Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, said Friday it will air ads online and on television beginning Saturday urging legislators to allocate more funding so that school districts can properly evaluate teachers.
The union, which represents 70,000 educators in the state, said that if properly funded, the requirements under a 2011 teacher development and evaluation law would lead to improved teaching quality.
Airing for the next month, the ad features teachers at the Plainview-Elgin-Millville Community Schools, a district which was recently awarded a $90,000 grant from the National Education Association, a national teachers union.
Union officials have said that without adequate long-term funding, evaluation programs implemented in local school districts will be less effective in the long run.
"This is the first time Minnesota has had serious discussions about how to improve the quality of every teacher, every year," said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht in a statement. "We need to do this right."
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey is the star of a new statewide TV ad, funded by the party, that demands Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers return the entire $1.9 billion budget surplus to taxpayers.
"What would you do with an extra $350?" Downey says in the ad that debuted Tuesday. That's the amount each Minnesotan would get if the surplus were to be divided equally, Downey said.
But that message doesn't square with numerous spending proposals from leading Republican lawmakers in the House majority, who have talked about using part of the surplus to pay for road and bridge repair, to increase state spending on long-term care for senior citizens, to boost aid to schools and local governments and other proposals.
"I don't think anybody's talking about giving it back in the sense of giving people checks," said Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, the House budget chief. He said Republicans would propose significant tax relief, but that it would be more targeted.
The House GOP also still intends to spend at least $200 million from the surplus on roads and bridges, Knoblach said; he said other spending proposals also remain under consideration by GOP leadership.
In addition to pressuring GOP House members who might not want to return the entire surplus, the party's spending on the campaign -- which Downey described as being in the six figures -- comes even amid new signs that its longterm debt problems are not yet resolved. Last week, several national Republican media firms publicly aired anger towards Downey over nearly $300,000 in unpaid bills owed them by the party for work prior to last November's election.
"I'm puzzled that they're spending on that rather than focusing on getting us out of the red," said Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, a former vice chairwoman of the party. At the end of January, the party still had $1.47 million in total unpaid debts.
The full ad can be seen here.
(This post has been updated.)
A Republican-allied national political consulting firm is demanding the Minnesota Republican Party pay back more than $200,000 in overdue bills related to last year's election.
"We did work on behalf of the party," Peter Valcarce, founder and chairman of Salt Lake City-based Arena Communications, wrote in an email to state GOP Chairman Keith Downey. "That work was performed based upon the good faith belief that monies which had been deposited and budgeted for party mail in support of Mike McFadden and Stewart Mills would be promptly paid to us."
Valcarce, who sent the email last Monday, confirmed its legitimacy in a phone call. Valcarce said Monday that Downey responded by promising to deliver a repayment plan by the end of the day this Monday.
In an interview, Downey said the state GOP has paid up "about 80 percent of the vendor invoices" related to the 2014 campaign. "We're confident everyone is going to be paid everything they're owed," he said.
In all, Downey said, the party has covered 90 percent of campaign 2014 costs. Of those vendors waiting to be paid, he said, about 20 percent of the total payment has yet to be made.
A major focus of Downey's chairmanship of the state party has been to restore financial stability to a party that teetered near bankruptcy in recent years. He is running for a second two-year term as state party chairman at a party gathering on April 11.
"We're on a sound financial footing," Downey said.
Valcarce's email to Downey carries an angry tone at times. "Claims that 'financial obligations have been met' and the like speak volumes." He later wrote: "We will continue to explore all options regarding recovering the monies owed to us."
In the phone interview, Valcarce called the situation unusual.
"It's the first time I've taken a step like this with a state party in the almost 20 years I've been in business," he said.
Downey downplayed the significance of the overdue bills, and the harsh tone by fellow Republican political operatives. "Vendor communications are typically in private rather than public," he said.
(This post has been updated)
The issue that already divided Democrats at Minnesota's Capitol -- Gov. Mark Dayton's pay raises for his cabinet -- split Republicans on Thursday too, with the Senate GOP strongly against the deal struck between Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt to resolve the dispute.
The Senate narrowly approved the compromise Thursday, in a 35-29 vote that saw the chamber's Republicans in uniform opposition. A few hours later the House approved the bill much more widely, 108-20, with almost no debate.
The bill now heads to Dayton, who said he would sign it.
The lively Senate debate put majority Democrats in the position of defending Dayton and Daudt's deal, which put Dayton's $900,000 in pay raises to 30 state commissioners on hold and restores legislative oversight of future salary hikes, but gives Dayton a one-day window on July 1 to restore the raises.
"We are not stopping these increases. These increases will still go into effect," said Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville. Dayton would not say earlier Thursday whether he intends to restore the raises.
Dayton and Daudt negotiated the deal after Dayton's public falling-out with Senate DFL Leader Tom Bakk over the issue. Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, stressed that point repeatedly as a succession of Republicans bashed the compromise, and suggested it would be a political liability for Democrats in 2016.
Minnesota Action Network, a right-leaning political group founded by former Sen. Norm Coleman, already circulated campaign-style literature targeting DFL Sen. Melisa Franzen of Edina over the pay raise issue. She's a likely target of Republicans hoping to pick up swing district seats in 2016.
But the support from most House Republicans could defang it as a winning political issue for Republicans. "I want to thank Speaker Daudt personally. He has said we're not going to politicize these issues of commissioner pay for the rest of the session," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Few DFL senators spoke in favor of the raises, though Cohen called them defensible. "State government has lost significant folks of high competence and high quality," he said.
The pay issue got attached to a stopgap spending bill that includes about $16 million in emergency money for a handful of state agencies and operations.
Via colleague Glenn Howatt: Gov. Mark Dayton outraised and outspent GOP nominee Jeff Johnson, but Johnson had a bigger push in the last days of the campaign, according to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Here are the overview numbers for the governor's race: Dayton raised about $3.389 million and spent $3.471 million. He raised about $209,000 after Oct. 21 through the end of the year and spent about $513,000.
Johnson raised nearly $2.5 million and spent about the same. He raised $263,000 in the stretch, after Oct. 21 and spent about $663,000.
Dayton raised $4,643 per day and spent $4,754. Johnson raised $4,096 and spent $4,075 per day.
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