By Sam Walseth, MREA Director of Legislative Affairs

Governor Mark Dayton’s release of his 2016-17 budget plan last Tuesday has set the stage for the budget battle that will consume the remainder of the 2015 session. The public’s role — our role — in this process is going to fade sooner than we know it. Now is the time to engage with your legislators about what the students in your district need from the State of Minnesota.

MREA invites members to learn what this budget will mean for Greater Minnesota education and your school at 3:30 pm on Thursday, Feb. 5 during a virtual meeting. MREA leaders will explain the Governor’s budget plan and legislative reaction to it. Register now.

Before we get into a discussion of what rural districts could strategically prioritize for this year and four recommended action steps MREA, let’s look more closely at what the Governor is proposing in his education plan.

Inside the Budget Plan

Basic Formula: The Governor proposes ‘1&1’ (adding 1 percent each year) on the basic formula for the K-12 system. This figure is shy of anticipated Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation over the next two years. It also doesn’t factor in contract settlements and a long list of unfunded mandates and student needs.

Based on the recent media buzz around‘1&1,’ the public unfortunately could easily get the sense that schools are once again getting “all that money” and should be happy. Based on the responses MREA has received in the wake of the Governor’s announcement, school leaders aren’t happy.

Preschool: The Governor’s plan also calls for expanding four-year-old preschool, but details are still emerging. Offering to pay half of the cost for a full-time program doesn’t seem to add up at first blush. To assist with expanding early learning opportunities, the Governor’s plan fully funds the Head Start waiting list for three- and four-year-old children across the state.

American Indian Students: The Governor is targeting a few million dollars through the Success for the Future program. This is focused on expanding academic and cultural supports to American Indian students in districts that qualify for Title VII.

Free Breakfast & Reading: The Governor’s plan calls for extending free breakfast to all students in preschool through grade three at a cost of $28 million. Another $10 million would go to expanding the Reading Corps program in Minnesota to help ensure children read by third grade.

How It Compares

So how does the Governor’s proposed $373 million in new E-12 spending stack up against the overall budget picture? On one hand, $373 million is 56 percent of the projected ongoing surplus revenue. However, state revenues are projected to grow 6.4 percent or $2.5 billion over the next biennium. When contrasted with that number, $373 million looks more like 15 percent of the total new revenue coming into the state.

The dilemma is the state’s Medicaid expansion, which is slated to grow $1.4 billion or 16.8 percent over the same period. Nothing against low income people needing health care, but that’s where the lion’s share of the new revenue is forecasted to go.

There are certainly arguments to be made that the E-12 target needs to be much, much higher than $373 million. There’s a list a mile long of unfunded needs and inequities that should be addressed by the state (and federal government).

In the days following this message, school leaders need to contact their legislators and tell them they need to increase the E-12 target well above the Governor’s $373 million. If not, fire up the referendum campaign machine.

More Resources

View All Highlights on Budget and What’s Missing

View letter from Commissioner Cassellius to superintendents.

View fact sheet from Governor.