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Letter: DFL has made strides on education funding

On July 15 you published a letter from Albert Henning. Responding to Mr. Henning's letter requires a bit of history.

When the last legislative biennium began, legislators were confronted with education funding problems that were the fruits of Gov. Pawlenty and former Republican Speaker Sviggum's 2003 budget decisions and tax philosophy. As a first step toward correcting the problems, the 2007 legislature passed a funding bill that invested $13.8 billion in education, an 8.2% increase over the previous biennium. Rod Hamilton voted against the funding, but thankfully it passed.

In 2008, the DFL leadership in the House again went to work on education funding. Despite poor economic forecasts and a recommendation by Pawlenty for no education increases, they provided nearly $50 million in new state aid to schools.

The successes of the last two legislative sessions were the result of leaders working across partisan and regional divides. Mr. Henning accused "metro liberals" of taking care of their own districts and forgetting rural Minnesota. Funding disparities do exist between school districts; many rural districts receive less state money than center metro districts, but we receive more than many suburban districts. Rod Hamilton had a chance to reduce this funding disparity by voting for the 2007 education bill -- which included provisions to do that -- but he didn't.

The legislature's progress on school funding is incomplete. The problems facing our schools proved to be too large to be solved in one biennium, and challenges remain for the next session. This is one of the reasons I want to be your state legislator. However, the new Democratic leadership made progress. Not so much that they can crow about it, but the last sessions were steps in the right direction.

The long-term goal for the legislature must be stable education funding that is equitable and adequate, with less reliance on property taxes. Pawlenty's philosophy of relying on property taxes for school funding will eventually create low quality schools in small or poor school districts, while wealthier districts will be able to offer the first-class education all students deserve. But that would be inconsistent with American values.

In my last letter, I admitted to a cynicism about political spin. Too often spin is a means of avoiding truth. A healthy cynicism keeps you from na?vely accepting political propaganda. I am, at heart, an optimist. I know if we do the right thing our schools will be the best in the nation. But this bright future is hampered by a cynical form of political discourse that divides Minnesotans by party and region. Each party blames the other party, or rural folks blame metro folks, or metro blame rural. Blaming provides an excuse for not getting things done. It's becoming the method of politics in Minnesota, and it's a bad trend. It's one of the things I want to change at the Capital.