Governor hopefuls differ on Minn. school money pieST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer detailed his plan for Minnesota education on Friday, saying he would hold school spending steady while waiting to pay back $1.4 billion in aid the state previously deferred.
By: BRIAN BAKST,Associated Press Writer, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer detailed his plan for Minnesota education on Friday, saying he would hold school spending steady while waiting to pay back $1.4 billion in aid the state previously deferred.
The state legislator from Delano timed the release of his proposal to an education-focused debate where Emmer, Democrat Mark Dayton and the Independence Party's Tom Horner disagreed over the role of money in improving student achievement. School spending consumes the largest share of Minnesota's budget, which is projected to run a massive deficit.
Emmer said his first two-year budget would include $13.3 billion in general education spending. That's the amount Minnesota is spending now. State finance officials project the state's share of classroom costs will rise to $14.3 billion for the next two years without changes.
Emmer said while the overall state pot of money for general classroom costs would remain constant if he is governor, districts shouldn't expect it will be spread around in the same way. During the Association of Metropolitan School District debate, Emmer said the focus can't just be on the school balance sheet.
"Money is not the only answer," he said. "It's also how we deliver. how we measure our progress, how we set our goals."
Emmer's plan includes an unspecified call to reduce state requirements on how money is spent; he said details on which obligations he would lift would come later. He also said he would redirect childcare program money to kindergarten readiness programs.
Dayton, a former senator, has vowed to boost state spending on schools every year. "No excuses, no exceptions," he said.
"Those who think you can do it with less money should be the first one to go in and take over a school and be responsible for actually proving it's possible to maintain the quality of standards that we have," Dayton amplified later in the debate.
Horner, a former public relations executive, said too much time is spent at the Capitol arguing over "how much" for schools and not enough on "what for."
"I don't believe that 'state priority' and 'open checkbook' are synonymous terms," Horner said.
Emmer said his proposal would hold schools harmless, but some of those in the room weren't swayed.
Scott Croonquist, head of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said pledges that schools will be protected from cuts aren't always as ironclad as they sound. He said keeping funding flat discounts the inflationary costs for payroll, vendor contracts, energy bills and other school expenses.
In Emmer's plan, the $1.4 billion in school aid delays used to balance the current budget wouldn't be paid back during his first two years. He says repayment would start in fiscal year 2014, the second budget period for the next governor.
Horner has also said he would put off repayment, although he has said that the state should cover interest costs if school districts need to borrow to pay their bills in a timely way.
Dayton said he would catch up on $1.4 billion in school payments as part of his first budget. He is banking on billions from new income taxes on top earners, but his budget plan doesn't fully bridge the expected $5.8 billion shortfall or account for new spending he has proposed.
Elk River superintendent Mark Bezek oversees a $120 million budget and a district with 13,000 students and 20 buildings. He said the district northwest of Minneapolis is bracing for cutbacks in state aid next year and isn't optimistic money previously withheld will show up anytime soon.
"I'll believe it when I see it. I think it's further out on the horizon," Bezek said. "The state has to get its nuts and bolts together first."