The head of the teachers union appeared at the State Capitol Wednesday to urge lawmakers to pass an inflationary increase in spending for public schools.
Tom Dooher, President of Education Minnesota, said the Governor and Legislature need to focus on what should be the state's top priority this legislative session: K-12 schools.
According to research by Education Minnesota, 46 school districts face a combined budget shortfall of at least $113 million heading into the next school year. Dooher said if more funding is not made available, it could have devastating consequences for Minnesota's teachers.
"You're going to see increased class sizes, you're going to see teacher lay offs. You know when Northwest was talking about losing a thousand jobs, we're looking at probably that throughout the state with all the teachers and education support staff that we represent", said Dooher.
Democrats are looking to take funds from one of Governor Pawlenty's prized programs. They want to tap into the reserve of the QComp, a merit-pay program for teachers, and give each school district in the state a one-time allowance.
The money from the QComp account would be sent to schools, no-strings-attached, providing them $51 per student more.
Rep. Mindy Grieling, DFL-Roseville and chairwoman of the House education committee, said she hoped this short-term solution would stay the education budget crisis while a long-term solution is hammered out.
"We're hoping to put a finger in the dike," said Rep. Greiling.
No action will occur on the bill until next week.
Department of Ed Weighs In
The Department of Education issued a statement Wednesday in response to the Education Minnesota news conference, quoting Education Commissioner Alice Seagren.
"Faced with a $935 million budget shortfall, Governor Pawlenty has proposed a budget solution that doesn't reduce education funding."
"The Governor has also proposed several new programs designed to improve student achievement by improving the effectiveness of teachers," Seagren stated, "Instead of issuing yet another report on how much is spent on education, we encourage teacher union officials to work constructively with the Governor to help better utilize the state's current $14 billion investment in education to improve student achievement."
The Department cited that $14 billion in general fund spending in the 2008-2009 budget cycle will be devoted to public schools. The department noted that 78 percent of the cost of local education is currently picked up by the State of Minnesota.
Jenna Healy, KARE 11 Capitol Assistant
Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.