With his remaining time in office fast running out – not to mention the time left this legislative session – Governor Dayton has taken to the road to push through $138 million in education funding worth an extra 2 percent per pupil.
The governor is appealing to the GOP-led Legislature to cut back on its planned tax cuts – funded by the state budget surplus – and instead pump the money into the dozens of school districts facing serious budget shortfalls.
It comes after the Association of Metropolitan School Districts revealed that 26 Twin Cities districts face a $108 million budget shortfall in the upcoming 2018-19 school year, with many likely to cut teacher and staff jobs to balance the books.
A further 33 school districts outside the Twin Cities are also facing budget deficits.
Dayton is visiting schools this week, including those in Lakeville, Rochester, St. Cloud and Marshall, as he tries to exert pressure on Republican leaders over the budget shortfalls.
On Tuesday he penned an open letter to the people of Minnesota in which he warned: "If those deficits are not resolved, further layoffs will proceed, and our students will suffer – with crowded classrooms, cuts to their curriculums, and more."
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He blames the shortfall on underinvestment in education under former Governor Tim Pawlenty, under whose tenure Dayton claims education funding declined by $2,000 per student.
The $2 billion extra he's invested since becoming governor in 2011 "only restored only half of what Minnesota schools lost in the previous decade," he argues.
What do Republicans say?
It's not looking particularly likely that Dayton will get what he desires ahead of the end of the legislative session on May 21.
Republicans at the State Capitol have identified multiple reasons why Dayton's funding proposal shouldn't go forward.
Sen. Carla Nelson (R–Rochester) says the funding shortfall is the fault of the school districts, who have "not been realistic about how much they can afford to pay their employees, and have entered into union contracts that are squeezing classroom budgets."
Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus, told the Star Tribune that committing one-off funding would put schools in an "impossible position" with budgeting, and planning for when the money runs out.
He also argues districts are facing deficits because of declining enrollment or teacher pay raises.
Rep. Jenifer Loon (R–Eden Prairie), told the Pioneer Press that she's unsure if there's enough surplus to even cover Dayton's funding plan.
She suggests instead loosening restrictions to allow more schools to access their community education funds.