HomebudgetWhere DOES the money go?

This weekend, I’ve heard a lot about the struggle to pass the yearly budget in my state. The news outlets are blaming the stalemate on our governor, Mark Dayton. They tell us he refuses to pass it without a certain amount of money being allotted for per-kindergarten education.

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I haven’t had the chance to look deeply into the bill, but from what I gather, part of that money would be going to helping low income families enroll their young children in pre-K. Hey, I can get behind that.

Minnesota, like most of the other states in this country, has a terrible achievement gap in its schools. When overall scores show such a marked difference between racial groups, that demonstrates some systemic problems, rather than a few individual families not supporting their kids.

These problems need to be tackled on multiple levels, but one way to help younger students have a better chance at later success is with quality pre-K education. A big part of the problem does come down to expense and availability, especially in lower income areas.

Another problem is the general structure of schools. Where does the money go? Does it go primarily to administration, or to support for the kids?

I’d love to see an easy to understand breakdown of where funds go.

Out of curiosity, I went hunting, and compared the figures of one of the local suburban school districts with the Minneapolis district.

I know some administrators have a comparatively huge income, like Dennis Peterson, superintendent to the Minnetonka school district. In 2012-2013, he had a contracted income of $203,940, according to this tool from twincities.com. According to Teacher Salary Info, the average income for a public school teacher in that district ranges between $31,480 and $52,750, depending on the grade taught.

Now, if you go to Minneapolis with the same sources, the highest paid superintendent, Bernadeia Johnson, made $190,000 in contracted income for 2012-2013. Public school teachers average between $31,461 and $53,090 in that district.

Those figures don’t include bonuses, car allowances some administrators get or other benefits, either.

As always, I’m sure there’s more to the story, but I do know from personal experience how hard it is for even a family of two to survive on $31,000 a year or less. In our case, that’s without a huge amount of debt from things like student loans or medical bills. Even though the averages listed don’t dip under that number, that doesn’t mean there aren’t teachers who do make less than that.

I will admit, though, that I am a bit surprised at how comparable teacher income is between those two districts. I would have expected a larger difference.

While this stuff does matter, it’s entirely too easy to get lost in semantics. The most important question is how the kids are benefiting from their school years. Are they learning what they need to? Are all students given the chance to succeed?

We also need to keep in mind that most of the kids tested and taught do not need the same specialized attention kids in the neurodiversity community do. As in the adult population, these kids are usually the first to suffer from cut backs for assorted reasons. One is simply because they’re a minority, but another is because a sort of systemic discrimination against disability at large.

Kids with medical problems are suffering, too, since some schools have started laying off their school nurse due to budget cuts. This puts kids’ lives at risk, because the nurse has specialized training to administer medications and address medical emergencies. That practice may have cost at least one little girl her life.

When talking about our unique needs with someone who isn’t directly impacted, the argument they make is that if we give resources to this minority, somehow the majority will suffer for it. It quickly becomes a matter of us versus them, which does nothing but worsen an already thorny situation.

That’s the same thing I’ve heard a lot of this weekend. It seems to have become a conflict between parents and people without kids, or people with adequate income and those without in a lot of the opponents’ eyes. In reality, boosting the most vulnerable to an equal position to those in more stable positions benefits us all in the long run.

As for the budget deal that’s currently being debated in our local capital, I don’t have enough information yet to formulate any sort of solid opinion. From what I’ve heard, the senate does want to give at least some money to the pre-K program, but Dayton is fixated on a larger number. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some other things holding it up, too.

Either way, the program would get some sort of funding, but I, as a citizen, have no idea of what would be enough, or where that money would really be going. I just know that early education is a great idea, and if low-income families who want to give their kids that chance, they should be able to.

Income, skin color, gender and ability level shouldn’t be barriers to basic education.

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