With about three weeks left in the session, Minnesota’s House and Senate are miles apart on education spending.
Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL-majority Senate would spend twice as much as the $55 million proposed by the GOP House. And the Republican plan would move current funding around without seeking new dollars, while DFLers would draw from the state’s nearly $1 billion surplus to help channel additional funds to education.
Legislators should meet somewhere in the middle. The Legislature should allocate more for higher education and preschool, but the K-12 proposal from Dayton and the Senate is too rich. The K-12 system already received 2-percent-a-year increases for the current biennium.
After Dayton proposed spending the lion’s share of the surplus on early-childhood education, racial disparities, rural broadband, mental health, targeted tax cuts and higher education, the House Republican majority offered its own proposal: Spend all $900 million on tax cuts and transportation.
Early this week, House members approved a GOP-led proposed budget for schools and state colleges and universities that does not spend any new money in the current two-year budget cycle. Instead, the $55 million needed to fund their proposals would come from redirecting existing dollars and faster repayment of state loans by some school districts.
It’s wise to consider some reallocation and faster loan repayments. Lawmakers also could look to bonding for some additional education funding — if they can agree on a bonding bill.
Senate DFLers would spend a combined $96 million for both K-12 schools and state colleges and universities. The Senate plan tracks closely with Dayton’s proposal to spend $700 million of the surplus. Senate DFLers are following the governor’s lead by proposing $91 million to address the state’s troubling racial economic disparities.
On April 10, the Star Tribune Editorial Board made its proposal for state spending. Included on our list was $25 million in one-time funding of a grant program for preschool development in underserved neighborhoods; $18 million for a one-time expansion of youth and adult job training opportunities for low-income Minnesotans, and $10 million for matching grants to spur minority-owned business start-ups in distressed neighborhoods.
We said that those amounts represent pilot payments and recommended that lawmakers take a close look at racial equity during the major budget session in 2017. Still, portions of whatever is allocated this year toward addressing disparities could also be helpful to K-12 students and families.
Ultimately, lawmakers should land on limited increases to K-12 this session, in favor of modest hikes for preschool and higher education.