New Mpls. Billboard on Education Spending Sparks Controversy

Updated: 07/02/2014 7:44 AM
Created: 07/01/2014 9:00 PM
By: Beth McDonough

A new billboard popped up in Minneapolis this week. It's big, it's bold and it's controversial -- which is the point.

An education reform group called "Better-Ed" put up the billboard in a very public place. While it's meant to get attention, it's also drawing criticism.

The massive billboard can be seen from blocks away along West Broadway in North Minneapolis. It was intentionally installed right across from the Minneapolis School District Headquarters.

It made Nicholas McClenon, a senior at Washburn High School, do a double-take.

"It makes a statement," he said. "I honestly believe the schools can do more for the students than they're doing."

The message spells out how much Minneapolis spends per student and points out the district's low graduation rate. Better-Ed, a non-profit, bankrolled the billboard.

"We should care about the kids in the district," Devin Foley said. "When barely half are graduating each year, that has serious implications, for not only those kids, but the lives of Minnesotans as a whole."

Minneapolis spends just under $21,000 per student; the overall graduation rate is 50 percent. Compare that to St. Paul or Edina, which have lower per-pupil expenses, but higher graduation rates. 

The state average is $13,000 with an 80 percent graduation rate. 

The school district has a message of its own: Touting the problem without offering solutions is not helpful.

Dr. Gary Amoroso helps the 330 districts in the state tackle the achievement gap.

"It's very easy to take shots at organizations or individuals," he said. "It's more challenging at times to say. 'Let's sit down, let's work together.'"

More billboards are going up around the Twin Cities metro area in coming weeks.

McClenon says that while some of his friends dropped out, he's set to graduate in May 2015.  He plans to go to college.

Minneapolis/St. Paul

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