Sunday, September 1, 2013

Not So Simple

Star Tribune letter-writer Kurt Waltenbaugh today wrote to decry disparities between Minneapolis schools and those in one of our well-off suburbs, Eden Prairie. Without air conditioning in some of its buildings, Minneapolis was forced to cancel two school days last week, while Eden Prairie welcomed its students to air conditioned buildings and a new MacBook Air laptop for each student.

Waltenbaugh calls for an equitable distribution of school funds, such as dividing the money equally based on the number of students. Minnesota, he says, "should never see funding disparities that create luxury schools for the few while the many lack the basics."

True. However, his solution would not work, since Minneapolis already gets more money per pupil than Eden Prairie. Minneapolis receives $7,265 per student (according to MPR), while Eden Prairie gets $5,688,  not only less than Minneapolis, it's less than other nearby suburbs. Minneapolis (for 36,370 students) also gets $25 million in special ed money, while Eden Prairie gets $4.5 million (for about 10,000 students).

It's not so much the amount of money available to the schools, it's the needs of the children and the age and type of infrastructure at the school systems' disposal that matter. Minneapolis has many more children living in poverty, not to mention much older buildings on average than Eden Prairie. Administrators in the two districts make different decisions about how to spend the money they have.

While Waltenbaugh's request for equity of resources resonates, it's simplistic to think that resources = dollars.

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