In recent weeks, school funding has become a flashpoint between DFL and Republican lawmakers.
Republicans say they’ve increased school funding, a claim that PoliGraph ruled misleading. And they’re speaking out against districts that are trying to increase levies to pay for schools.
Meanwhile, DFL leaders are claiming that a decision to delay payments to school districts included in the state’s budget was a Republican idea.
During a press conference to announce a state-wide tour to talk about school support, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said, “The school shift is a Republican policy that comes from the fact that they’re unwilling to ask millionaires to help out and resolve our state budget deficit.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint when the accounting move originated because budget negotiations were held behind closed doors. But it’s clear that both sides agreed to the budget fix.
Delaying school payments is a budget balancing technique that’s used regularly. Schools are given some state aid immediately, and the rest later. Technically, it is not considered a cut in funding, but the delays do complicate the budgeting process for schools; some have been forced to borrow money.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty delayed payments to schools to close the state’s budget gap. During his campaign, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would pay back $1.4 billion in delayed aid during his first budget cycle.
But when faced with the state’s massive budget deficit, Dayton abandoned his plan and instead pushed-off the payments a second time.
Throughout the legislative session, lawmakers worked to close the deficit, and in the final days before the government shutdown that started on July 1, 2011, they were still $1.4 billion short.
It’s hard to say exactly when talk of delayed payments to schools resurfaced because lawmakers held their negotiations behind closed doors. Thissen said the GOP first raised the possibility of saving $350 million by delaying additional school payments on June 29, and shared notes from that meeting with MPR News to support his claim.
But a spokeswoman for the House GOP said she couldn’t confirm the discussion.
Over the following two days, the parties exchanged offers on paper. According to a letter dated June 30, Dayton considered making up most of the $1.4 billion shortfall by delaying half of the money schools were promised.
The same day, the GOP countered with a scaled back version of the delayed payments that would save $700 million in addition to the $1.4 billion already included in Dayton’s initial budget, and that’s the combination of savings that ended up in the final funding deal.
Thissen contends Republicans forced the Legislature to adopt additional school payments. While it’s true that the first round of delays wouldn’t have been on the books had it not been for Pawlenty, both parties at one point or another put additional school funding delays on the table during budget negotiations.
Thissen’s claim is misleading.
Minnesota Public Radio News, DFLers plan statewide meetings critical of GOP education policies, by Tim Pugmire, Sept. 6, 2011
Minnesota Management and Budget, Gov. Mark Dayton’s FY 2012-2013 Biennial Budget, accessed September 14, 2011
MPR’s Shutdown 2011 Blog, Final budget offers, accessed September 14, 2011
Interview, Rep. Paul Thissen, September 8, 2011
Email exchange, Jodi Boyne, spokeswoman House GOP, September 8, 2011