Our goal: real, robust education reform


Our goal: real, robust education reform

By Deputy Republican Leader Jenifer Loon and Rep. Sondra Erickson

As printed in the Pioneer Press


The start of a new school year is a time of excitement and eagerness. Students are ready to learn and change the world; anything and everything seems possible.

As legislators, we anticipate a new session in the same way. Looking to 2015, our goal is to bring about real, robust reform to our state's K-12 education system. Students, teachers, and parents deserve thoughtful action that, for once, delivers creative solutions for better opportunities and outcomes.

Regardless of political persuasion, many agree that what we are doing as a state for K-12 education is either not working or is simply sustaining the status quo. Too many Minnesota students don't graduate or aren't adequately prepared for post-secondary education upon graduation, even though K-12 education receives the greatest dedicated amount of general fund dollars -- $16.7 billion over the next two years.

As funding for education has increased, test scores, graduation rates and other core measures of academic progress have failed to rise in tandem. The achievement gap -- the student performance chasm that exists between racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups -- is as wide as ever.

These are helpful clues that what ails our K-12 system is not a need for more and more money, but for well-rounded reform that supports a community of educators, students and families.
Needless to say, we were discouraged by Democratic majorities whose agenda resulted in more mandates, more testing and more state control. They continued the bipartisan trend of increasing education funding, but widened the funding gap between metro and rural schools and failed to make any real reforms to help tackle the challenges facing Minnesota's education system.

Yes, we agree on the importance of investing in our future, but investments also involve rolling up our sleeves and working on hard issues. Money alone will not solve these problems.

Our DFL colleagues took the opposite approach. Democrats eliminated high school graduation standards at a time when other states and nations are increasing their academic rigor. Emphasis was placed on doubling student testing that merely teaches students how to take tests, not how to learn and think about the world.

Every Minnesota student deserves a great education, regardless of where they live or what school they attend, coupled with great teachers to help them reach their potential. They should not be limited by artificial barriers like household income or geography.

But the fact of the matter is: nothing will change if we do not take on the challenge of real, robust reform moving forward.

Our plan to improve education in Minnesota is three-fold: emphasizing accountability, local control and educational choice.

-- Accountability: We support efforts to put the best possible teachers in the classroom, whereas Democrats doubled down on policies that allowed underperforming teachers to remain in the classroom. We also believe in common-sense testing and graduation standards for our high school students and teacher candidates in order to help build a world-class workforce.

-- Local control: We support flexibility and freedom for our local school districts. One-size-fits-all mandates just do not work, and government should not serve as a statewide school board that withholds funding if schools do not play by the rules.

What's more, school officials should no longer have their hands tied by lengthy, unfunded to-do lists. We need to free them from bureaucratic intrusion and allow them to do what they do best: teach our children.

-- Choice: We want to give parents the power and freedom to make decisions about what's best for their child's education. That means giving parents the flexibility to move their child out of a failing school and into one that fits their needs and helps them maximize learning.

As the bustle and excitement of a new school year abounds, so does our anticipation for the new legislative session. We look forward to working on legislative initiatives that empower students, parents, teachers and local school officials.

Rep. Sondra Erickson of Princeton is Republican lead on the Education Policy committee, and Rep. Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie is deputy minority leader.

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