The 70 percent solution
The post notes that state support of K-12 education has, in fact, increased since 1985, even when adjusted for inflation:
"In 1985 state support per student was $1,755. Adjusting this figure to 2005 dollars, it would amount to $3,107. Rather than merely keeping up with inflation the state spent $3,419, a real 10 percent increase in state support of education since 1985."
The post then notes that by comparison, the individual districts' support per student has gone up much more dramatically since '85. So, the reason why the state's share of the total level of support has fallen is not that the state cut back. It's that even though the state boosted spending per student, the local districts did so more aggressively. The net result is that yes, the state's share of overall public-education spending has fallen -- but attibuting this to the Legislature's "stinginess" doesn't tell the whole story.
Then the post makes the logical inference that setting a "hard target" of 70 percent figure would be poor public policy, because it would license districts to spend money so freely. After all, each district would know that for every dollar it spent, the state would spend a little more than two. Not a bad racket.
And read the comments after the post for a great back-and-forth on teachers' salaries. Question: If a school district has enough applicants to fill its teacher vacancies, why would it even consider raising salaries?
I can answer that question, to some extent. The main reason why a district might raise salaries above the "market rate" would be to attract more and better applicants, not just those who are minimally qualified. Lots of people would accept minimum wage for the job of playing pro basketball. So why do teams pay millions of dollars above that "market rate"? Because the real "market rate" that the team owners are looking at is the one that yields a winning, not just a functional, team. That bids up the salaries of basketball superstars, and so yields the situation we have today.
In my view, it's in the public's interest to pay salaries that attract, say, dozens of applications for teacher vacancies, rather than only four or five (as happens in many rural North Dakota school districts these days). In any event, using this "number of applications" benchmark certainly is a better measure of the appropriateness of teachers' salaries than is the comparison to teachers' salaries in other states. Better from the taxpayers' point of view, at least.
Speaking of teachers and salaries, here's a ripe and unexplored area for comment: The differing roles of the teachers' unions in North Dakota and Minnesota. In Minnesota, the labor laws and teachers' right to strike gives the unions great power; in North Dakota, a "right to work" state, that power is moderated considerably. Which is one reason why teachers in East Grand Forks, Minn., pop. 7,500, get paid more than teachers in Grand Forks, N.D., pop. 52,000, I understand (and if I'm wrong about this, teachers, please let me know). Readers, any thoughts on and/or other examples of this difference in union clout?