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Three Democratic gov. candidates, three school funding proposals

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Improving education demands more money, Minnesota's top three Democratic governor candidates say, a tough challenge when the next state budget could face a $6 billion deficit.

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The three promote different ideas about school funding.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher backs a plan that would simplify the school funding formula and rely less on ever-increasing local property taxes by increasing state support.

The "miracle" proposal she likes, named after a 1970s plan that dramatically reformed school funding, cannot be launched all at once because of budget problems, she said.

Once it is fully implemented in six years, the proposal is designed to bring $1.8 billion more in each two-year budget.

In the first budget, for the two years beginning July 1, 2011, education spending would be upped $200 million.

Key to funding the "miracle" is raising income taxes on the rischest Minnesotans, those earning more than $250,000 a year, and closing tax loopholes, the House speaker's campaign said.

Those changes would bring in an estimated$2 billion more in funding per budget.

Besides the kindergarten through high school funding, Kelliher wants to increase early-childhood education spending, but did not offer a plan for just how to do that.

She said at least the Legislature should not cut that funding next year, while she and lawmakers work out a way to increase spending.

She also backs a Bush Foundation plan to provide more effective teacher training, and stop paying for college teacher programs that do not work.

"We are not going to pay for junk," Kelliher said.

Ask Mark Dayton his plan for increasing school spending and the former U.S. senator delivers a simple answer: Tax the rich.

Dayton's budget plan is to immediately increase income and property taxes on Minnesotans earning more than $150,000 a year. That and some smaller changes would bring in nearly $5 billion more to his first budget, Dayton said.

"My priority would be to put that on education," Dayton said.

School payment delays Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled Legislature approved are forcing schools to lay off teachers and take other actions not good for education, he added.

"It is a prescription for disaster in this state," Dayton said.

Things are very different in schools now than the two years he spent teaching, soon after college, in a New York City school. That school, diverse for its time, had four languages spoken; in St. Paul schools today, Dayton said, there are 60 to 70 languages and dialects.

Besides those challenges, classes are just too big, Dayton said, and more funding is the answer.

"Individual attention, small class sizes" are needed, he said. "If you are overcrowding classrooms, you are not going to have as effective teachers."

Matt Entenza is the only one of the three who says the state cannot afford to increase education spending right away.

The St. Paul resident, who served two terms as state House minority leader, said his plan does not increase spending right away because of "budget realities that we have to deal with." Still, he added, education is his top priority.

"I am running for governor because I look at our schools now and I see a state that is not creating the opportunities for our kids," Entenza said.

Entenza calls for what politicians like to call a "balanced approach" to funding schools.

One of the major problems across the state, Entenza said, is "we have a two-tiered system."

As an example, Entenza said, a school system in a community with high-value property like suburban Edina can afford to teach 10 foreign languages, while more and more rural schools teach none.

"I want kids in rural schools to have the same opportunities as those in Edina have." Entenza said.

While waiting for the budget to improve, Entenza said, he would drop the federal No Child Left Behind program, replacing it with other accountability and testing measures.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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