Friday, October 06, 2006

Minnetonka candidate forum replay on MPR web site

In case you missed it, Tuesday's candidate forum on education at Minnetonka High School was taped by Minnesota Public Radio, and can be streamed from the Internet at the MPR web site (1 hour 28 minutes, requires RealPlayer).

Participating candidates: SD 43, Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) and Judy Johnson (R). HD 43B, John Benson (DFL) and Dave Johnson (R). HD 42A, Rep. Maria Ruud (DFL-Eden Prairie) and Bill Cullen (R).

The forum was sponsored by Community Action for Student Education (CASE), which is the school district's legislative action committee.

The first 30 minutes or so of questions from the moderator were variations on the theme, "Are you in favor of more money for the public schools (special education, early childhood family education, Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate)?" Remember, this forum was sponsored by a school district, and held at a school. Guess what, all of the candidates are in favor of more money for the public schools!

Everyone withheld support for vouchers, or assigning state funding to the student rather than the school district, but Cullen took the opportunity to raise a question familiar to readers of Craig Westover: what about school choice for lower income families that cannot afford to move to the suburbs or enroll in a private school and continue to pay taxes to support their public school district? Shall we continue to preserve and protect the status quo of government-funded schools at all costs, even if we fail to close the achievement gap, asks Westover?

The liveliest discussion occurred on another point of agreement amongst the candidates: the Education Minnesota teachers union's proposed mandatory statewide health insurance pool. The candidates — even the Education Minnesota endorsees — couldn't run away far enough, fast enough from this proposal. One of the state's most powerful special interest groups, which lobbies on behalf of its 70,000 AFL-CIO affiliated union members (about the size of one state Senate district), is pushing hard for this measure, which would lower health insurance costs for some school districts, at the expense of other districts (such as those in the west metro) that are lowering insurance costs on their own. When Judy Johnson suggested that Sen. Bonoff was in favor of a compromise that would create the pool yet allow "larger" school districts (over 400 enrollment) to opt-out, Bonoff said, "That's a lie," then quickly apologized. Check out this audio excerpt from the MPR recording:

Click here if the audio player does not display above.

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