It seems that Gov. Mark Dayton is the only one left at the Capitol who is unwilling to make repaying money owed to our schools a top priority this session. In fact, it seems he is more interested in making empty promises to the kids of Minnesota while refusing to fund our existing obligations to them.
Republicans authored a bill (HF134) to fully pay the $1.1 billion we still owe our schools. The first bill House Democrats introduced (HF1) would pay back about half of that debt. In a show of bipartisanship, Republicans have urged Democrats to fast-track that bill.
The Minnesota electorate clearly does not want half-measures or gimmicks in the new biennial budget, but that is exactly what the governor’s new budget proposal includes. His plan sticks our schools with an IOU until 2017. As a result of his unwillingness to act now, Dayton will add $151 million to the overall cost of repaying this debt.
So where are the governor’s priorities? He is proposing a historic $3.7 billion in new taxes, but he puts only $344 million of that increased revenue (roughly 9 percent) into early education and K-12, all while continuing to withhold money we already owe our schools. He led a chorus that criticized the use of previous shifts, but now calls his own budget plan visionary.
The budget enacted by Republicans in 2011 increased the education budget by $675 million, with about $194 million in new spending. We added $100 per student to the K-12 formula in 2011. Republicans made almost twice the commitment the governor is proposing with his $52 increase to the per-pupil formula, and we asked for key reforms in return.
Republicans also committed to making sure any increases in education dollars are dedicated to the area that makes the most impact on results — the classroom. It is our responsibility to ensure that we receive maximum results from the money our taxpayers commit to quality education in Minnesota.
Dayton’s proposal is rife with unfunded mandates and new bureaucracies, such as the creation of a new “school climate center” and new “regional centers” for the Department of Education. His plan does not address truly needed reforms, including facing our state’s growing funding inequities. The inequity issue was apparently deemed too complex to handle in this budget cycle. Perhaps most important, the governor’s plan fails to address Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gap.
There is a component of the governor’s budget that is a step in the right direction, however. He calls for $44 million to be dedicated to providing opportunity scholarships or “vouchers” that empower parents to send their kids to early childhood programs of their choice. We believe this sets a solid foundation for expanding school choice options to all Minnesota families.
Education advocates continue to indicate that we need to spend more money on our K-12 system. As the Dayton administration has asked us to consider “what are we buying?” the answer seems quite clear. We are buying yet more of the same.
Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, is a member of the Minnesota House.