30 years ago Minnesota changed the education landscape, but we can’t run on past success

Thirty years ago, Minnesota became the first state to spark the fastest growing engine of change for public education: the charter school revolution. By passing the nation’s first charter school law in 1991, Minnesota pioneered a model for the rest of the country to follow.

But Minnesota cannot run on past success. Its historic charter school movement has not maintained momentum, and other states have surpassed Minnesota’s once-revolutionary approach through unprecedented strategies that tackle education shortcomings.

Minnesota legislators are currently negotiating a final version of the education omnibus bill. The Senate’s education omnibus bill includes an Education Savings Account (ESA) provision that gives families more control and flexibility over their children’s education and finally brings real school choice to Minnesota. The House education omnibus bill does not include this measure. Legislators need to hear from you that now is the time to fund students, not systems.

The all-too-familiar trend of mediocre academic performance paired with a persistent achievement gap is unacceptable, and continuing to use the same ingredients to fix a broken system while hoping for different results is bad policy. Until we pursue solutions outside of the education “reforms” that have been tried ad nauseam, too many Minnesota students will continue to be left behind and unable to pursue educational excellence.

The time is now for Minnesota to catch up to other states and their prioritization of students over systems. The time is now for Minnesota leaders to pass real school choice.

Choice is a part of equalizing education, and parents have made it clear they need access to solutions that work better for their kids now, not years from now.

Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers’ union, and the Minnesota Department of Education oppose the ESA provision, according to the Minnesota Reformer, claiming there is “lack of research on the idea’s effectiveness” and calling the provision’s funding “parasitic” because “the money would come directly out of local school budgets.”

There is substantial evidence that educational choice programs have positive effects for students, including low-income students. Studies also show that educational choice programs not only improve the academic outcomes of those who participate in them but also of students remaining in public schools. Out of 28 empirical studies on the fiscal impact of educational choice programs on taxpayers and public schools, not one found a negative fiscal impact. 

And ESAs in the Senate bill would be funded through the state funds that would have otherwise been allocated for the student in his or her home district. Federal and local funds remain behind in the home district for fixed overhead costs, and the school is relieved of the costs associated with having that student in the classroom.

Funding students over systems is acceptable in higher education — such as Pell Grants and the GI bill, which didn’t destroy public colleges. It’s acceptable in early childhood programs. And it should be the same in K-12 education.

K-12 education is not a zero-sum game, and it’s time for Minnesota to trust families instead of bureaucrats with deciding what educational setting works best for their children.

Provisions in the Senate bill that focus on students instead of systems but that are missing from the House bill:

  • $11.5 million for Education Savings Accounts
  • $16.4 million for Safe Schools Aid
  • $12.6 million for Community Education Aid