In the Spotlight

News & Features
Mondale: Education
By Martin Kaste
July 28, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
Part of Election '98
in economic terms, and this is especially true when it comes to education. Education reform, he says, is about serving the needs of Minnesota's economy - specifically, making sure businesses have enough skilled workers. Mondale believes Minnesota students are not being prepared for a high-tech working world.
Mondale : The standards we have are at a sixth grade level. So what we're saying is, that if you can pass a sixth grade test and take all these take-home profiles, you're ready to go out, start a family and have economic security. That's wrong. A sixth grade test is not what the schools and the workplace need us to be.
Mondale says he likes the new statewide basic skills tests, because he thinks they've called attention to schools where students are failing to learn. But he says the Profile of Learning, the new statewide curriculum standards, are too bureaucratic. He says the state should raise standards without dictating how students will achieve them.
Mondale:  Here's the example I get from teachers: They tell me, "You're giving me - state - all this money and this mandate to teach kids in third and fourth grade, who don't know how to read, self-esteem. And yet, when we're telling you these kids don't know how to read, and we need resources to teach them to read, so they can have self-esteem, you're not there." And that's the crux of the problem. Every year, we pass a 300 page bill, and every year we tell the schools something else is important, and we're missing what's important.
Right now, the state's share of school budgets hovers around 60 percent. Mondale believes the state should put more money into schools through a special fund dedicated to raising academic achievement. In the spirit of local control, school districts would request money for whatever purposes they believe are most urgent.
Mondale: In St. Louis Park, it might be technology. In North Minneapolis, it might mean, you know, police cars or all-day kindergarten. What I'm saying is, we need to flip this around and not have a one-size-fits-all.
When it comes to public money for private education, Mondale sits on the fence. He opposes vouchers - public aid for low-income kids going to private schools. But he supports the state's new tax breaks for parents who spend money on extra-curricular education expenses like computers or summer camps - something other Democrats believe will siphon state resources away from the public schools. Mike Freeman, for example, says he'd probably try to repeal the education tax credits.

Mondale would also funnel more state money into higher education - public and private. He says the state should pay for the college education of Minnesota high school graduates. A promise like that could turn out to be very expensive, so Mondale's plan comes with restrictions: the scholarships would go only to students with B averages or better, and the state's contribution would be capped at the level of tuition at the University of Minnesota.

Students going to more expensive schools would have to make up the difference. Mondale's scholarships would pay for four years of college, not just one or two, as proposed by his opponents. Even though he calls himself a fiscal conservative, Mondale says the state should not scrimp on education.

Mondale: The money's there. I think we have to be specific about how much we're gonna spend and where we're going to find it from. But at this point in time in Minnesota, it's not about more money, it's about how to make government work better.
The annual cost of Mondale's education plans could reach $125 million dollars a year by 2001... but he says the budget surplus and more efficiency in state  government will make sure the books stay balanced.