The 2015 legislative session should be remembered as one where Republicans and Democrats worked together to find solutions for the problems facing Minnesotans.
Both sides collaborated to craft legislation that benefits middle-class families, taxpayers and people from Ely to Edina. No one side got everything they wanted, but in compromise you never do. This was about the bigger picture and balancing the priorities of everyone for the well-being and prosperity of our state.
As our budget bills moved through the legislative process after a bipartisan agreement was struck, education received the most publicity. We worked with Gov. Mark Dayton until the last minutes of the session trying to reach an agreement with him, because this is about our children, our schools and ensuring that every child, regardless of ZIP code, has access to a world-class education.
However, the governor’s refusal to move away from universal prekindergarten this session — despite the plan’s failure to be adopted by either body in the Legislature and despite a number of immediate logistical problems for our schools — made us unable to dissuade him from a veto. While we understand and appreciate the governor’s well-intentioned goal, schools across the state have expressed serious concerns about the proposal.
In multiple hearings on early learning, including universal pre-K, no compelling case was made for the governor’s plan, and most testimony supported additional funding for our current, multi-approach, balanced system.
School districts in communities statewide have shared that fulfilling the requirements and expectations of even half-day pre-K for every 4-year-old would be costly and difficult. First, with all-day kindergarten having just been implemented in Minnesota, there are limited resources in facilities, classroom space and transportation. Furthermore, the cost to school districts to recruit and contract licensed early-education teachers as well as maintain mandatory class size and staff-to-student ratios could be extremely expensive. In addition, it would require billions of taxpayer dollars in future budgets for the programs.
We understand the governor’s goal of providing our littlest learners with a great education, and that’s why we funded established initiatives to help close the achievement gap before children reach kindergarten. His plan, however, would essentially abandon the scholarship model and locally developed programs that are already working to prepare low-income and at-risk students for future academic success.
While the governor claims his plan is voluntary, it repeals school-readiness dollars for any school that does not implement his specific structure, leaving the schools with his plan or an unfunded local program.
Providing a top-quality education for Minnesota students is of vital importance to the health of our state and the future of our children. That’s why our education bill places $400 million in new money into education and dedicates $60 million more for pre-K initiatives for low-income kids, including early-learning scholarships and school-readiness aid. It increases general education funding for our school districts by 1.5 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017, a boost of $205 per pupil, significantly higher than the E-12 budget proposal from Gov. Dayton and the Senate DFL.
This education bill was formulated as a compromise in which both sides moved away from their original legislation. In fact, the $400 million increase is more than either the Senate or House had in their original E-12 budget targets. House Republicans moved about 70 percent of the way to the governor’s original plan. As a result, the legislation earned overwhelming bipartisan support, with 123 legislators from both parties voting in support and just 73 voting in opposition.
Minnesotans asked state leaders to do three things this year: pass a comprehensive, responsible budget that funds shared priorities, work across the aisle to get things done and end the legislative session on time. We are proud to say we accomplished these goals.
With the governor’s veto of the education bill, he is ignoring all we invested in early education, the meaningful reforms to help attract more quality educators to our state, and the positive impact our bill will have on students and schools statewide.
This was a real, significant and bipartisan $17.109 billion investment in our youngest learners, Minnesota students and our public schools. We are disappointed that the governor is forcing a special session over an education bill that garnered strong support from both sides of the aisle.
Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is speaker of the Minnesota House. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is chair of the Education Finance Committee.