Dear Legislature: Choose educations over corporations
Carol Nieters, SCT Times, May 2, 2015
Throughout my adult life, I’ve had a front row seat to the battles over education funding in our state. As a mother and grandmother, I’ve seen what funding, and not funding, our schools does to our students.
As a food service employee in the St. Cloud school district for 15 years, and seven years as the executive director of the union that represents hundreds of school support staff in the St. Cloud area and almost 9,000 school staff across the state, I can say that things have dramatically changed for education in Minnesota.
Our members have a wide range of political opinions, but we agree on one thing: Minnesota’s children are our No. 1 priority, and educational opportunities should be equal, regardless of a student’s ZIP code.
Yet a decade of shifts and gimmicks have resulted in deep cuts, especially in outstate Minnesota.
The plans proposed this year by the House Republicans may be the worst, most damaging proposals I have seen.
Instead of continuing the work begun two years ago to rebuild our schools after a decade of divestment, the plans call for a giant $2.2 billion dollar tax giveaway for the rich and corporations. It gets bigger over time and will create a gaping budget deficit, while offering an increase in education that is so low it would result in cuts to our schools.
All of this while our state has a $2 billion dollar budget surplus!
This is a doubling down on the dark days of the 2000s, when we paid for tax breaks for the rich by balancing our budget on the backs of our kids. This was a callous and disgraceful budgeting practice that led to cuts, job losses, more cuts, bigger deficits and gimmick budgeting.
Two years ago, we finally made real investments in our schools. This gave many hope for our children’s future and the future of Minnesota. We saw free, all-day kindergarten, schools previously relegated to four days able to go back to five-day weeks, and health care and services for families expanded so all can succeed.
Unfortunately, if House Republicans have their way, those two years will be all that the families in St. Cloud and across the state of Minnesota will get.
We have a choice. We can support a tax giveaway that focuses on rich corporations, or we can support investing in our children and our future. Whether I look at this situation as a parent or through the eyes of school support staff working every day to improve the lives of our children, the choice is easy.
Minnesota just turned a corner to a brighter future, but two years is not enough for a solid foundation after years and years of divestment. We need to use the surplus to continue the rebuilding work and support the highest quality education for children in St. Cloud and across Minnesota.
I urge our legislators to invest in our children and our future, not funding out-of-control tax giveaways to rich corporations that will restart the process of education cuts and budget deficits. We can, and must, do better than that. Our future depends on it.
This is the opinion of Carol Nieters, executive director of SEIU Local 284, the union that represents school staff in the St. Cloud area, and former St. Cloud area school support staff worker.