How Did Education Fare Legislatively? Less than Fair.

With the overwhelming preponderance of media coverage of the recently concluded legislative session focusing on transportation, taxes, and bonding, most people remain unaware that we – meaning everyone in Minnesota – got closer to winning a major school choice victory than any other time in nearly twenty years.

How close?  A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives from both the House and Senate had agreed on a plan to give tax credits to individuals and businesses which made contributions to scholarship granting organizations (SGOs), which, in turn, would award scholarships to low-income students so they might attend schools of their families’ choice.  Known as the Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act, it would have created a superb program, similar to those already in fourteen other states, including the diverse lot of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

All was progressing until the very last moment, when some of the usual forces which have sided with the teachers’ union rather than low-income children made it clear the provision had to be removed from the supplemental budget bill.  Suffice it to say, we will be back.  And fast.

As for the just-mentioned “we,” the reference is to a broad coalition of organizations and individuals of which American Experiment is a member and of which I’m honored to be chairman, called “Opportunity for All Kids,” or “OAK” for short.  Other coalition members include representatives of Catholic and Lutheran organizations in Minnesota as well as Jewish and other independent schools throughout the state.  Chas Anderson, a longtime veteran of state government (in the very best sense), did a truly brilliant job as executive director, as did everyone who spent long hours in St. Paul.  Among legislators, no one was more tenaciously terrific in trying to get a school choice bill passed than Rep. Jim Knoblach, a Republican from St. Cloud, to whom we owe a large debt.

The other education news deserving of quick comment was the Legislature passing, and Governor Dayton signing, a bill that provides an extra $25 million for early childhood education.  I am not opposed to spending real money on early childhood learning for low-income kids who really need it.  But I am opposed, as are my American Experiment colleagues, to early childhood funding which effectively excludes most private schools from participating, and which also bypasses one of the very best rating and accountability systems in the country for helping parents pick strong programs for their boys and girls.  A multimillion dollar step backwards.