In the Spotlight

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Doug Johnson: Education
By Amy Radil
July 29, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
Part of Election '98

WHEN IT COMES TO OUTLINING an education agenda, DFL gubernatorial candidate Doug Johnson points to his years as an elementary school teacher to show his familiarity with the classroom. Johnson is not harshly critical of the current public school system, but says if elected governor, he would seek to redistribute money between rich and poor districts, and to boost the state's share of public education costs.

Johnson: I'd like to see that get to 70 - 75 percent support for K-12 education, as well as develop formulas that bring more equity to funding districts in the state. We have some very, very, large districts. They're providing great education, but there's a greater burden to property-tax payers. The one that comes to mind is the Anoka-Hennepin district which is inadequately funded and treated unfairly by the state school-aid formula.
Johnson says St. Paul and Duluth schools are also under-funded by the current formula, while outer-ring Twin Cities suburbs have disproportionate property tax wealth. He would redistribute state money to put districts on more equal footing. On school policy issues, Johnson is less reform-minded than he is on school funding. His main recommendation, increased parent involvement, is not likely to make him any enemies.
Johnson: We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "How can we get higher test scores? How can we get parents more involved in our schools?" - because that's really the key. And we've seen a lot of students going to the private schools and being home-schooled, and I'm not one that criticizes that in any way, but I'm telling public education, "You have to be willing to change, or we're going to see more of that occurring." And that's the key: higher standards and more accountability.
He says he supports the extent to which standardized tests are used in the schools. And he is cautiously optimistic about the Profile of Learning, a piece of the state's new graduation standards that requires students to master 24 skills in 10 different learning areas. Johnson says he reviewed the initiative as chair of the Senate Tax Committee.
Johnson: The commitee members and I spent nearly two hours asking questions about that because it's new, and everyone's always afraid of change. But I'm hopeful that it's going to work. I think it brings more accountability into the schools.
Johnson also supported Arne Carlson's tax credit measure, which allows parents to write off education expenses. But Johnson says the state's major financial commitment should be to public education. He doesn't endorse the concept of private-school vouchers, in which the state actually helps parents pay for private school tuition.

The major changes Johnson says he'd introduce for Minnesota schools would be in the realm of public safety rather than education. He says the state must do something about drugs and weapons in the schools.

Johnson: Children have a right to go to school and feel safe. When parents send their kids out the door in the morning, they should know there's a zero tolerance for drugs and weapons in school. In my crime plank that's a high-priority item, to have zero tolerance. And I advocate, on a random basis, using drug-sniffing and metal detectors so the 99 percent of kids that go to school to learn and don't want to deal with drugs and weapons, so they're safe.
But in line with his self-described "common sense" candidacy, Johnson says zero tolerance wouldn't mean expelling students for bringing squirt guns to school, for example. Only real knives and guns.