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This legislative ‘jump-start’ will prove to be a shock to taxpayers’ wallets

When Minnesotans hear the word “jump-start,” it usually comes in the form of a question (from one stranded motorist to some good Samaritan) during the final “acceptance” phase of a cold winter morning’s five-stages-of-grief melodrama. Cables are strung between two cars, furious praying takes place and, if all goes well, both parties are able to drive off smiling.

But in this case, I’m referring to the recent actions of state Rep. Mindy Greiling, the eight-term legislator from Roseville who chairs the House K-12 Education Finance Committee. She is trying to “jump-start” the legislative K-12 education funding process. This type of “jump-starting” is a shock to the taxpayers’ wallets rather than electricity from a battery.

Much like a bolt of electricity just two days after the Legislature adjourned on May 19, Rep. Greiling issued a press release announcing a series of public hearings on education funding that would be conducted throughout the summer and fall. The first hearing (like all of the hearings which are to be held at “neutral” sites like middle schools and educational services buildings), was on May 28 — a mere nine days after the 2008 legislative session wrapped up. So much for the idea of a part-time Legislature.

Most people would be willing to concede that, if K-12 education funding — particularly in a year that found the state with a billion dollar budget deficit — were cut, a series of town-hall meetings to discuss the situation would be a reasonable idea.  However, Rep. Greiling’s quest via what looks like her own private special session — with the intent of an additional $1 billion a year in new state money for K-12 funding — came just days after the Legislature appropriated another $50 million increase for Minnesota’s K-12 students.

Why start so quickly after the session?
Why, when most legislators were trying to catch up on their sleep after a week of late-night floor sessions, did Rep. Greiling feel the need to “jump-start” a process of angling for additional K-12 funding?  This discussion would normally start after the election in November or at the kickoff of the 2009 Legislative Session in January.  Perhaps it has to do with Rep. Greiling’s sense of legislative entitlement — that it is education’s “turn” for a major funding increase.  But more likely her desire is to “jump start” campaign contributions from the Minnesota teachers’ union PAC.

In 2006, Education Minnesota’s PAC gave more than half a million dollars to the DFL House Caucus and Central Committee, not to mention its contributions to individual campaigns. With this kind of cold cash on the line, is there any wonder why Rep. Greiling is so eager to start parading around the state to hear the inevitable whine of school districts, teachers and parents about why there isn’t enough money for K-12 education? These tales of woe have little fiscal truth when you look at the recent funding history of K-12 education in Minnesota. But why should that stop someone who’s doing it for “the children”?

Also, in a year when the state faced almost a $1 billion budget deficit, why were DFL legislators so intent on spending resources they didn’t have on increased funding for K-12 education? The simple answer is that Education Minnesota is the most powerful special-interest group in the state.  From its dozens of lobbyists in the Capitol hallways to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spends to influence the outcomes of elections, it is apparent why Rep. Greiling is compelled to “jump” in response to wishes of the 70,000-member-strong teachers union.  

Prospective funding shortfall could double

Another reason to start the drumbeat for more K-12 spending now is the likelihood that the state will be facing at a minimum a billion-dollar shortfall for the 2010-11 biennium.  To make matters worse, that number could easily double in magnitude. So what is Rep. Greiling really doing?  She is responding to the biggest special-interest group in the state, working to “jump-start” the K-12 funding process in order to fill the campaign coffers of her fellow Democrats.

After winning re-election in November, grateful DFL legislators will feel obligated to support huge tax increases, which in turn will provide big pay increases for teachers, all in the cause of “the children.” If citizens want transparency in government and in campaigns, they should take a hard look at the contributions and independent expenditures of Education Minnesota; its goals and intent are about as transparent as it gets.  

Phil Krinkie, a former chairman of the House Taxes Committee, is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 06/26/2008 - 12:00 pm.

    With all the hooting and hollering over education funding, it seems that we too often do not look at the per capita pupil funding to see what we are investing in our children’s public education and where these per capita dollars go. It would make all of us in the public more informed about this debate.

    It would also help us understand why Minnesota has one of the lowest per capita of counselors for our children. As more children from homes where there is no history of higher education attend our public schools, where are students and their parents to turn to get assistance and advice about applying for college, scholarships, financial aid etc. How are we addressing this issue as a state? Certainly the Minnestoa Minority Education Project and the work of the Minnesota College Access Program are looking toward this issue. What about our middle and high schools, our school boards and our legislators?

    I would love to see MinnPost really dig into this issue and the ongoing demographic changes and how they could impact our need for the public infrastructure we have created throughout the state. The demographic changes of the need for more places for seniors to gather, to enrich their lives and stay vital may make for some successful collaborative solutions, especially if we can only figure out a way to have our schools be community institutions. Marshall, MN has piloted an effort to place a family center in their middle school. Let’s here about these creative approaches to the public education.

    Where are the incentives for innovation in the system?

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/26/2008 - 03:30 pm.

    It is clear that EdMN was not pleased with the return on investment it received from the Democrat party this year and called Ms. Greiling on the carpet.

    Meanwhile, Minneapolis and Saint Paul public school districts now spend more than $15,000 per year/per student and graduate barely more than 1/2 of them for *that* monumental investment.

    And need I even bother to mention that fully 1/4 of the “cream of the public system’s crop” arrive at colleges requiring remedial education in core subjects?

    At the same time, EdMN and it’s legislative minions (yes, you Ms. Greiling) are always on hand to ensure that any measure of accountability, or meaningful change that challenges the unions power over the public school district meets a quick demise with “extreme prejudice”.

    It’s high time that Rep. Greiling and her ilk are called on the public’s carpet to explain themselves.

    The left flatly refuses to acknowledge that it has destroyed the public school system beyond repair.

    While they struggle to retain their control over the billions of dollars we send to the schools every year, and over the captive audience that the students provide for their leftist socio-economic indoctrination, frustrated parents will simply continue to find alternatives that put the best interests of their kids ahead of a trade labor union and it’s attendent political party’s agenda.

    The time is near when even the most ardent defender of the status quo will suddenly realize that the classrooms are as empty as their excuses.

    Thomas Swift

  3. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 06/26/2008 - 02:11 pm.

    Interesting that Mr. Krinkie would publish this at the same time MPR reports business interests were actually the top-spending lobbyist groups at the Capitol this year. Of course, business generate a more immediate return on investment than education, but that doesn’t mean the public return on education funding is insignificant or can’t be improved. It may not be prudent public policy to simply dump an extra $1 billion in education like Ms. Greiling wants, but Krinkie’s dismissal of it as political and unfundable is likewise too simplistic.

    Dan Hoxworth raises some excellent points and questions. That’s the open, honest debate that the issue needs, rather than the emotional appeals of Greiling or the pocketbook appeals of “Dr. No.” I want to see specific concerns examined and specific solutions proposed, like the Marshall, MN family center or expanding early-childhood education, before focusing on dollar signs.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/27/2008 - 01:01 pm.

    Education Minnesota does nothing more than keep legislators informed as to the needs of Minnesota’s children. Legislators are not the lackeys Mr. Swift and Mr. Krinkie pretend them to be, but are instead public servants trying their best to serve the public while coping with the right-wing policy of resource starvation.

  5. Submitted by John Olson on 06/27/2008 - 04:19 pm.

    I’m not going to fully agree with Mr. Swift, but many will not go along with the idea that Education Minnesota is somehow a benevolent organization. They hold the legislators that are endorsed by their PAC feet to the fire and the consequences for not toeing that line can be swift and harsh. I’m also weary of listening to the coveted “we are doing this for the children” mantra from one or both sides.

    Many good, young teachers are simply swept aside at the end of their probationary period en masse by the administration. They do not want any long-term commitment, regardless of how well the teacher has performed. The union’s power structure is retained and they get to look forward to yet another group of young teachers coming in from whom they can get more dues and blind loyalty. Status quo is maintained.

    We continue to pour millions in. The wealthier school districts in this state continue to flourish while many rural schools struggle to simply survive. In my own community, I no longer vote in favor of excess levies. I’ve watched too many of our tax dollars get diverted from their intended purpose and it is frustrating.

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