School District 197: West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan has the following to say about itself:
School District 197 is fortunate to have a vibrant school community filled with a variety of academic, athletic, and artistic opportunities for students at every age, from early learning to grade 12.
School District 197 is committed to working with parents and families to improve learning and achievement for all students. Research shows that when schools and families work together to support learning, everyone benefits — students do better in school and in life, parents become empowered, teacher morale improves, schools get better and communities grow stronger.
That sounds like the type of school district you’d want your kids to be part of, right? Unfortunately, School District 197 has a lot of work to do when it comes to “improving learning and achievement for all students.”
The ugly reality according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is that barely half of all students in School District 197 are reading at grade level – 53% to be precise. Here’s the trend for 2019 to 2023 from the MDE website:
Now, you may argue that it’s unfair to judge a school district by how all the kids are doing as they haven’t all gone through their education journey. Fair enough.
Unfortunately, though, by 10th grade there’s not much of an improvement as the overall reading proficiency is only 55%. Furthermore, if someone is justifying the low reading proficiency because of COVID, that argument doesn’t work, as only 53% of 10th grade students in School District 197 were reading at or above grade level in 2019—before the pandemic!
Sadly, math proficiency is even worse in the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school district. By 11th grade, only 44% of students are proficient in math. Again, that low proficiency rate existed prior to COVID.
Perhaps School District 197 isn’t getting the financial support it needs to get kids proficient in reading and arithmetic. The district itself claims that it most recently spent $17,291 per student using total operating expenditures of $87,146,681 and an average daily membership (student population) of 5,040 for FY 2022.
Now, if you look at that same budget document, you find that the district actually spent $118,764,181 in FY 2022, far more than the $87,146,681 listed as total operating expenditures.
School districts often only measure per-student-spending using their General Fund expenditures. At the same time, the schools have told us they need money for food service, community service, building construction, transportation, debt service, etc. to do the work of education. Using the total expenditures for FY 2022 of $118,764,181 and dividing it by the ADM of 5,040 students, you find the district spent $23,564 per student.
$23,564 spent per student in West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school district and barely half of the students are reading at grade level.
That level of spending almost gets you into St. Thomas Academy, which is located in the same community, at full tuition ($25,150) for grades 9-12, and easily gets you in for grades 6 through 8, with tuition ranging from $18,500 to $22,050.
If you had the choice of spending $23,500 per year on your son, where would you send him? School District 197 or St. Thomas Academy? And if you knew that $23,500 was spent per student by a school system, wouldn’t you expect significantly higher levels of proficiency in reading and mathematics?
The public education system has sadly failed in its duties. It’s true across the state and it’s true in the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan area school district.
There is more than enough money to provide kids with a proper education, but right now the education system exists to serve itself, not the students.
It’s time for school choice. It’s time to fund students and not systems.
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