Before I get to legislative news, I would like to send wishes from the McDonald family for a blessed and safe Memorial Day weekend. The debt of gratitude we owe the men and women of our armed services for the duties they perform is immense and many Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect us and the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation. I hope you are able to participate in local Memorial Day events.
As for the latest in St. Paul, it is very unfortunate Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed the bipartisan K-12 education bill that was passed this session. The Legislature spent five months creating and improving an effective education bill that earned bipartisan support, with 123-73 approval when you combine votes on final passage in the House and Senate.
The No. 1 thing the public wants the Legislature to do is to work together and get the job done. We did that, yet the governor took it upon himself to take a wrecking ball to the Legislature's plan because funding for universal pre-K was not included. He went so far as to say Republicans "hate" public schools, a statement I find distasteful, unprofessional and unbecoming of the office.
Dayton's veto sets up a special session, but it is difficult to see how universal pre-K will gain traction between now and then. The Legislature is opposed, school district officials do not like the idea and parents are not clamoring for it.
The hope is the governor will listen to the people, realize we worked hard on behalf of the people and change his position. A few facts as this discussion continues include:
The 3.5-percent spending increase the Legislature provides in 2016-17 translates to a $205 average increase in funding for every student in Minnesota. In addition, there is more than $60 million in new money for proven early learning initiatives, including pre-kindergarten scholarships and school pre-K aid. This is not "universal" but it is far more effective in targeting funding where it is needed most and would have the most benefit.
The K-12 bill the governor vetoed also makes available additional funding for facilities maintenance designed to help reduce funding disparities for Greater Minnesota school districts and help finance the upkeep of school buildings.
In addition to significant financial investments, the bipartisan budget the governor vetoed included innovative reforms including increased access to college in school, reduced the number of required tests to allow for more instruction time, and streamlined teacher licensure to help school districts attract quality teachers.
Thank you for all the correspondence local citizens provided me with throughout the session and I welcome continued feedback as we further address K-12 funding.