Dayton prepares to veto education bill; defiant Daudt says 'it's not on Republicans'

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As the dust settles on a frantic end to budget negotiations, Minnesota lawmakers are now turning their attention to the education impasse that is forcing the legislature into special session.

Gov. Mark Dayton revealed Tuesday he intends to veto the $17 billion education bill approved Monday by Minnesota's House and Senate, as it only includes $400 million of extra spending from the state's $1.9 billion surplus, while he initially wanted $700 million.

He cited a lack of flexibility from the Republican-led House for the reason no accord was reached, a view supported by DFL House members.

But GOP leader Kurt Daudt remains defiant that Dayton had not done enough to gain bipartisan support for his plans.

In offering $400 million, Rep. Daudt told the Star Tribune, the GOP caucus had already compromised by offering $300 million more on education than they had originally intended.

The bone of contention throughout discussions has been Dayton's desire to fund free preschool for Minnesota's 4-year-olds, a program Daudt has said does not have broad support among Minnesota lawmakers.

"It's not on Republicans," Daudt told reporters Wednesday, noting the DFL-controlled Senate also approved the House plan.

However, Dayton argued the Senate only passed the scaled down education bill because lawmakers knew his plan for additional spending wouldn't get through the Republican House.

Deal nearly reached

Daudt says he remains hopeful a deal can be reached swiftly once the special session begins – probably next month – with the Associated Press reporting progress made in the final negotiating sessions on Monday should tee up an easier path to a compromise.

On Monday, a deal was almost reached when Dayton agreed to scrap his universal pre-K program and drop his spending demands to $525 million. Daudt offered $500 million – and negotiations ended there with as little as $25 million from a $41 billion budget between them.

In a press release issued Wednesday, House DFL Leader Paul Thissen accused the GOP of "failing to deliver results" this session, adding: "They have forced a special session by refusing to compromise with Gov. Dayton's priority to invest in a better education for Minnesota's youngest learners."

The GOP called on Gov. Dayton to apologize for remarks he made at a press conference Tuesday in which he stated some Republicans "hate public schools" – a remark Daudt called "outrageous," AP reports.

But at a news conference on Wednesday, Dayton says he will not apologize for the comments, saying instead Republican lawmakers should apologize to opposing free pre-K or his compromise on the bill.

What compromises will be made?

Being just $25 million apart should mean that a deal is close, right?

Well, the problem is that both sides want to do very different things with the money.

Dayton has already shown a willingness to mothball or water down his pre-K plan for this year, so you wouldn't think that would be included, but Dayton focused heavily on the Republicans' refusal to support his pre-K plan at a Wednesday news conference, suggesting it still has a role to play in future negotiations.

The Pioneer Press reports Daudt is not averse to offering more funding for education, but would prefer to see the money to go into the existing public school funding formula.

Under the budget Dayton has vowed to veto, the funding formula for K-12 spending is set to rise by 1.5 percent this year and 2 percent next year. Daudt proposed putting extra money to raise the first year total to 2 percent, which increases per-pupil funding across the state.

"That’s what school districts are asking for," he said on Wednesday. "That’s what school boards are asking for. That’s what parents are asking for. They want more money in every classroom, not a situation where we’re putting kind of underfunded mandates on school districts at a time when they’re already recovering from that."

But a lack of free preschool wasn't the only thing Dayton objected to in the education bill, as he was unhappy it also left out new funding for special education, school breakfasts, English learner programs, and the Head Start program for low-income families, MinnPost notes.

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