To Emmer, $1.8 Billion In Education Cuts Are “Harmless”

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During Friday’s Minnesota gubernatorial debate on education, Republican candidate Tom Emmer released the second phase of his proposed budget. In it, he pledged to “hold K-12 funding harmless in the next biennium.” In other words, Emmer wouldn’t cut education spending.

In the press release, he committed to not cut the $13.3 billion in funding for K-12 education allocated for the FY2010-11 fiscal year (Emmer’s website has upped the number to $13.8 billion since yesterday morning — the initial $13.3 billion was a typo, according to an aid).

But the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget’s General Fund Balance Analysis, End of 2010 Legislative Sessions on June 11 stipulates that current law requires the state general fund to provide $15,621,575,000 in funding for K-12 education in the next biennium (2011-12). That’s more than $15.6 billion, mandated by state law — versus $13.8 billion ($13.3 billion in the initial press release) proposed by Emmer. Far from holding funding “harmless,” the GOP candidate would actually undercut mandatory education spending by $1.8 billion, or a whopping 11.5%.

Emmer aid Carl Kuhl confirmed yesterday afternoon that the candidate would hold flat the $13.8 billion currently being spent on education — not the $15.6 mandated for 2011-12. In other words, he wouldn’t adjust for inflation or abide by state law. To actually hold education spending flat between now and the next biennium, Emmer would have to change state law.

This despite Emmer’s heartfelt quote in the press release: “In tough times, I believe we must prioritize state government spending for the most important public services: I believe our children’s education is fundamental to our future success. As governor, I will protect classroom funding.”

DFL candidate Mark Dayton’s campaign released a statement following the debate which quoted Dayton’s response to Emmer’s flat funding plan: “Minnesotans value education. It is our greatest strength, the key to our future prosperity, and it has been cut over the last eight years. Rep. Emmer’s proposal, contrary to his assertion, will not hold funding harmless but will cut education funding by (11.5% — Ed.). The consequences of more cuts would be larger class sizes, more districts going to four-day school weeks, lower quality education and higher property taxes to pay for operational expenses in the schools.”

Minnesota K-12 education has not been immune to cuts from current Governor Tim Pawlenty. The Alliance for Better Minnesota points out that, on June 16, 2009, Pawlenty proposed cutting $1.8 billion in K-12 education funding and $100 million in higher education funding for FY2010, as reported in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. On February 10 of this year, the Minneapolis Star Tribune noted that Emmer supported Pawlenty’s unallotment plan.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.