Issued September 21, 1998
Revised September 29, 1998

How We Will Reduce Minnesota Public School Student/Teacher Ratios Without Increasing The State Budget Or Raising Taxes

In Minnesota's ongoing public education debate, virtually everyone agrees that a lower student/teacher ratio is preferable to a higher one. Public education will be a top priority in the Ventura/Schunk administration. We are issuing this position paper to explain exactly how we will achieve a 17/1 student/teacher ratio (or better) in grades K-6, and how we will do so without increasing the state budget or raising taxes.

Current law (MN Statute 124A.225) targets a student/teacher ratio of 17 to 1 in public school grades K-6. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been appropriated and distributed to the school districts to achieve that ratio ($281,369,046 in the last four fiscal years). With these facts in front of us, the question is...

If the law targets it and the money has already been distributed to fund it, why has the 17/1 student/teacher ratio in grades K-6 not been achieved in a large number of Minnesota's public school districts?

We believe the short answer is,

  1. no one is monitoring how the appropriated money is actually being spent,
  2. local school boards and administrators, being pressed by a wide variety of other problems, may be using this designated money for other purposes,
  3. there is no accountability or enforcement mechanism in place to ensure this taxpayer money is spent the way the law requires, and
  4. the well-intentioned law is sometimes undermined by a loophole in the law itself, and by certain reporting practices at the district level (districts may be in compliance on paper, but a visual inspection of the classroms show student/teacher ratios that exceed 17/1).

The good news is, the money has already been appropriated. No budget increase, tax increase, or new program is necessary to accomplish the 17/1 student/teacher ratio. To achieve this ratio we will take the following actions as Governor and Lt. Governor:

  1. We will begin by focusing the public spotlight on the legally-required student/teacher ratio. We believe we can motivate most school districts to comply with the law by simply focusing the public spotlight on this money and its intended use.
  2. Where step 1 is insufficient, we will use the democratic process to achieve the 17/1 student/teacher ratio. We will personally travel to the school districts in question, to find and endorse school board candidates that support both the letter and spirit of 17/1 ratio law (irrespective of party affiliation). We will then mobilize our Ventura/Schunk supporters in those districts to help elect these candidates to school board seats.
  3. We will urge the Legislature to close the loopholes in the law, and in district accounting and reporting practices, that can now be used by certain districts under certain conditions to direct student/teacher ratio money to other ends. It makes no sense to appropriate money to reduce the student/teacher ratio and simultaneously provide loopholes for the money to go elsewhere. We believe the Legislature will agree when we put the public spotlight on the loopholes. With voters urging their Representatives and Senators to close the loopholes, and with the Governor's office behind this initiative, we believe we can motivate the Legislature to clarify the law and close the loopholes that now undermine the student/teacher ratio.
  4. Where all else fails, and while we are generally reluctant to bring the heavy hand of state government into local matters, we will enforce the 17/1 ratio law. If steps 1, 2, and 3 do not achieve the desired result, we will direct the Department of Children and Family Learning to monitor district compliance with the law, and to take aggressive enforcement actions where appropriate. If additional CFL staff members are required to do so, we will find the money elsewhere in the state budget to fund those positions.

Insufficient classroom space is frequently offered as an excuse for why the 17/1 ratio has not been achieved. The law is a classroom ratio law, not a classroom space law. The money is for more teachers, not more space. While you might need more space to accommodate more students, you don't need more space to add more teachers.

Conclusive evidence exists that student teacher ratios of 15/1 to 17/1 are more effective than larger classes and have a powerful impact on student achievement. When implemented, this education reform will enhance the education and classroom life experience of every K-6 public school student in the state.

We're here for the kids. When it comes to improving the student/teacher ratio, we're not going to mess around, and we're not going to play political games with the competing education constituencies for the benefit of our political careers.

We're different than our career-politician opponents. When it comes to education, the constituency that concerns us most is the children in our public schools. While most of them are not old enough to vote for us, and none of them belong to special interest groups that have money to contribute to candidate campaigns, their education and their future is far more important to us than our re-election and our political careers.

Again, we're not messing around. If Minnesota voters elect Jesse Ventura and Mae Schunk as their Governor and Lt. Governor, every public school in Minnesota will have a 17/1 student/teacher ratio (or better) in grades K-6.

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