In the lead-up to the August primary, four Republicans hoping to beat Gov. Mark Dayton this fall are using education issues to rally supporters.
Minnesota has one of the nation’s widest achievement gaps between white students and students of color. Department of Education data released earlier this year show Minnesota making some gains in closing that gap. Still, it remains stubbornly high, with test scores for students of color lagging their white peers by as much as 30 percentage points.
The GOP candidates are offering a range of remedies to close it. Here’s a look at some of their ideas.
“The fact that we have either the worst or one of the worst achievement gaps in the country year after year after year for 20 some years now, I think it’s shocking and it’s shameful,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the GOP’s endorsed candidate for governor. “We love to talk about it but then we never change the system. And that’s what we have to do is change the system.”
Johnson says the state can’t close the achievement gap with money, that it will take big policy changes instead — and that’s why he would consider Minnesota adopt a California policy known as the “parent trigger.” Under that 2010 law, poorly performing California public schools can be overhauled or shut down if a majority of parents agree.
Supporters argue it gives parents more say in their kids’ education, but it remains controversial in California. There’s no evidence it has narrowed that state’s achievement gap, said John Rogers, education professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.
Maple Grove Rep. Kurt Zellers is also running in the GOP primary. He says he would support the parent trigger as well. But he would also support school vouchers — government scholarships that help students in low performing schools go to private schools.
“If not, if you want to go a charter school, if you want to go to a religious-based or a stem (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) school — if you’re a kid in Brooklyn Park, you should be able to go to that school in Anoka.”
The state allows kids to go to any public or charter school, so long as they have transportation.
All the GOP candidates say they support vouchers, including Orono businessman Scott Honour. He says he would also support a law similar to one Dayton vetoed in 2012 that would eliminate seniority as a factor when laying off teaching staff.
“We have to give local school districts, school boards and principals and superintendents the tools to make sure that they’re pursuing excellence amongst teachers,” he said.
Former state Rep. Marty Seifert proposes keeping kids in the classroom longer every day. That’s an idea Dayton has said he would support, too.
“I don’t know if it’s the union bargaining it away. I don’t know if it’s the school bus dictating it or the coaches in sports programs,” Seifert said. “But whoever it is, we need to tell them: ‘You know what? Schools are primarily there for academic instruction and we need to stop bargaining away.'”
MPR News reporters Tom Scheck and Tim Pugmire contributed to this report.