With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

Posts about Democrats

Dayton pitches preschool money in classroom visit

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: March 20, 2015 - 10:50 AM

Crouching and sitting on a classroom floor, Gov. Mark Dayton mingled with four-year-olds Friday as he made a pitch for a hefty state spending increase for universal access to preschool in Minnesota. 

"You look like you're 65," observed one little boy. "Close. I'm 68," said Dayton, who interacted with kids for about 20 minutes as they sat in a group and later worked on iPads.

Dayton wants lawmakers to approve $348 million in new state spending so that every public school in the state could provide such classes. It's the biggest single general fund spending increase Dayton has proposed this year, and comprises about a fifth of the state's projected $1.9 billion budget surplus. 

The group of about 15 children in the pre-kindergarten class at Newport Elementary School were well-behaved despite an unusually large crowd of adults accompanying the governor -- aides and security, area state legislators, school district officials and reporters. Their teachers later said the good showing by the kids was a testament to the benefits of early learning. 

"We notice a huge difference between students who do pre-K and those who don't," said Brittany Vasecka, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the school. The classes are half-day and run five days a week. 

In all, 80 percent of students in the South Washington County district attend pre-kindergarten classes, district officials said. Under Dayton's proposal, both districts that already provide pre-kindergarten classes and those that don't would both be recipients of the money. 

"I don't think we should penalize the school districts that have made this commitment," Dayton said. 

But some education advocacy groups have jumped on that lack of a distinction. On Thursday, a business-backed nonprofit called Parent Aware for School Readiness released an analysis contending that about 70,000 low-income kids between birth and age 3 could have access to needed early learning programs if about $100 million less were to be spent on the universal preschool initiative.

In a news release, the group said that districts with high numbers of "wealthier families whose children are already likely to be ready for kindergarten" don't need the funding Dayton's proposal would provide. 

“That ought to be focused on younger children from low income families,” said Ericca Maas, executive director of the group. 

If Dayton and lawmakers were to make preschool access universal to four-year-olds, Maas said, “then next year all of us advocates will be back here saying, ‘what about the three-year-olds.’”

Dayton said he’d be open to more funding for even earlier learning programs. But he said diverting some money away from universal preschool access would run the risk of “pitting four-year-olds against three- and two-year-olds,” Dayton said. 

The DFL governor's preschool initiative is of a similiar character to one of his most-touted successes of his first term, when he and the DFL-led Legislature approved funding for universal all-day kindergarten. Dayton mentioned that success frequently during his successful re-election campaign last year. 

This year, Dayton must navigate the proposal through a GOP-led House, which has different priorities for both the budget surplus and in state management of schools. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and other Republicans, while calling universal preschool a worthy goal, have also suggested some means testing might be needed.

Dayton proposes $865 million in extra spending in $42-billion budget plan

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez Updated: March 17, 2015 - 2:53 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday proposed an additional $865 million in spending to be added to his $42-billion budget proposal, with much of the spending aimed at schools, young families and college students.

The revised budget comes after the state budget office estimated the budget surplus last month grew to $1.9 billion, nearly double the amount Dayton worked with when crafting his original budget blueprint in January. If adopted, Dayton's budget would represent about a 20 percent increase in state spending since he took office.

In his latest plan, Dayton proposed $25 million for nursing home workers, $10.3 million for Indian education on a per-pupil basis and $93 million for an expansion of the working-family and K-12 tax credits.

Arguing against permanent tax cuts or other one-time tax relief, Dayton said that the state should invest the surplus rather than give it back to taxpayers as some Republicans have called for.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey has proposed the state give back the entire surplus, while other GOP legislative leaders have called for other forms of tax relief in addition to spending some of the surplus.

"If we give it all back, then there's nothing left to invest in Minnesota," Dayton said Tuesday.

The DFL governor has dedicated most of the additional spending for schools and other education priorities, including universal access to preschool and tuition freezes for college students.

Calling the spending an investment, Dayton and DFL legislators supportive of his ambitious education agenda items say they will spur future economic growth and ­development. 

He also set aside $2.3 million for a fugitive apprehension division within the Department of Corrections, which will get more personnel under the revised budget plan.

The governor recommended $50 million for child protection task force recommendations, and is planning to restore $3.7 million in state dollars for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board as the agency moves ahead after a conflict over the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail project.

Dayton has also asked for $500,000 for a task force that will study the state health care exchange’s long-term viability, as well as other health care programs and policies. Recommendations would be due by next January. 

No vote by Senate education committee on teacher seniority bills but plenty of debate

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez Updated: March 12, 2015 - 2:03 PM

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday spent nearly three hours debating two measures, one already approved by the GOP-led House, that would require school districts consider performance, not only seniority, when forced to lay off teachers because of budget cuts. 

Over the course of the debate, parents, school board members, superintendents and even a neuroscience expert brought in by Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, gave lively testimony on the two pieces of legislation. 

Education Minnesota, which represents 70,000 teachers in the state, has vigorously opposed the legislation, arguing that it would undermine a recently implemented teacher evaluation law. The union's chief criticism is that it would kill collaboration among teachers and instead pit them against one another since peer reviews are a component of teacher evaluation requirements.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, sponsor of one the bills, is the only DFL legislator this session to support revising seniority rules for teachers, putting her at odds with most of the DFL party, which has argued against the proposed legislation.

Bonoff said she rejected that notion and said that teachers are more professional than that. She argued that most of school districts' teacher evaluations plans were designed with teacher input.

"This is not about keeping young people over old people," Bonoff said. It's about "serving students to the best of our ability...this issue is a matter of civil rights."

Josh Davis, a researcher with the NeuroLeadership Institute based in New York, testified that evaluation systems with rankings hurt morale and that teachers with low ratings would be distracted from their jobs.

"When there's any kind of threat [low evaluation rating] to our status... it's very hard to concentrate," he told the committee.

After debate ended, Senate Education Committee Chair Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said the bills would be laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus education bill. Bonoff said she hopes to include the legislation in final negotiations toward the end of the legislative session. 

For more testimony from this morning's hearing, check out the Star Tribune's live blog from the hearing here.

House File 2, which passed the lower legislative chamber on a 70-63 vote last week, would also would also make it easier for out-of-state teachers to become licensed in Minnesota, a process critics say is currently too cumbersome and requires the help of a lawyer to navigate.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, would require the state’s Board of Teaching to allow educators from neighboring states to transfer their license to Minnesota. The measure's sponsor in the House was Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie.

Dayton, Bakk meet for first time publicly after feud

Posted by: J. Patrick Coolican Updated: March 5, 2015 - 11:21 AM

Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL leaders who openly feuded last month over pay for Dayton's commissioners, appeared together publicly for the first time since the ruckus at a news conference today to push for transportation funding. 

Both Dayton and DFL Senators have proposed similar plans for a wholesale gas tax to fund $6 billion in road and bridge work plus more for transit improvements. 

Today's event sought to show the two sides united on transportation funding. Both Dayton and Bakk attacked House Republicans, who have said that in light of the budget surplus, a gas tax increase is unnecessary to fund transportation. 

Republicans and Democrats are far apart on road funding. 

Dayton said new revenue is a must: "I would urge House Republicans to come forward with a real proposal," he said, accusing Republicans of "sticking their head in the sand." Bakk said he would not agree to using general fund money for transportation, which Republicans have proposed, because of the risk of a recession and lower revenue that would force transportation to compete with education and other priorities in leaner budget times.  

House GOP Speaker Kurt Daudt issued a statement, saying Democrats had "doubled down on their unpopular plan to raise the gas tax and take more money out of the hands of hardworking Minnesotans."

All eyes in the crowded governor's press briefing room today were on Bakk and Dayton. Neither acknowledged the feud until a question was asked about it, after which the two put their arms around each other as if show reconciliation is at hand. 

Amid deep Homeland Security rancor, Minnesota delegation votes the same

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: March 3, 2015 - 7:55 PM

WASHINGTON -- There has been so much drama with funding the Department of Homeland Security that the effort basically sucked all the energy out of the last two weeks of Congress.

Yet, today, the divided Minnesota House delegation all voted the same: To support a "clean" bill to fund the Department through this September.

The three Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, John Kline and Erik Paulsen joined Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson in a yes vote.

Some Republicans last week disagreed with fully funding the Department because they didn't support -- or want to give money to -- enforcing President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. Obama's executive action prioritized deporting felons, not people working without papers and provided temporary stay in the U.S. for people who have been here more than five years and pass a background check.

Back and forth, the House and Senate squabbled about a so-called "clean" bill -- without restrictions to funds -- versus a bill that stripped money from immigration enforcement.

Emmer, who was elected to replace Rep. Michele Bachmann last November, notably criticized his Republican colleagues over the weekend after the Department came within about an hour of shutting down.

Rep. Nolan said after the vote: "I am pleased to see that one-third of the House Republicans supported this clean bill, and I hope that we can all continue to support full-long term funding measures in the future."

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