Funding dispute forces education layoff notices

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's education funding dispute means more than 800 state education workers will begin receiving layoff notices June 1. Gov. Mark Dayton said he regrets the need to upset workers' lives, but state law requires that workers who c...

Kurt Daudt
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, right, says Wednesday that the 2015 Minnesota Legislature was a success, as Majority Leader Joyce Peppin looks on. (TRIBUNE/Don Davis)

ST. PAUL - Minnesota’s education funding dispute means more than 800 state education workers will begin receiving layoff notices June 1.
Gov. Mark Dayton said he regrets the need to upset workers’ lives, but state law requires that workers who could be laid off receive a month’s advance notice, even though if his education funding differences with lawmakers could be settled before July 1.
Democrat Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown each said Wednesday that a special legislative session to fix the funding quarrel, and consider non-education bills, almost certainly would not be called before the layoff notices are mailed.
Dayton said he would veto the bill providing education $17 billion over two years. The Legislature-passed bill funding early childhood to high school programs does not contain his priority, funding a half-day of school for 4-year-olds.
Minnesota Management and Budget says that without an education bill when the new fiscal year begins July 1, the Education Department will shut down and many school funds would not be available.
However, the state could go to court as it did during 2011 and 2005 partial government shutdowns and ask a judge to declare that some employees and some funds are critical to the state and that they be allowed to continue even without a bill.
Four hundred people work for the Education Department.
The Dayton administration says also laid off would be 300 workers at the state academies for the deaf and blind and 120 at the Perpich Center for Arts Education without a signed education funding bill.
Also, the administration says that “major cuts” would be needed, including layoffs, at local schools if there is no legislation.
While the governor and legislative leaders have not predicted an extended education funding argument, the differences are deep and five months of a regular legislative session did not bridge them.
Plus, there may be different visions on other items that could come up during a special session. Those differences also could delay a special session start.
Daudt on Wednesday seemed to agree with Dayton on the need to call a special session to deal with education funding. The two also said a public works spending bill and legislation funding outdoors and culture projects should be considered. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, earlier backed considering those two measures.
Others want more on a special session agenda.
House Democratic Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said other budget bills should be reconsidered: “We have the opportunity to hit the reset button.”
Dayton discounted that idea, but said it could be the end of the week before he knows whether he will veto any spending bill other than education.
Thissen will have more of a say in special session decisions than he did during late regular session negotiations because Dayton plans to require all four legislative leaders - Bakk, Daudt, Thissen and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie - to sign an agreement outlining the agenda for a special session before he calls it.
The main dispute centers on early education funding. Dayton wants to spend $171 million for schools to be allowed, but not required, to start half-day classes for 4 year olds. Republicans and many Democrats prefer to put any new money to per-pupil funding that could be used for needs other than pre-kindergarten.
Daudt said pre-special session education negotiations should begin where they left off shortly before the Legislature adjourned at midnight Monday: with the two sides $25 million apart and no pre-kindergarten funding. To reach a deal, Dayton dropped his pre-kindergarten program in the last hour of session.
Dayton said he does not know where he and Daudt will begin negotiations, scheduled for Tuesday, but in talking to reporters the last two days he seemed to learn toward going back to his 4-year-old education stand.
Also Wednesday, Daudt demanded Dayton apologize for saying some Republicans “hate schools.” The governor refused, but said he would apologize if they vote for his pre-kindergarten plan.
Daudt and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, visited southern Minnesota communities Wednesday to promote what they call a successful regular session. Dayton has said he plans to hit the road next week to sell his pre-kindergarten proposal.
After he left a Rochester appearance, a local Democratic representative called for Daudt to resign, the Post-Bulletin of Rochester reported.
Rep. Rep. Tina Liebling accused Daudt of abusing his power and ignoring the democratic process, citing a chaotic ending of the legislative session featuring Democrats shouting at the speaker because they were told to vote without reading a 93-page bill they just received.
“This was a case of the majority, of the speaker who you just heard from, abusing his power, demonstrating an utter disdain for the democratic process and ramming through a bill that had not been read or considered,” Liebling said.



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