School leaders describe education priorities for the president

by Joe Nathan
Sun Thisweek

What should the top educational priority be for Congress and the Obama administration? Twenty-seven Minnesota education leaders responded when I asked them recently. Their responses fell into several major areas, some general, some specific.

Jane Berenz, School District 196 superintendent, urged the president to: “Create an environment that honors and elevates the profession of teaching by investing in and supporting professionals who are in front of children every day.”

Lisa Snyder, Lakeville Area Public Schools superintendent, urged the president “to make education a priority in our nation. Educating all American students to high levels is our most powerful tool to combat poverty, racism, violence and government dependence.”

Jay Haugen, Farmington superintendent, urged the president to “help lead us in the creation of the best educational system in the world – a system that possesses both excellence and equity, a system that goes far beyond meeting standards, to one that customizes education for every student, engaging each student in ‘sky’s-the-limit’ learning based on their own unique strengths and talents.”

Dennis Carlson, Anoka-Hennepin superintendent, spoke for many, including Eden Prairie Superintendent Curt Tryggestad, when he wrote, “We need a bipartisan approach to address Special Education funding.  The Anoka-Hennepin school district is now subsidizing special education services to students using $31 million annually from our general fund. We support wholeheartedly the services to our special education students but it should not come as a cost to our other students. State and federal mandates should be adequately funded or the statute intent is not genuine.”

According to the non-partisan publication Education Week, Congress promised to pay approximately 40 percent of the cost of special education when the initial federal law was passed in 1975. But current federal spending is about 16 percent of the costs. Providing 40 percent would involve going from about $11.5 billion to about $35.3 billion. Legislation that would do this by 2021 was introduced earlier this year, but it did not pass.

Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, agreed and added to these priorities.

“My top priority for the next president is to stop treating federal education policy like a political football and bring some stability to our schools,” he said. “That starts with closing the Pell Grant shortfall once and for all, actually honoring the federal government’s promise to pay for special education in the states and replacing No Child Left Behind with a new law that creates sensible accountability while preserving flexibility at the state and local levels.”

Jason Ulbrich, executive director of Eagle Ridge Charter, Eden Prairie wrote “My number one priority in education for the next president … is to encourage high performing schools to share best practices and reproduce. This would include providing promised funding on time and to give flexibility in utilizing federal monies.”

Finally, many leaders agreed with Cam Hedlund of the Lakes International Charter in Forest Lake. He wrote: “Please move away from standardized test scores as the sole measure of a school’s success. Please insist that states measure school success by how well educators meet the needs of the whole child, by how well they help students become well-rounded world citizens, by how well they help students maintain physical and emotional well-being and balance and by how much students come to love learning and maintain a sense of inquiry throughout their lives.”

Our taxes have paid for development of new assessments that are supposed to give a broader, more complete view of student progress. Standardized tests measure some, but not all important things we want students to learn.

It may be naïve to think that Congress and the president will agree on most, or even all of these suggestions. But I think it’s a good list. I hope legislators  listen to and learn from these folks.

Joe Nathan has received awards from parent, professional and student groups for his work. Reactions welcome at [email protected] Columns reflect the opinion of the author.


    Can someone tell me where in the US Constitution is the authority to have any Federal involvement in education? Oh I forgot we are no longer a constitutional replublic. sorry my bad.

    • RollieB

      Try this on for size, TP28. It’s long but worthwhile reading.

      • TAXPAYER28

        In quickly skimming through it, it becomes clear, the errotion of federalism started durring the civil war erra, and has been marching onward to today. you have truely proved my point.

        • RollieB

          Interesting response. Looking at the same data thru different lenses. It’s the law of the land. We all must adhere if we’re Americans!

          • taxpayer28

            law of the land, maybe, but more the interpitation of the 12 judges. My point was to make it clear, we are no longer a representitive republic as constituted, the civil war amendments were ratified, but I don’t think anyone with intelectual honesty can believe the South would have done so had they been aloud to be represented. I know the war started over State rights, but it is quite providencial how the north would only start to win after emansipation. my main point is we are now a national goverment, the states may as well not even have governments since the national government rules us. Anyone how has studied the fedralist papers as I tried to can be confused by the difference of the intent and design the framers had in relation to how we a ruled today.

  • Rosie from Rosemount

    Geez…”Jane Berenz, School District 196 superintendent, urged the president to: “Create an invironment that honors and elevates the profession of teaching by investing in and supporting professionals who are in fromt of children every day.”

    I sure hope that is not a direct quote from something Jane Berentz wrote for a press release. If so, she needs to go back to fourth grade spelling bees before she writes another statement.


    Equal protection clause was originally interpreted, if a state offered a program or tax it must be applied to all citizens of that state. We now interpret the clause to mean, if a state offers a program or tax ALL states must offer this program. The national government will tax the proceeds for the programs keep most of the funds for their Politbureau and give back to all the states a small amount to run the program with additional mandates added that the local government must now fund. Wow what a mess.

  • wageslave

    You must explain this further.

    • TAXPAYER28

      you must learn to read the source documents

      • Jan Dobson

        Perfect reply, TAXPAYER28. And I’m astounded by Rosie’s observation. Thanks guys.

      • wageslave

        Did your source documents say that?

        Equal protection was intended to keep the former Confederate states from passing and enforcing discriminatory laws. The due process clause enshrined this vital principle across the nation.

        • TAXPAYER28

          Precisely, if a state passed a law it was to apply to all citizen of that state equally. It didn’t mean that a state law would be applied across the nation. Likewise if a federal law was passed it to would be applied equally to all citizens. Now look at how our tax code is applied for example, progressive rates that treat the most productive citizens as evil monsters for what? For being productive? We discriminate all the time, we are aloud freedom of association, that is decimation if, that is decimation if you are outside of the group. (Take the NAACP for example). They discriminate by requiring membership by race. And there is nothing wrong with that either. The constitution though is applied to the government; it chains the government to a structure of separated powers. Not only of the various branches of governmental bodies but also between state and federal. (Enumerated powers doctrine).
          It’s unfortunate that we no longer adhere to this. We are no longer a Federal system but in practice we are now a nationalized system in which the States have been evicorated of their powers.