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Letter: Raising level of education benefits whole economy

The Minnesota Senate and House have recently taken up the task of raising taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans and allocating additional state funds for education, including higher education. Several general points about funding for Bemidji State ...

The Minnesota Senate and House have recently taken up the task of raising taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans and allocating additional state funds for education, including higher education. Several general points about funding for Bemidji State University appear quite clear:

1. BSU's fiscal health will impact directly on the economic and cultural well-being of Bemidji and Beltrami County.

2. The State's neglect of MnSCU funding in recent biennia has forced MnSCU schools to raise tuition substantially just to keep pace with inflation.

3. Within the MnSCU system, funding formulas tend to favor growing metropolitan schools to the disadvantage of schools like BSU in the more rural areas of the state.

Over the last 25 years or so, the conservatives have nearly convinced people that the benefits of an education mainly go to the individual who receives it. This philosophy justifies an approach to public policy by which the state places an ever-greater burden on the individual student to pay for an education because it is that student who derives the benefit. At the same time, the state reduces its support for education in reliance on the notion that public funding for higher education provides a private rather than a common benefit. As with so many of the conservatives' public policies, this one ignores the facts. States (and regions) with more highly educated populations have higher incomes.

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Raising the general level of education benefits the whole economy and not just the individual degree holder.

It is time to re-establish the notion that higher education contributes to the common good. For that reason, the state should increase its investment in higher education as aggressively as possible. Gov. Pawlenty, who has made frequent promises to support rural Minnesota, is expected to veto the proposed tax increases and increased education funding. Residents of Bemidji and the rest of rural Minnesota need to remind our lawmakers that they represent all of the state, not just the residents of Hennepin County.

It is time for the Legislature to reaffirm its commitment to statewide higher education, and it is time for the governor to be held accountable for his promises.

Marsha B. Driscoll

Psychologist and Assistant Professor

Bemidji State University

Bemidji

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