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A chicken in every pot

Fri, Jul 7th, 2006
Posted in Commentary

Governor Tim Pawlenty, fresh from his Republican endorsement as a candidate for a second term to lead the state, proposed back in June to offer free tuition for the first two years to the top 25 percent of Minnesotas high school graduating class at any of Minnesotas public institutions of higher learning. Math and science majors would get four years free.

According to the governors press release, the program, called ACHIEVE (Academic Competitiveness Highlighting Individual Excellence and Valuing Education), is designed to encourage all high school students to attain good grades, keep the best and brightest graduates at home in Minnesota colleges and increase the number of home-grown graduates with science and math degrees.

Pawlenty says that he will ask the legislature to fund ACHIEVE at a price tag of $112 million for the biennium (FY08-09). To qualify, family adjusted gross income would have to be less than $150,000 and students would have to maintain a B average.

Where this new money would come from would be anyones guess. One thought is that the funds would come from anticipated revenue surpluses, as any new taxes, given Pawlentys past track record, would seem unlikely.

The irony in the governors proposal is that Pawlentys No-New-Taxes-Pledge over the past four years has led state colleges to increase tuition dramatically. In 2007, students will pay $136 million more in tuition and fees compared to 2003, the year Pawlenty took office (source: Minneapolis Tribune).

Why Pawlenty chose to target ACHIEVE at college, rather than K-12, students seems obvious - Kindergartners dont vote.

In fact, Pawlentys priorities for K-12 education in the recently concluded legislative session focused on development of a Chinese curriculum and a study on how Minnesota students compare internationally.

As a parent of a high school senior who could potentially benefit from the governors plan - U of M tuition is approximately $9400 per year - I relish the notion of no tuition costs for two years.

But as any cynical voter will rightfully ask - what is the governor, if he is re-elected, going to do for the other 75% of high school graduates who dont qualify for ACHIEVE - continue to help raise their tuition costs?

And, more importantly, what is he going to do for their younger siblings still attending elementary and high school?

ACHIEVE appears to be nothing more than a good old fashioned chicken in every pot election ploy. Pawlentys got a long way to go before he earns the title of Minnesotas Education Governor.

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