Christopher Magan, St. Paul Pioneer Press-The Political Animal, May 4, 2015
Parents and school lobbyists joined forces Monday to push lawmakers to rethink how much of the state’s surplus they plan to spend on education and where that new money will go.
Organized by Parents United for Public Schools, a group of roughly 100 teachers, parents, students and education advocates packed at room at the State Office Building Tuesday. At their news conference, they sent a clear message to lawmakers looking to cut budget deals in the waning days of the legislative session.
“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.”
Parent advocates and school lobbyists say the $157 million in new spending approved by the Republican-led House and $365 million passed by the DFL-controlled Senate does not provide enough new money for general school operations. Without a larger increase, schools will be forced to cut and parents will be asked to make up the difference.
Districts’ largest expense is personnel and during the last round of union contract negotiations teachers received average raises of 2 percent each of the last two years. School leaders are about to enter a new round of negotiations as two-year contract are set to expire at the end of the school year.
Hobbie and other advocates applauded Gov. Mark Dayton for the $695 million of the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus that he wants to spend on schools. But they were careful not to praise the way he wants to allocate that much of that new money.
Much of the governor’s new spending, $343 million, would go toward universal preschool for all four-year-olds whose families want it. Districts leaders across the state have criticized that plan, saying it will require them to build costly classrooms and hire new staff.
Hobbie says Dayton’s idea of universal preschool is “visionary,” but she doesn’t believe the state is ready. She would rather see lawmakers focus on shoring up existing education programs.
“The way I look at it, the house is kind of run down and this is a proposal to add a bedroom,” Hobbie said.