Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Parents group: Hike per pupil funding

ST. PAUL-Some untapped political muscle was being flexed Monday at the state Capitol. Parents, some with small children in tow, joined forces with a school lobbyist to push lawmakers to rethink how much of the state's $1.9 billion budget surplus ...

ST. PAUL-Some untapped political muscle was being flexed Monday at the state Capitol.

Parents, some with small children in tow, joined forces with a school lobbyist to push lawmakers to rethink how much of the state's $1.9 billion budget surplus they plan to spend on education.

Education advocate, Parents United for Public Schools, packed a room at the State Office Building on Monday morning with parents, students and teachers before they fanned out to Capitol offices to lean on lawmakers to increase the money planned for new education spending.

"Both the House and Senate budget targets are inadequate. Make no mistake, if either target is passed or even a compromise is made between the two, we will be cutting," said Ann Hobbie, a St. Paul schools parent. "Minnesota parents like me are tired of this cycle. We are tired of selling wrapping paper and holding raffles to fund basic needs."

Parents applauded the $695 million in new school spending proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton, but were careful not to praise how he wants to spend the money. Roughly half the new money would be spent on universal preschool, which school leaders worry will force them to build costly classrooms and hire more staff.


Hobbie delivered a letter to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, asking them to put a high priority on increasing the per pupil funding formula schools use for general operations.

"If not now, in a time of surplus, then when?" Hobbie wrote. "This is the question parents are asking?"

Lawmakers can expect to continue to hear from parents as they scramble to find common ground in the waning days of the legislative session. Education groups are urging parents to flood the inboxes and voicemails of their legislators.

"I think it gives a sense of the pent up frustrations people are feeling," said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. "Are we really, in the time of a $2 billion surplus, going to struggle to get an inflationary increase?"

Districts now get a base of $5,831 per student from the state, which education advocates say has not kept pace with rising inflationary costs. Minnesota spends about $8 billion every year on K-12 education.

Without at least a 2 percent per year increase, school leaders say they will be forced to cut staff and programs. In the metro, districts face a total of $99 million in shortfalls between revenue and anticipated spending, according to a recent survey.

Parents worry if lawmakers don't act, taxpayers will be asked to increase local levies to make up the difference.

Districts' largest expense is personnel and during the last round of union contract negotiations teachers received an average raises of 2 percent each of the past two years, not including the increases they receive for experience or education. School leaders are about to enter a new round of negotiations as two-year contracts are set to expire at the end of the school year.


Education committee chairs, State Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, and State Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, say they expect leadership to settle on larger budget targets in the coming days. The true test will come as Bakk, Daudt and Dayton work to agree to an education spending plan that includes something for everyone.

Dayton remains an ardent supporter of universal preschool and said he was recently convinced districts needed more funding for general operations. He's now suggesting a 1.5 percent per year increase.

"I've been persuaded my 1 percent was insufficient to avoid significant layoffs and that is not my intent," Dayton said. Asked how he'd find enough money to do both, the governor said: "Stay tuned."

Both parties have signaled support of more funding for school operations. Republicans also want policy reform, and DFLers have backed spending increases targeted at successful programs.

Wiger and Loon agree there is potential for a compromise on expanding preschool. Republicans prefer more scholarships while DFLers want to expand public programs.

"If we get the money, we can create a win-win that has a mix of opportunities to advance our state goal of more young people ready for kindergarten," Wiger said.

Yet Loon said Republicans would approach any increase in public school programs with caution.

"It's very expensive," Loon said of universal preschool. "Schools have said, we need money on the formula, not a new mandate."


Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.

Comparing the plans

Education funding proposal highlights before the Legislature.

Gov. Mark Dayton

-- $695 million new spending.

-- Universal preschool.

-- 1 percent per year increase to general funding, open to 1.5 percent a year.

-- Breakfast students in preschool to third-grade.


Republican-led House

-- $157 million new spending.

-- Expanded preschool scholarships.

-- 0.6 percent a year increase to funding formula.

-- More reading tutors.

DFL-led Senate

-- $365 million new spending.

-- Expanded preschool.


-- 1 percent per year on general funding formula.

-- New money for school facilities.

What To Read Next
Get Local