Governor's, Legislature's education priorities far apart
Minnesota Gove. Mark Dayton recently proposed a $711 million increase in education spending in 2017, including more than $900,000 in new spending for the Lake Superior School District, but the governor and the budgets proposed by the Minnesota Legislature remain far apart with less than seven weeks remaining in the session.
The Minnesota Senate budget proposed $300 million in new spending and the House proposed $271 million in additional education spending statewide. A press release from the governor's office said the Legislature's budgets would increase spending "far less than is necessary" to increase basic education funding formula by 2 percent in each year of the biennium, about $371 million, to keep up with the costs of inflation and student growth.
"There's a growth that happens either because we have more kids or because it just costs more money to heat the buildings, keep them clean and pay for our great teachers," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said. "The governor's increase would contribute to the overall cost of our great education system. In addition, it also provides some increases for special education programs which have become a really expensive part of local school districts' costs."
More than $400,000 of the funding for LSSD and $175 million of the governor's total requested increase is dedicated to expanding preschool access for Minnesota children. Dayton and Smith secured a $25 million investment that allowed 74 districts to expand preschool programs for families, but more than twice that number applied for the funding. Smith said the preschool expansion has been very successful throughout the state and the program has helped working parents save time and money by providing convenient and free preschool programs.
"Schools like it, parents like it, teachers like it and kids love it. It is preparing them to be ready for kindergarten," she said. "We think that this is such an important thing to do and that it is something that all of our kids ought to have the opportunity to participate in... Whether you come from a rich family or a poor family or somewhere in between, every child benefits from the experience of being in a good quality preschool so that when they get to kindergarten they don't feel lost and confused and they know what to do."
Smith said the three education spending requests are the result of different budget priorities. Minnesota currently has a surplus of more than $1 billion, but the Senate and House focus is on tax cuts.
"There is a very different set of priorities between the governor's budget and Senate and the House because they are putting much more money into tax cuts, mostly for big companies and for wealthy people," she said. "In general it's nice to cut taxes, but I think and the governor thinks that we would be better served to make that investment in our kids and helping our schools do well."
Smith also pointed out cost increases faced by schools don't just disappear if the state can't or refuses to pay for the increases. The burden then falls on local taxpayers through local property tax increases. While there is a large gulf between the governor and the Legislature, Smith believes the sides can negotiate and through some give and take, the sides can come to some sort of compromise that benefits both taxpayers and Minnesota children. Smith and Dayton remain committed to investing in schools and expanding preschool programming throughout the state and prioritizing students over tax cuts.
"Frankly, we think if we have this surplus, we shouldn't be spending more giving tax cuts to big corporations and rich people," Smith said. "There's nothing wrong with tax cuts, but we shouldn't be spending more doing that than we are on the education of our kids."