A better school means more money

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota high schools would need to perform better under reforms Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled Wednesday during his fifth State of the State address.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota high schools would need to perform better under reforms Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled Wednesday during his fifth State of the State address.

"We're not just going to pay for good intentions anymore," Pawlenty told a packed House chamber. "We're going to pay for better performance as part of a new 'Successful Schools' initiative."

The governor proposed increasing school spending by 2 percent each of the next two years, with the possibility of doubling it if a school earns at least three of a possible five stars on the state school report card.

"We need to pay for performance and quit enabling schools that don't meet our expectations," he said. "American high schools are obsolete."

Schools that agree to accept new state standards for "rigor, relevance and results" would receive extra money. Among things schools would be required to do are:


* Implement more rigorous courses, including career and technical classes in high-demand fields.

* Require every student to complete a year of college while still in high school.

* Provide students with the chance to learn through internships and other jobs.

The high school proposal highlighted his annual speech, delivered to a House chamber that included most of Minnesota's 201 legislators.

Pawlenty has four main goals for this four-year term, his second. He said he wants to improve education, health care, energy and government.

The Republican governor, for the first time forced to work with a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party-controlled Legislature, has talked for months about the need to reform high schools. Wednesday's speech was the first time he gave details.

"Too many of our high school students are engaged in academic loitering for much of their high school career," Pawlenty said.

"In too many cases, our high school students are bored, checked-out, coasting, not even vaguely aware of their post-high school plans -- if they have any -- and they are just marking time."


The rigorous, relevant and results-oriented high schools -- which Pawlenty called "3R schools" -- would cost $75 million of state money.

Reaction was mixed.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, who chairs a Senate education committee, said he liked Pawlenty's call for 2 percent increases. As for the additional 2 percent districts would be eligible for under the governor's plan, Stumpf said he needs more information.

Some lawmakers said high school is too late for reform.

Freshman DFL Rep. Marsha Swails, a Woodbury high school teacher, said she is "all in favor of rigor," but had a lukewarm reaction to some of the governor's proposals.

The governor wants the Legislature to require all students to complete four years of foreign language courses in order to graduate, but Swails said lawmakers must consider whether that would limit students' ability to explore other areas, such as music or arts.

Another change the governor wants is to require adopting tougher math standards.

Pawlenty also said he will encourage schools to use more online and other technology-related tools. He promised his budget plan will include money to reach the goal.


After meeting resistance to a plan to offer high-performing students free tuition at public colleges and universities, he revised it in his speech Wednesday to allow any student who finished a year of college while in high school to get money to pay for tuition and fees while taking classes on campus.

He also resurrected a failed proposal to require at least 70 percent of school funding be spent in the classroom.

All-day, every-day kindergarten that many lawmakers propose would cost $230 million, Pawlenty said. That, he added, is too much.

However, the governor instead proposed paying up to $4,000 in tuition for a family to send an at-risk child to a certified kindergarten readiness program.

It was Rep. Mike Jaros' 31st time listening to a State of the State speech, and he thought it sounded pretty good.

The Duluth Democrat said he was glad Pawlenty discussed real problems, such as those with education.

High schools need to be reformed, Jaros said, and Pawlenty's proposal is a good start.

"I agree with him that high school needs to become more than ... sports and socializing," he added.


Jaros likes the idea behind the Eastern European schools he attended. They prepared students for work or college, while American schools often don't do a good job getting students ready for work.

Capitol Bureau reporters Scott Wente and Mike Longaecker contributed to this report.

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