Scott Jensen’s education plan cuts funding for Minnesota schools, promotes school choice

By: - August 30, 2022 8:01 pm

GOP gubernatorial nominee Scott Jensen and running mate Matt Birk hold a press conference at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Republican nominee for Minnesota governor Scott Jensen wants to convert low-performing public schools to charter or private schools, ban so-called “critical race theory” and crack down on truancy with the help of law enforcement. 

Jensen unveiled his sweeping education plan at the State Fair on Tuesday, which would drastically alter Minnesota schools and reduce funding for the state’s Department of Education.  

“We want to make this all about the kids,” Jensen said at a press conference in the GOP State Fair booth. “This is not about indoctrination … this has got to be basic foundational education.”

Under Jensen’s proposal, students would also be able to use public dollars — or school vouchers — to pay for private school tuition or homeschooling. 

His proposal comes less than a week after Minnesota released education data showing fewer than half of Minnesota students are proficient in math and 51% are proficient in reading. Minnesota’s racial gaps in education — for years among the nation’s worst — continued to increase. Almost 60% of white students were proficient in reading compared to 31% of Black and Hispanic students. 

Jensen said he would turn low-performing schools into “charters, self-governed schools, nonpublic schools or other models for low-performing schools in their respective district.” 

When asked how he would “convert” low-performing schools, Jensen said the logistics would be left to the Department of Education commissioner.

Jensen did not specify how much money he would seek to cut from the Department of Education’s budget, but has already proposed significant tax cuts

The Chaska family physician put forward a proposal to eliminate Minnesota’s individual income tax, which would create a $15 billion hole annually in the state’s budget. Jensen hasn’t provided specifics about how to balance the state’s budget if income tax were eliminated, but one way could be to cut education funding.

Jensen said he would ban so-called critical race theory, a term often erroneously used as a catch-all for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in K-12 schools. 

In addition, Jensen said he would also enact a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and create a “portal” where parents can review school curricula. Senate Republicans put forward a package of education bills they called a “Parents Bill of Rights” earlier this year, but they failed to pass the DFL-controlled house. 

Democrats and the teachers union said the new laws were unnecessary because Minnesota law already allows parents to review classroom materials and request alternative instruction if they object to the content.

Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teachers’ union, deplored Jensen’s plan.

“This looks like a list of greatest hits of failed and discredited policies from the past 20 years of the billionaire-funded school privatization movement, with a few nods to the latest MAGA fads of book bans, whitewashing history lessons, harassing educators and generally making schools less welcoming, inclusive and effective for all our students,” said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht in a statement.

Gov. Tim Walz, a former educator, has made supporting public schools one of his top priorities. Earlier this month, Walz announced he will allocate the majority of Minnesota’s remaining $132 million in COVID-19 federal relief funds directly to public schools.

Jensen’s education plan also proposes creating scholarships and a state Education Savings Account, which allows parents to withdraw their children from public or charter schools and receive a deposit into government savings accounts to be used for private school or homeschooling.

If elected, Jensen said his administration would allow the funds to be invested in religious schools — aligning with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision which found that state and local governments must allow families to use taxpayer funds to pay for religious schools if they choose to subsidize private schools.

“There’s no question in my mind — teachers go into teaching to touch kids’ lives,” Jensen said. “We need to elevate teachers, but first and foremost we need to have quality choices for parents and students.”

The GOP nominee also wants to reign in school absences by potentially mobilizing law enforcement to ensure children are attending school regularly. Jensen’s campaign said there should be a minimum amount of in-person instruction to ensure students attend school.

Jensen said there’s bipartisan support for enforced truancy, citing Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s support for enforced truancy when she was Hennepin County Attorney. His campaign linked to a Jezebel article about Klobuchar’s previous on-the-record support for using the criminal justice system to reduce truancy. School districts reportedly were “referred to the county attorney’s office” for the prosecutors to consider charges.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.