that achieving parity with neighboring states is anything other than a huge step back,” said McGuire, who first raised the issue of the need for adequate education funding in spring 2011.

Back in the 1970s, Hubert Humphrey many times heard about Minnesota being a high-tax state. His reply, “That may be so, but this state (Minnesota) also is a great place in which to live.”

So what makes Minnesota, one of the coldest states in the nation, so attractive to companies? The answer, said McGuire, is multifold: great education, good health care, a high quality of life and skilled jobs.

Support for education comes from, among others, Minnesota Business Partnership (MBP). The partnership, headed by Charlie Weaver, is a high-profile consortium comprised of 115 CEOs from Minnesota’s largest companies.

Weaver says that business leaders in Minnesota worry that the quality of education is diminishing, particularly for children of color and those on the wrong side of the achievement gap.

“Our biggest fear,” said Weaver, “is that in five years we’re not going to have the kind of workforce we need to compete.”

Some candidates say that higher state taxes will drive people out of Minnesota. This is folly, according to many people who refer to themselves as progressive Minnesotans. They sincerely doubt, as do I, that just for spite people would pull their kids from schools here, quit their jobs, sell their homes and move to places such as Bismarck, N.D., Pierre, S.D., or to other states where taxes are lower.

“You are not going to get a good education without taxes,” said Alex Cirillo, retired vice president for 3M in Minneapolis. “Our goal should not to be the lowest tax state in the country. That’s foolish.”

Georgia leaders boast that their state has the second lowest per-capita tax rate in the nation. But Georgia also scores among the worst states in the nation when it comes to education and SAT scores.

Let’s keep Minnesota as a first-class state.


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