St. Louis County residents need to fix education crisis

Residents of St. Louis County face a crisis far greater than terrorism. Many of our children do not receive quality education. Nearly half of all Americans read at a fourth-grade level or lower, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly half of...

Residents of St. Louis County face a crisis far greater than terrorism. Many of our children do not receive quality education.

Nearly half of all Americans read at a fourth-grade level or lower, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly half of all Americans are functionally illiterate. This tragic crisis could sink American democracy. Quality education creates "liberty and justice for all." The gap between people who are learning well and people who are not learning well continues to grow. Americans must meet this challenge. Every American must be educated to keep our nation strong

Citizens of St. Louis County are not immune. Our residents can either make healthy decisions about how to educate children or fight over "red herrings." Northlanders are more than survivors. They have always grown their children's brains into healthy, productive minds. With the rapid decline of the number of public school students and the consequent loss of funding for public education, we face incredible challenges. Schools are not fundamentally economic generators but are "infrastructures," funded by the public to educate. They do not generate income. But a good economy and a good government require educated people.

Parents love their children and desire the best for them. They want good jobs for their children in this global and digital world. They wish for them to be taxpaying, voting, engaged citizens. Parents desire their children to communicate economically, socially and politically. Because we love our children we must all work to give them the best education possible.

The quality of public education declines when student numbers decline. Most operating money for public schools in Minnesota comes from the state at $10,000 dollars per student. Duluth's schools experienced a 50 percent student loss in 20 years. ISD 2142, the St. Louis County school district, which operates in Orr, Cook, Tower, Babbitt, Cherry, Cotton and Albrook, lost 500 students in 10 years, a loss of $5 million of operating funds. The quality of education deteriorates because cuts must be made in the numbers of teachers and staff as well as building maintenance. Our school boards and administrators have confronted this gruesome reality.


Voters approved the St. Louis County district School Board's plan to restructure. Though this was good news for students, it was surprising there was such a swell of anger and systematic resistance. This brings down the quality of public education. Roadblocks cost money to remove. Delays take time, and time is worth money. More than that, each student generation waits for needed change without the luxury of being able to wait long. Citizens must become engaged in helping rather than hindering necessary change.

Education must be different in the 21st century. The students of this generation need to be educated, global citizens and entrepreneurs with keen skills in creative problem-solving; and they need to know second languages, have high-level skills in effective Internet technology and be able to understand and communicate with other cultures throughout the world. All this they need in addition to mastering a traditional core curriculum. This costs money the public must provide.

America has led the world in educating all of its citizens. We must not fall behind now.

Cooperation increases quality in education. The St. Louis County school district is one of the oldest consolidations in Minnesota, with seven communities educating their children and saving a great deal of money by working together.

Facing declining enrollments, the School Board's plan was adopted by popular vote in December. The plan reduces the number of schools, lowering maintenance costs; brings a critical mass of students together under fewer roofs, enabling higher-quality education; gives the northern area of the district the benefit of more funding due to a larger student population; gives greater bonding strength to the entire district due to higher property valuations; shares administrative costs; makes taconite tax money available to all seven of the district's communities; and preserves sparcity aid.

Cooperation costs far less than conflict and isolation.

Low-quality education costs the public far more money. Lower wages result in lower taxes. Lower skill levels and unemployment raise crime rates. The number of third-graders who can't read predicts the number of prisons taxpayers will need to build.

Minnesotans spend $10,000 a year in state money to educate a child; they spend $100,000 a year to keep an inmate in state prison -- and prisoners don't pay taxes.


Minnesotans are a people with a democratic value system that drives them to insist on educating every child. We must all take on that responsibility to ensure a quality education for every child among us.

Art Dale of Soudan is a retired Lutheran pastor and the executive director of Volunteers In Education, a nonprofit that assists teachers, will soon begin a family-mentoring program and that offers tutoring in Babbitt/Embarrass, Cook, Tower/Soudan and, starting this fall, Orr.

What To Read Next
Get Local