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Gov. Dayton says he wants $138 million in 'emergency' school funding after nearly 60 districts report shortfalls

Minnesota state Rep. Julie Sandsted of Hibbing says on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, that she supports a governor proposal to put an emergency investment into school districts around the state. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Lobbyist Gary Carlson of the League of Minnesota Cities examines a House tax proposal in paper and on his tablet Tuesday, May 1, 2018, just after it was released. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Senate Tax Chairman Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes talks to staffers Tuesday, May 1, 2018, before initial discussion of the Minnesota Senate tax proposal. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL—Gov. Mark Dayton said he read a couple of news stories over the weekend about unexpected financial shortfalls schools face, and on Tuesday, May 1, produced a request for $138 million in "emergency" funding.

He said that 59 districts face immediate budget deficits, and he wants to split the "emergency" money among all districts across the states.

Republicans who lead legislative education finance committees said they have done a good job of funding schools in recent years, and more funding likely will not come.

"The truth is, some school districts 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," Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said.

Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said she does not think the situation is an emergency, and there is not enough money in the state budget at any rate.

But Dayton said, "It would be terribly wrong for the Legislature and myself to spend the session's last three weeks discussing tax cuts ... while our schools are facing such severe operating deficits."

Rep. Julie Sandstede, D-Hibbing, backed the Dayton plan. "When investment in our classrooms doesn't keep up, this means real consequences for our kids. Being forced to do more with less is no longer doable for our educators."

Dayton said his budget proposal has enough money left unspent to fund the education needs.

He said at least 26 Twin Cities school districts are experiencing financial problems, with another 33 in greater Minnesota.

He and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the issue is just now arising as school boards are announcing that lack of money is forcing them to lay off employees.

"It has really just come to light," Dayton said.

"The realization hit me over the weekend," he added, after reading a couple of newspaper stories. "I probably should have recognized it earlier." Cassellius said money should go to all schools, not just the specific ones with problems, because other districts also need more money.

Senate unveils tax bill

Republicans in control of the Senate would use surplus money to lower taxes $168 million.

That is more than the $107 million cuts House Republicans propose.

The Senate plan would reduce the lowest tier of income taxes 25 percent, which would cut costs for all taxpayers, allowing Tax Chairman Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, to say on Tuesday, May 1, that 99.8 percent of all Minnesota taxpayers would pay less under his bill.

The other thing he emphasized is that state taxes would be simple, even with major changes in federal tax law on which Minnesota has based its tax program.

The main part of the bill, like ones in the House and a plan by Dayton, largely conforms to federal law so taxpayers do not have to fill out entirely different tax state and federal tax forms.

Chamberlain said 2.2 million Minnesotans would receive a tax cut up to $150 a year under the bill, while 470,000 would pay about the same as now. Just 2,500 would pay more, he added, mostly those earning more than $150,000.

Veteran lobbyist Gary Carlson of the League of Minnesota Cities agreed a main aim of the bill is to conform to federal changes.

"Mostly conformity and technical," is how Carlson described the bill. "Not a lot else."

In motto they trust

Senators voted 38-29 to allow schools to post the national motto "In God We Trust" in Minnesota schools.

The provision does not require the motto to be posed.

"Our nation needs a little hope right now," said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, who sponsored the provision.

Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, unsuccessfully sought to amend the Hall initiative to add "In Yahweh We Trust."

While some questioned whether the Hall proposal interfered with the separation of church and state, Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, repeated a famous quote: "As long as there are tests in schools, there will be prayer in schools."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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