The Interim Education Committee is made up of twenty-three Senators and Representatives who in most cases also serve on the Education Committee during the regular session. I do not, so this has been a good way to reconnect with my past as a junior high math teacher and high school principal. The topics studied during this session have included reports from state officials overseeing our system of education. At last week’s meeting, data presented got me to reflect on the changing face of education in North Dakota. The shift of our population from rural to urban is evident when you look at individual school district enrollment and graduation numbers.
Last week, a local newspaper had a list of all the graduates in Traill County’s four high schools, Central Valley, Hatton, Hillsboro and MPCG. The total number of graduates in these four high schools is 81. That number stands out to me because, forty years ago, Mayville-Portland (MP), without Clifford-Galesburg (CG) graduated 81 seniors. In 1976, one district, of the five in Traill County, had the same number of graduates as all of Traill County in 2016. That change has an impact on local and state funding, building space utilization, sports teams, staffing, and the availability of academic offerings. The increase in state support over the past four years has helped to lower taxes but actual funding may have decreased for rural schools because the funding is tied to head count. As an example, if staffing and facilities are designed to handle 300 students and the number drops to 250, at the current rate of $9500 per student, state support will decrease by about 475,000 dollars, without a proportional decrease in local cost; Hence, the local taxes may need to be raised just to maintain the previous educational programs. This is a dilemma that every rural school board and property owner must face. Hopefully, even with the drop in state income due to the oil and ag industries’ slowdown, we will be able to maintain the current amount of state support for local public schools.
A few weeks ago, I was approached by a school counselor regarding the amount of testing that is required for our students. The Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment have been in place for some time and have been criticized by many. In my opinion, the standards are not the problem, but the testing may be. Standards are needed to make sure that our children are prepared for the world they are entering after graduation. Having uniform curriculum insures that our local graduates will be as well prepared as someone graduating from any high school in the U.S. Local school administrators have been working hard to see that their staff is prepared to deliver a high quality education that will have our children up to speed to enter college or the workforce anywhere. Kristin Baesler, Superintendent of Public Instruction, has indicated that the state would be writing new standards in mathematics and English for the future. I hope that any changes will keep what is good and adjust where there is concern, most likely with the testing. Here is a case where the attitude of some about federal overreach does not fit. Certain things need to be common across state lines for education or commerce to work efficiently.
Part of the responsibility of a legislator sitting on an interim committee is to learn and be better prepared for issues in the upcoming legislative session. This look at our state’s educational system has helped to bring me up to speed on the many issues that impact every family and community in our state. It’s been a long time since I was a teacher and principal. Some things are the same but many are different. This update has been good for me. Rick Holman
Tell me and I will forget.
Show me and I will remember.
Involve me and I will understand. – Confucius