Special session, failures face Minnesota lawmakers
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Legislature appears set to head into a special session over an education spat and the three main legislative forces each are close to losing their top 2015 priorities.
ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Legislature appears set to head into a special session over an education spat and the three main legislative forces each are close to losing their top 2015 priorities.
Lawmakers made good progress on most of the eight major spending bills Sunday, facing a Monday midnight deadline to adjourn, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton delivered his most forceful comments yet that he would veto an education bill that falls $171 million short of his demands.
“Shame on them,” Dayton said of House Republicans who would not back his plan to launch a half-day voluntary education program for 40,000 4-year-olds.
Neither the Republican-controlled House nor the Democratic-controlled Senate passed an education funding bill that included the pre-kindergarten funding. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he and other Democrats support the Dayton provision, but Republicans do not, so it needs to wait if an education bill is to pass.
A House-Senate conference committee formed to work out differences between the two bodies’ education bills, neither of which included the pre-K plan. House lawmakers were behind closed doors Sunday night discussing the bill, and it was possible it could come up for a vote later in the night or early Monday.
Republicans were adamant against the provision.
“It’s the governor’s responsibility to build a groundswell of support for his issues in the Legislature,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. “And the fact that this particular issue didn’t make it into the conference committee, it didn’t pass the House or the Senate, makes it a difficult position for him to maintain.”
Daudt, who met with Dayton on the issue late Sunday afternoon, added: “I certainly ask the governor to reconsider and not veto our bipartisan education bill that puts more dollars on the per pupil formula than his own budget, makes significant investments in early education and helps address teacher shortage issues in greater Minnesota.”
Bakk also met with Dayton.
While Dayton’s priority pre-kindergarten program appeared about to sink, Senate Democrats also have failed to get a transportation program funding by a new gasoline tax and House Republicans were unsuccessful in providing $2 billion in tax breaks.
The tax cuts and transportation funding could pass next year, but Dayton said he does not want to wait until 2016 for an education funding boost.
Daudt and Bakk worked out the education funding plan Friday afternoon in a private session at the governor’s residence. After the governor looked it over, he rejected the plan and each day has spoken more vigorously against it each day.
Special sessions have been fairly common, but this year it would be difficult. Hours after the Legislature adjourns, construction workers are due to tear up House and Senate chambers as part of a three-year, $300 million Capitol building renovation.
Dayton on Saturday said that a special session could cost the state millions of dollars, but Sunday he said - and his aides said he was serious - that he would be in favor of holding a special session in a tent on the Capitol lawn.
“They are responsible, not me,” Dayton said as he blamed the GOP for a special session. “Their attitude is they will pass this bill and walk away.”
House Republicans said their colleagues do not support the Dayton plan.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he has heard from a couple of people in his district who favor the pre-kindergarten plan. Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he also has not heard from many in support.
Both said they, and many school leaders, would prefer to add money to the per-pupil state payments to schools instead of sending 4-year-olds to class.
Assistant House Minority Leader Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said he thought that about 80 percent of House Democrats favor the Dayton proposal.
The Legislature’s preschool-to-12th-grade school funding bill puts school spending at $17 billion over the next two years.
Legislators’ plans put most of the new money, roughly $287 million, into the per pupil funding formula for school operations. Districts would receive a 1.5 percent and 2 percent increase over the next two years - or $87 per student in the first year and $110 per student in the second.
It also includes $32 million to help rural districts maintain school facilities. Now, just 25 mostly metro districts can raise property taxes for maintenance without voter backing.
Preschool does get $60 million in new money, but it is evenly split between public schools favored by DFLers and scholarships favored by Republicans.
Outside the preschool fight, the education conference committee report includes a lot of things Democrats, Republicans and school advocates support.
The bill would streamline the licensing process for qualified teachers and reduce the number of mandatory tests students take.
Districts can disregard Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores for students who had problems with online tests, if the bill becomes law. The system, provided by Pearson, was plagued with glitches this testing season.
The measure does not include controversial policy provisions proposed by Republicans including changes to teacher seniority rules for layoffs and requiring transgender students to use bathrooms based on their sex at birth.
St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Christopher Magan contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.