ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton called for lawmakers Tuesday to set aside $138 million in emergency funding for public schools as districts across the state grapple with budget shortfalls that may lead to teacher cuts, larger class sizes and overall spending cuts.
Dayton unveiled his request for the one-time money as the Legislature heads toward a mandatory May 21 adjournment. The Democratic governor's proposal, spurred by media reports about possible school cutbacks and closures, would increase the state's per-pupil funding formula by 2 percent.
More than 26 school districts around the Twin Cities and 33 districts in greater Minnesota are struggling with budget shortfalls. Many school districts are considering staff and teacher layoffs to solve the deficits.
"It's not a Band-Aid," Dayton said of his proposal. "It's more of a tourniquet."
But Republicans who control the Legislature say the budget approved last year is already in place for schools.
Sen. Carla Nelson, a Rochester Republican who chairs the Senate Education committee, said the funding shortfalls "are not of the state's making."
"The truth is, some school districts have not been realistic how much they can afford to pay their employees, and have entered into union contracts that are squeezing classroom budgets," she said in a statement.
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius faulted state and federal funding for not keeping pace with rising employment and special education costs.
"We knew they were having emergencies, and we're acting as fast as we possibly can," she said. "Better late than wrong."
Lawmakers have been aware of difficulty with special education costs statewide, and the Senate had been planning to study the issue after the session.
Republicans have already started assembling their budgets, as well as their response to sweeping federal tax changes approved last year. Both House and Senate tax bills include tax cuts for Minnesotans.
Dayton said it would be wrong for lawmakers to consider tax cuts as schools are facing "such severe operating deficits."
Rep. Jenifer Loon, an Eden Prairie Republican who chairs a House education committee, said she's unsure if there's enough surplus money to cover Dayton's proposal. She said the Legislature could instead loosen restrictions to allow schools to tap into their community education funds, which include recreation and early education programs.
"If that's something the governor wants to entertain, we can have those discussions," Loon said.