I spend a lot of time in the Minneapolis public schools. Each year I visit every ninth grade to get students to think about their future. I read to third-graders about the importance of going to college. I talk to kids at football games, art shows and concerts.
Each time I step into a school I see endless opportunity. Our students today represent the most valuable generation our city has ever raised, and each of us has a vested interest in helping them succeed. This is why I urge all who care about the future of our city and state to support the Strong Schools Strong City referendum in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis students speak 100 languages, come from around the world and cross cultural barriers every day. When you think of what we face in the coming decades -- an increasingly global economy in which markets and competition are created by more diverse people -- it's clear that today's students are the key to our future economic competitiveness.
Money alone does not make better schools. Investments in our schools must be matched with reform and improved accountability to results. I have not always been confident that Minneapolis schools were headed in the right direction; I am today. We have a superintendent, a staff and a school board who have a visionary plan for school reform and the guts to make it happen.
School district leadership has undertaken an ambitious -- and badly needed -- reform-minded strategic plan to aggressively improve our schools. The district has already made $150 million in cuts over the past seven years, and new measures are in place to strengthen transparency and accountability.
The Minneapolis school referendum would provide $60 million per year to fund essential needs that have suffered due to decreased state funding of our schools, including:
•Improved early reading skills, so every child is reading at grade level by third grade.
•Enhanced math and science programs, so every child is ready for algebra by eighth grade.
•Up-to-date technology and textbooks, so every child has the learning materials needed to succeed.
•Better-managed class sizes in a renewal of the 2000 referendum.
According to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, state funding for education has grown at half the rate of inflation for the past 17 years. Each year, school districts across the state have fewer and fewer resources to serve a more diverse and challenging need.
The role of investing in public education has shifted to local communities. Fewer than half of the school districts in Minnesota required local levies to support operations in 1990. Today, more than 90 percent of school districts around the state rely on property-tax levies for essential operations.
While the state of Minnesota needs to better fulfill its obligation to prepare our young people to succeed, Minneapolis must do what it can to ensure that our kids get and stay ahead of the curve.
As a city at the center of the creative economy, Minneapolis cannot compete without continued investments in our youth and our schools. If we get this right, we will be laying the groundwork for an entire generation to succeed at a time that we need it most. The future of our youth, and our region, is at stake. Please do your part to keep our city moving forward with your vote.
R.T. Rybak is mayor of Minneapolis.