Education remains a top priority of legislators. Nearly 40 per cent of our state budget goes to k-12 education. It is important that we invest in our future. That's why I feel the need to clarify a couple of misconceptions. First, that school's financial difficulties are the result of "flat-funding" by the state. Only during one biennium, in the midst of a $4.5 billion deficit, did we not increase funding for education. Secondly, I hear criticism of the governor and the Republican caucus for not doing enough for education. I don't like to appear partisan but I think that a fair analysis of the past twenty years of education funding shows that Republicans have been more consistent supporters of increased education funding.
I will continue to address the problems that school district's face and work with members from both sides of the aisle to seek solutions.
When it comes to education funding, there are a number of things I know for sure. First, under a Republican majority in the House of Representatives from 1999 – 2006, greater increases were provided to education funding than the previous twelve years combined, even with an enormous budget deficit to deal with. During the 2005 session alone, an historic $800 million dollars in new revenue was allocated to schools through an 8 percent increase in funding.
1993 (DFL Majority) - $0 increase
1994 - $0 increase
1995 - $0 increase
1996 - $55 increase
1997 - $0 increase
1998 - $79 increase
1999 - $79 increase
Total: $208 increase
2000 (GOP Majority) - $167 increase
2001 - $157 increase
2002 - $104 increase
2003 - $104 increase
2004 - $0 increase
2005 - $0 increase
2006 - $182 increase
2007 - $190 increase
Total: $737 increase
Second, after talking with superintendents, teachers and other educational support staff from our own district and statewide, the two main things driving up education costs are special education and the cost of health insurance.
Third, the Governor’s proposed education funding plan of a 2 percent annual increase and 2 percent one-time money increase based on merit, is not enough. Minnesota schools are falling behind and we need to address these funding issues more aggressively in order to stay ahead.
I have proposed a bill that would address education funding, specifically special education programs, and increase funding to 10 percent over the next two years. This bill combines an increase in funding with the designation of funds to an area of our educational system that needs support and that greatly affects the overall allocation of district funds.
In order for Minnesota to maintain our high quality public education system, we need to examine where the holes are, allocate funding and reform procedure as necessary. Providing more money to special education programs, analyzing special education qualification criteria and demanding positive results from our educators are essential in order for Minnesota to stay ahead.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s third term in the legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004 and 2006.