Mark Misukanis Education Mailer Completely Misleading

I guess I’ve taken it upon myself to call B.S. on local election lies this year.

Today’s misleading statement comes in an education-themed mailer from Republican Mark Misukanis, candidate for Minnesota State Senate District 52. He’s challenging Democrat Matt Klein for the seat formerly held by the late Jim Metzen.

Mark Misukanis education mailer attacking Matt Klein
An education-themed mailer from Mark Misukanis for Senate received on Oct. 25, 2016.

A portion of the mailer points to a lawsuit filed by the Partnership for Educational Justice against the state of Minnesota alleging that state laws are perpetuating Minnesota’s achievement gap. Misukanis’ mailer reads:

A lawsuit has been filed against the state for failing to support low-income students and provide them with a quality education.

How does Matt Klein as a School Board member answer Justina Perason [sic], a parent in the district suing the state for inadequate education?

Misukanis implies that ISD 197—the school district for West St. Paul, Eagan and Mendota Heights where Matt Klein is a school board member (full disclosure: where my children attend school)—has failed Justina Person’s kids.

However, it seems ISD 197 has been Person’s solution.

The Partnership for Educational Justice’s site describes the problems Person’s kids had in school, and then notes:

Feeling dejected and powerless, Justina transferred her son to a school in a different district where teachers have made it a priority to keep him engaged and make sure he is learning. Justina’s son now remains in class, excelling in areas where he struggled before. Since beginning at his new school, he has consistently made the honor roll.

The actual complaint document that Misukanis’ mailer cites actually says this (see page 8):

Indeed, [Person’s children] J.C. and D.C. transferred from the St. Paul Public Schools to the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area schools following experiences with ineffective teachers.

So the reason for the lawsuit is issues Person had in the St. Paul schools. ISD 197, where Matt Klein is a school board member, has been extremely beneficial to her son.

Oops. Didn’t mention that in the mailer. That’s misleading at best.

It’s also worth noting that this lawsuit challenges the entire state’s education laws. While specific districts are called out, the problem they are noting is at the state level, not something local school boards could change.

Matt Klein’s District Not Falling Behind

Misukanis’ mailer also points to the Minnesota Department of Education Report Card, which is a helpful site to compare school performance, to claim that Matt Klein’s “district as a whole fall short of its suburban neighbors.”

I’m not sure how he can make that claim. ISD 197 seems to be on par with its neighbors. We’re doing slightly better than Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul and Bloomington, and slightly worse than Apple Valley and the South Washington County School District (and way better than St. Paul, though they’re hardly a “suburban neighbor”).

I’m a proud supporter of ISD 197, so I’m biased. But I think this is an unfair smear on my district.

Achievement Gap

Now let’s be clear about something: Minnesota has a real problem with the achievement gap. My obsessive fact-checking here is not meant to dismiss this lawsuit or exonerate ISD 197. We rightly have work to do in Minnesota to better serve low income students and students of color.

And I think we’re making some progress.

But after making these challenges against Matt Klein, what solutions does Misukanis offer?

Mark Misukanis, a faculty member at Metropolitan State University, understands that our education system is failing low-income and Hispanic children. Mark will tackle the issues of student debt and the achievement gap head-on, seeking commonsense solutions to put opportunities within reach for every student.

How? What common-sense solutions? He offers nothing specific here. The K-12 education page on his site doesn’t address the achievement gap either.

How about Matt Klein?

In my work with the school board, our district has moved forward on a technology referendum and an early learning facility. Our students made gains in achievement over the last two years, but we still leave many of our children of poverty and color behind.

I know we can close the achievement gap. Continued investments in early learning and parent outreach are the foundation of these efforts, but a full solution requires us to provide a living income to working families.  Poverty is the greatest factor in the achievement gap; and the achievement gap is the greatest contributor to poverty. We can affect these issues best if we address them as one.

The achievement gap is not a simple issue, and I don’t expect a state senate candidate to have all the answers (or a great soundbyte). But if you’re going to attack your opponent on the issue, you better have something more than misleading claims and jargon non-solutions.

Update: Lawsuit Dismissed (Oct. 26, 2016)

The lawsuit Mark Misukanis references in his mailer has been dismissed by a Ramsey County judge.

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