Legislative gridlock means fewer High Fives in SW

A legislative stalemate between the Republican-led House of Representatives and DFL-controlled Senate means three of six Southwest schools will lose the popular High Five prekindergarten program for 2004-05.

Minneapolis Public Schools officials announced May 19 that half-day High Five sessions would be canceled at Armatage Community School, 2501 W. 56th St.; Kenny Community School, 5720 Emerson Ave. S.; and Bryn Mawr School, 252 Upton Ave. S. On May 25, district officials said they would probably save three of 11 closed programs but did not specify if Armatage, Kenny or Byrn Mawr would be among them.

High Five will still be offered at Lyndale School, 312 W. 34th St.; Whittier Community School for the Arts, 2620 Grand Ave. S.; and Jefferson School, 1200 W. 26th St.

The 14-year-old High Five program has educated 600 Minneapolis prekindergarteners annually who turn 5 between Sept. 1 (the kindergarten enrollment cut-off date) and Dec. 31. Minneapolis education officials credit High Five for preparing many low-income students for kindergarten, even though it is available to families of any income.

The state Department of Education ruled in December that Minneapolis could not spend state aid on High Five because it is not a kindergarten-through-12th-grade program. Education Department officials said it would cost Minnesota $150 million if other districts were allowed to spend funds on a High Five-type program.

Minneapolis officials plan to fund the smaller version of the program with $750,000 in school readiness dollars. It limited High Five to schools with the highest percentage of kids in poverty.

Canceling High Five at Armatage and Kenny would free up classrooms and make it easier to merge those schools. District officials announced such a merger plan then retracted it earlier this year. The district plans to close or merge schools before the 2005-06 school year.

Minneapolis Public Schools lobbyist Jim Grathwol said that the governor, the House and the Senate all agreed to fund the city’s High Five program, but it became a casualty legislative gridlock between the Republican-led House and DFL-controlled Senate. "It would have been funded if things hadn’t broken down," Grathwol said. "If Gov. Tim Pawlenty calls a special session, it would be our ardent desire to see the program reinstated."

Grathwol has an uphill fight if post-session comments from Republic Senate Minority Leader Dick Day are any indication. After Senate DFLers rejected State Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke on the 2004 session’s final morning, Day claimed they had sabotaged needed education reform. "Minneapolis Schools suck and everyone knows it," Day told reporters.

Grathwol, whose job is to protect the interests of the state’s largest school district at the Capitol, was nothing if not diplomatic about the Owatonna Republican’s barb. "Certainly, it was at 5 a.m. at the end of a frustrating session, and he had lost patience," Grathwol said. "I’m not sure he was educated in Minnesota, but if he was, I am sure his teachers are not proud."

According to Grathwol, who lives in Tangletown and has children in the Minneapolis schools, "It is part and parcel of the attitude that many Republicans have in that they are interested in the talking points and not the facts, and often the two do not coincide."

For example, while Day’s hometown 8th-graders scored an impressive 643 in math and 646 in reading out of a possible 780 on 2004 state standardized tests, they were outperformed by students at Lake Harriet Community School, 4912 Vincent Ave. S. (673 math, 674 reading) and kids at Barton Open, 4237 Colfax Ave. S. (645 math, 662 reading). Thirty percent of Barton’s students are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, compared to Owatonna’s 18 percent.

Eighth graders at Anwatin Middle School, 256 Upton Ave. S.; Anthony Middle School, 5757 Irving Ave. S.; and Ramsey Fine Arts, 1 W. 49th, finished within 17, 24 and 16 points of Owatonna students, respectively, in reading, though 51, 49 and 54 percent of their kids qualify for subsidized lunches.

Grathwol, now in his seventh year at the job, said the legislative stalemate meant only one new education policy passed: standards for science and social studies.

He said science standards were based on national models; however, the national social studies model was consciously thrown out by a select group of citizens chosen by Yecke, who had philosophical objections to them.

"I think it is fair to say the standards reflected the make-up of the group that put them together," Grathwol said. "The participants of that committee didn’t include a diverse group outlook; it represented a racially and ethnically homogenous group which didn’t represent urban education."

The final social studies standards were passed after Senate DFLers and House Republicans agreed to a compromise.