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Minnesota should invest the budget surplus in education ‘from cradle to career’

A college education remains the best path to a fulfilling career.

The state budget office released Minnesota’s latest budget forecast last month, and we have a projected surplus of almost $1.9 billion this year. Many elected lawmakers, including the Speaker of the Minnesota House, immediately rushed to declare how much of this surplus should be given away in the form of tax refunds instead of invested in the long-term needs of our state.

Mark Borrello

For students, parents and educators, one reason for our surplus is obvious: Our state government backed away from its commitment to fund the future and worsened education inequality over a decade of disinvestment.

While K-12 education support has recovered from the worst of those funding cuts and shifts, when adjusted for inflation it is no better off now than it was 10 years ago. Early childhood education remains a privilege rather than a right, with only a patchwork of subsidies and scholarships available to low-income parents. Perhaps worst of all, per-pupil state aid to the University of Minnesota dropped 40 percent over the previous decade and Minnesota is now fifth in the nation in student debt, with an average of almost $31,000.

Earlier revenue cuts were shortsighted

Rosemarie Park

We want to challenge the politicians contemplating a one-time tax giveaway in an election year – or worse, a permanent property tax cut to corporations that will only hurt education further – to look students of any age in the eye when they say we “raised too much revenue.” No, we made shortsighted revenue cuts when it was politically expedient, failed to make hard decisions to meet our obligations when it wasn’t, and now that we have a surplus again are acting as if it is a serendipitous windfall.

Gov. Mark Dayton made clear statements that any tax cuts should be matched dollar-for-dollar by investments in education, with an emphasis on early childhood and pre-kindergarten. We thank the governor for his strong leadership – after all, it is also due to his political courage to raise revenue that we have a state budget surplus again – but we question the wisdom of any revenue cuts when we have such pressing needs in our education system.

On the day the state budget forecast was announced, U of M faculty joined students, advocates, and other educators to call on the Minnesota Legislature to invest our surplus in education “from cradle to career.” Teachers spoke about the need to ensure that high-quality pre-kindergarten programs are available to every child in Minnesota, and about the need for investment in full-service community schools that can ensure the basic physical, mental and emotional health needs of all students. Faith leaders spoke about the need to close our racial education and opportunity gaps that make it more likely for some Minnesotans to go to prison than to college – the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Investments will pay off

As faculty at the U of M, we understand that all of these pieces fit together – that investment in quality early childhood education and in racial equity will lead to more students from every community in Minnesota prepared to attend our classes when they graduate high school. At our event, we urged the legislature to also include funding for higher education as a major part of any education budget bill in 2016. A college education remains the best path to a fulfilling career and a key component of an engaged and informed citizenry, and we need to make it affordable to as many Minnesotans as possible.

The legislature failed to continue a higher education tuition freeze during the 2015 legislative session, and it is students who are paying the price. The state should fund not just a continued freeze but an in-state tuition reduction at the U of M so that more Minnesotans have access to a debt-free college education. We also propose that the state step in to help fill a growing research funding gap left by plummeting federal research support.

Our state budget surplus represents a critical opportunity, and our elected officials have a choice: They can invest the surplus in our future, or they can throw it away and continue to shortchange our education system. We firmly believe that investing our surplus in education will ensure that learners of all ages, from every corner of our state, have the opportunities they deserve.

Mark Borrello is an associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior and the Program in the History of Science, Technology & Medicine, University of Minnesota. Rosemarie Park is an associate professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, & Development, University of Minnesota.


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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Joe Smith on 01/08/2016 - 09:42 am.

    Once you start the “cradle to grave- excuse me cradle to career” program and the nearly 2B surplus is not there in 2017, who pays for the programs that are up and running or do they shut down? It is not the amount of money we spend on education, it is how we go about educating our children that is the problem. 50 years ago kindergarten was introduced to close the gap between 1st graders, I see that didn’t work, now pre K is going to do the job kindergarten was promised to do. Typical big Govt, don’t fix the problem just add money and get bigger.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/08/2016 - 09:57 am.

    What, 49.3% of the state budget isn’t enough?

    More than property tax credits, health and human services, public safety, transportation, environment & agriculture, economic development, state government, and debt service combined.

    The last two budget bienniums had increases of 17.9% and 12.1% respectively. Most reasonable people would say that was quite enough.

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/08/2016 - 10:27 am.

    A Worthy Wish

    Many citizens will expect better I/O analysis this time. The variables are many, so we must make sure we at least have the constants well defined. The challenge here is to use metrics to achieve qualitative outcomes, not simply to produce quantitative results.

    We might begin by properly identifying students along the conventional Type B to Type A personality spectrum, then shaping curriculum accordingly. We might then get better technical outcomes while assuring a strong societal base of social attributes.

    Best wishes for successful design and effective implementation….and, outcomes.

  4. Submitted by Russ Hilbert on 01/08/2016 - 11:04 am.

    more money more programs

    More money and programs will not fix all that ails us. We spend plenty on education already and have plenty of programs out there for people. Use what we have already better is the answer rather than continuing to throw money at things.

  5. Submitted by Mike Tikkanen on 01/09/2016 - 06:09 pm.

    Children’s Manifesto

    While almost ten years old, the sad truths below are still with us today. To them we add the torture and abuse “colossal failure” of the child protection system referred to by Governor Mark Dayton.

    Early Childhood Education Manifesto (this article appeared at in 2009 – it was submitted by KARA board member David Strand)

    Education is the engine of progress and prosperity. No nation can achieve its potential for greatness without investing in its human capital. The extent to which children successfully negotiate the treacherous passage to adulthood depends on the earliest years of brain and emotional development. That explains why early childhood education is crucial to society.

    America’s current public policy regarding at-risk children is an economic and moral failure:

    “We reject community investment programs (implemented today by nearly all developed countries) that stress preventing the creation of at-risk children. Instead we assume colossal costs of corrective measures that mostly fail regardless of how earnestly they are pursued.”

    The results of this undocumented policy are many:

    1.A child is a work-in-process toward citizenship. A successful citizen adds $5 million of economic value to society in his/her life. If unsuccessful, that person instead costs society several million dollars in expenses. Therefore, the lost opportunity value between a success and a failure is somewhere between $5 and $10 million per child.

    2.Young children are humiliated when they read below grade level. A wealthy society that rejects proven programs to avoid the humiliation of children is an immoral society.

    3.Children who read by the third grade seldom are ever involved with the criminal justice system. Four of five incarcerated juvenile offenders read two years or more below grade, and a majority are functionally illiterate.

    4.America has over two million prison inmates, the highest rate in the world and five to ten times that of European countries. Another five million Americans are involved in the criminal justice system for probation, parole, or supervision, all unproductive activities.

    5.Several states forecast needed prison growth based on third grade reading scores. Our federal prisons are operating at 130% of capacity.

    6.No industrial nation equals the United States in neglecting the basic needs of working families with children.

    Minnesota’s under funded policy to assist low-income families for out of home child care has a waiting list of over 7000 families. This is a sham, not real policy.
    When America isn’t fair, it doesn’t work. America is cheating its children.

    High quality, universally eligible early childhood education and development similar to that now in place for decades elsewhere would solve the above problems. According to Minneapolis Federal Reserve researchers, no public sector investment of taxpayer money yields the high returns verified for early childhood education.

    What are we waiting for?

    Supporting Documentation

    1.The $5 million lifetime per citizen contribution to America’s society is cited by author Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, page 504.

    2.In his key-note speech at the Capitol on January 28, 2009, David Lawrence referred to young children who sense failure when unable to read like their classmates. This is equivalent to humiliation. Policy makers cannot pretend to be ignorant of brain development enhancing early childhood programs. The literature is full of relevant information and it is easy to find. Mr. Lawrence is president of The Early Childhood Foundation at the University of Florida. Prior to that he was publisher of the Miami Herald.

    3.The correlation between reading deficiency and interaction with criminal justice is provided by David Lawrence in his key-note speech cited in number 2 above.

    4.Prison population report by “Pew Center on the States”, Pew Charitable Trust.

    5.Several states including California and Arizona have used early grade test scores to assist in forecasting required prison capacity growth. Corrections Digest, April 12, 2002 reports Federal Prisons are 131% of design capacity.

    6.Among the programs common in peer industrial countries are 1) income of full-time employment provides families above-poverty living standard, 2) universal housing for all families with children, 3) universal health care, 4) paid maternity and parental leave for both parents with guarantee of return to previous job, 5) women’s guaranteed right to breastfeed at work, 6) universal pre-school child care and development, 7) guaranteed sick leave for illness and family care, 8) minimum of 5 to 6 weeks of paid vacation, 9) taxpayer paid college tuition for qualifying students, 10) protection of children from predatory marketing by consumer product companies. None of these programs exist in the United States – true in 2009 when this was written and true today in 2015.

    7.Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Day Care? Cut”, February 13, 2009, page 1.

    8.Rolnick, Art and Grunewald, Rob. “Early Education’s Big Dividends”. Based on “Early Intervention on a large scale”, Education Week 26, no. 17 (January 4, 2007): 32, 34-36.

  6. Submitted by Joe Smith on 01/11/2016 - 08:49 am.

    Mike T

    Number 6 in supporting documents is the perfect socialist country (doesn’t exist) you should consider moving to one of the perfect peer industrial country. In the past 12 years we have lost most of our full-time jobs in manufacturing not to mention the attacks on mining, logging, oil/gas & other good paying jobs. We now celebrate part time in our job created numbers because our elected officials play us for fools. I’m all in on you with full time good paying jobs, the past 7 years should show you Big Government CAN’T grow them, especially for the lower middle class folks or people of color.

    Why didn’t kindergarten have the affect of narrowing the gap in 1st graders as promised 50 years ago? How is pre-K going to be any better? Total hogwash we are supposed to believe because some elected officials tell us it is the cure all.

  7. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/11/2016 - 09:26 am.

    Never enough money for estabishment- goverment education

    This article is just an example of the “same old tunes” sung by the “same old suspects” trying to reinvent the “some old policies” of the trickle-down education establishment.

    What is needed in education is “comprehensive education reform.” A reform that empowers kids and families – not the government power-brokers of education.

    Let’s fund all the kids! Let us not discriminate against any child when it comes to education. You cannot get more “public” than that!

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