Senate Republicans’ education plan: long on funding, short on new ideas

MinnPost file photo by James Nord
State Sen. Sean Nienow: “The Democratic plan … there’s lot’s of money involved but it’s not going into the classroom and the schools that your children currently have.”

Despite their criticism of Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to spend almost $500 million dollars more on education this budget cycle, Minnesota Senate Republicans have just about matched the governor dollar-for-dollar with the education budget proposal they offered Tuesday.

There is a major difference in the two plans. While Dayton’s increase is earmarked for spending on pre-K education and adds to the per-pupil funding formula, the Senate plan comes with no strings attached.

“The Democratic plan … there’s lot’s of money involved but it’s not going into the classroom and the schools that your children currently have,” said Sen. Sean Nienow, the bill’s chief author.  “It’s going into all kind of new, mandated spending.”

The Senate Republican plan would put another $455 million into education over two years.  The plan would allocate the funding on a per-student basis, another point of differentiation from the Dayton plan, which would add to the state’s funding formula that apportions money differently based on the school district.  

Senate DFL-ers have offered bills that are similar to the Dayton proposal. House Republicans have focused so far on reforming teacher tenure and licensing.

Senate minority leader David Hann acknowledged the limited scope of his caucus’s budget proposal. “We’re trying to make this complicated education finance system a little more straightforward,” Hann said.  “It’s not a prescription of, ‘Here’s how you solve this.’”

Hann had scathing words for the Dayton education plan when it was unveiled last month.   “Where is the education reform package?” he had asked.  “Where are the new ideas?”

When asked Tuesday about the whereabouts of the Republican new ideas, he and Nienow said there was more to come. “You will see some education proposals… something very significant, looking at Minneapolis and the significant problems we have there with graduation rates, with the achievement gap,” Nienow said. 

Nienow says Republicans will offer what will be “a nation-leading proposal.” Hann, its chief author, ducked the “nation leading” description, but said his plan is unlike anything he seen in other states with sizable achievement gaps.  

Senate Republicans will roll out that plan in the next few days, along with a few others, including a tax proposal, expected tomorrow, that is dubbed the “toddler tax,” an expansion of Dayton’s child care tax credit.

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Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/25/2015 - 08:56 am.

    Sean Nienow

    That Sean Nienow now fancies himself as just the guy to straighten out Minneapolis Public Schools is beyond belief given the disaster of his own financial judgement.

    As a public service to Mr. Nienow I would like to offer this:

    excessive pride or self-confidence.
    synonyms: arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, hauteur, pride, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority; More
    antonyms: humility
    (in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/25/2015 - 09:28 am.

    Given the diversity

    of problems faced by our schools, why not let local districts decide where to spend the money, provided that it’s not used to reduce local spending?

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/25/2015 - 09:28 am.

    That’s a switch

    Usually, Republicans have ideas, but are unclear on the money to pay for them. Of course, the ideas are usually pretty bad, so this may represent an improvement.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/25/2015 - 10:01 am.

    Yeah, here comes another republican revolution

    Nation leading ideas eh? Vouchers, charter schools, attacks on unions, cut’s in teacher pay and benefits, and spending cuts elsewhere to pay for it all. Penalties for “under performing” schools and teachers. I can’t wait to see all the “new” ideas.

    Meanwhile someone should point out that all of Dayton’s “initiatives” actually involve specific improvements to the actual classrooms and school environments, whereas ironically, the republican plan just throws more money into the system.

    At least republicans aren’t demanding cuts in education spending, or diverting education money elsewhere. That’s an improvement.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/25/2015 - 12:09 pm.

      Whatever their ideas are, the outcome cannot be any worse than what the Democrats have done.

      Can you provide some detail in the “specific improvements” of Dayton’s proposal? I’ll be darned if I don’t just see “more of the same”

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/25/2015 - 11:26 am.

    That’s kind of the idea

    of republicanism, isn’t it? You choose how best to use the money, not the central government mandating it.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 02/25/2015 - 01:00 pm.

      I’m a little confused by all of this. Certainly, I’ve heard more than a few conservatives/republicans/whatever gripe about how we need to stop just “throwing money at the schools!” with no metrics or goals to hit. Isn’t this proposal EXACTLY THAT?

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/25/2015 - 02:43 pm.

        K-12 education is provision in the state constitution

        The schools need state money to operate. The philosophical difference here is who should decide how that money is spent? The central government or the schools themselves?

        Dayton obviously believes one of the roles of central government is to micromanage the schools. The republicans don’t.

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 02/25/2015 - 11:33 am.

    Money has little to do with achievement. Utah spends less per student than all but a few states and has higher graduation rates, test scores and achievement levels. How much education is valued in each individual home is the major factor for student success. I’m all for helping every young person get a great education, but throwing money at the problem has never worked. The millions we spent on breakfast, lunch and after school snacks was sold to us as a way to better grades and attention from students. That has not proven to be true (grades didn’t change with food program), just tell us we are feeding kids who don’t get fed at home. I have no problem with the food programs only the BS they feed us to get it passed.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/25/2015 - 12:19 pm.

    Obviously the Republicans have decided that public education is just too difficult to think about: There are absolutely NO ideas in this proposal. It’s nothing more than a desperate throw-lots-of-money-at-them scheme, which gives just as much to rich districts as to poor, and does zilch to help any district provide quality education. At any level.

    Gov. Dayton’s plan, by sharp contrast, is focused, research-based and equitable.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/25/2015 - 12:22 pm.

    Just Dumping More Money Into the System Will Create WASTE

    It may be difficult for the general public to believe,…

    most of them not having set foot in a school building since they graduated themselves,…

    (this includes a LOT of “conservative” legislators and pundits),…

    but the people who best have their finger on the pulse of a local school,…

    and where money can best be spent to improve the education of local children,…

    are their TEACHERS.

    In one of the rural school systems where I taught, the school board knew the teachers fairly well and consulted with them over such issues.

    In the other, the teachers were ignored if not resented. If the teachers spoke out about the need for spending in particular areas of curriculum, books, or equipment, those things immediately became the least likely things to happen (except for coaches, of course),…

    those “conservative” school board members disliking and often feeling threatened by the education level of the local teaching staff,…

    and, like far too many “conservatives,” disliking and mistrusting those whom they feared might have been smarter and better educated than themselves.

    If the Republicans win the day and just throw more money at the school districts, it’s HIGHLY LIKELY that this money, especially in the most conservative areas of the state, will be spent on things that will not improve the quality of the education provided by local school systems in any way.

    Sidestepping the state funding formulas (which the Republican bill would do) will also mean, of course, that districts with special needs, whether urban, suburban, or rural:…

    a very small local tax base, large numbers of students in poverty, large numbers of English Language learners, or very long travel distances, for instance,…

    will receive the same amount of per pupil increase as wealthy districts, whether urban, suburban, or rural,…

    which have NONE of those problems,…

    This does NOTHING to address the much-vaunted “achievement gap” and will tend to make it worse.

    There’s a reason the state funding formula exists. It requires school systems to spend substantial parts of their state aid in ways that are most likely to meet the needs of their local students,…

    rather than investing in pet projects of or monuments to particular superintendents, principals, coaches, or dominant school board members,…

    and it attempts to ensure that ALL students in the state have the opportunity to gain an adequate and accurate education no matter what the nature of the society and community which surrounds their local school building might be.

    The funding formula was developed by past leaders of BOTH political parties in response to massive errors and abuses in the ways some districts spent their state aid. It would NOT exist if it had not become clear that it was necessary.

    The REAL sin in school funding is when the state requires each school district to do expensive things, but does not provide the funds to accomplish those things,..

    I.E. “unfunded mandates,”

    which, for those who are paying attention, Gov. Dayton’s proposal very carefully avoids.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/28/2015 - 09:45 am.

      Nobody asks the teachers what would work

      But that’s typical with America’s new corporate focus. No one cares about the opinions of the people who do the actual work in a company or organization.

      People who are not actually in the classroom are brimming over with ideas that are supposedly going to change education once and for all. I saw this even on the college level as a foreign language instructor. Every once in a while, we would be told that *this* was the shiny new method that would make students bilingual overnight. These new methods always worked for some students and not for others. The experiences of other countries show that anyone can learn a foreign language (go to Scandinavia and see that everyone under the age of about sixty speaks at least enough English to help a tourist and often enough to hold a sophisticated conversation) but that some people are better at different aspects of it. You have to gear your instruction toward the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.

      For that reason, I think everyone who has ever stood in front of a classroom would ask for smaller classes. A class of forty or fifty, even on the college level, becomes an exercise in crowd control. A class of ten to fifteen allows the teacher to figure out each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses and adjust the curriculum accordingly.

      There are plenty of unemployed teachers around, and there are plenty of former teachers who are just pushing papers at some central office. Set elementary school size at ten and secondary school class size at fifteen, and see the results change.

      All in all, look at what the elite private schools do. They have small classes, give the teachers a lot of freedom to teach in the way that suits them, don’t have high-stakes testing, provide a broadly based curriculum that includes art, music, literature, and other interesting material beyond the three R’s. (And if you think that the students in the private schools are necessarily well-behaved or have good parents, well, my late mother could have told you war stories about teaching second grade at a highly regarded and expensive private school in the Twin Cities.)

      So the elites want all these advantages for their children, but the children of the poor and lower middle class should just buckle down and learn nothing but the three R’s in grim, regimented classrooms with twenty-nine to thirty-nine of their peers? I guess the wannabe reformers have never seen an underachieving student blossom after becoming fascinated with a certain subject and having that new-found fascination carry over into other aspects of schoolwork.

  9. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/25/2015 - 12:47 pm.

    If money has little to do with it…

    Then why if you want a nicer car, you spend more money, a better house, you spend more money, warmer boots, you spend more money, a more memorable vacation, you spend more money, In almost all of life’s pursuits the relationship between more money and better is closely correlated; but, for some strange reason when it comes to education the mantra of the right is “throwing money at the problem won’t help”. Joe Smith is right on his Utah example: a higher commitment to education in the student’s home environment is why they do well. How do you fix lousy home environments? Breaking down doors and carting wayward off spring to orphanages is not going to happen (ask Mary Jo Copeland who was denied the chance to provide a new home life for kids with little other options). So, it would seem that Dayton’s emphasis on getting at the kids who will not have support at home as early as possible is the best course of action and should be supported by all and with money. A lot of it to make a difference.

  10. Submitted by joe smith on 02/25/2015 - 02:11 pm.

    Pre K education has not proven to help students in the long term. In order to believe that pre K is valuable you must assume that parents can’t teach a child to a 5 yr old level by themselves. You must assume a child of 4 will learn blue is blue and 1+1=2 better from a teacher than from a loving parent. You must assume that 4 yr old kids would rather board a bus to learn simplistic 4 yr old stuff than stay home with a parent who will teach them not only 4 yr old stuff but share their values/beliefs that will carry them through life. I want our schools to teach kids reading, writing, arithmetic and leave the rest to the parents. School is not a day care center, it is a place where kids need to learn the basics of HOW to learn. Once you master HOW to learn it is easy to learn. Throwing money at it doesn’t work.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 02/25/2015 - 06:24 pm.


      “Pre K education has not proven to help students in the long term.”

      Cite, please.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/02/2015 - 01:00 pm.


      So…are you suggesting that we should pay at least one parent to stay home and teach (lovingly, of course) their kids? Maybe we should use that money we’re throwing at schools to pay parents to not work, eh? I think not.

  11. Submitted by joe smith on 02/25/2015 - 03:49 pm.

    Edward, the nicest car to me is a Ford 150, warmest boots old army issue Bunny boots, best vacation, N Minn at my cabin. None of them cost the most but are the best for me. Money and better is a personal preference. More money doesn’t mean better for me. Every person needs to figure out what is best for them, just as every parent needs to figure out what is best for their child.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/25/2015 - 04:22 pm.


      Then you’ll agree to stop complaining when parents DON’T do all the things you think they should, and pass the problem on to the rest of society, right? Or do you plan to criminalize poor parenting? Surely you can see where this path ends right?

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/26/2015 - 12:37 pm.

      I agree

      That new F150 with the aluminum frame, eco boost engine and Lariat trim is a sweet ride, far different from my 1972 model with the rusty floors. And I too avoid flying off to some vacation destination in order to get to my cabin in the woods where the mice and bats vacate upon my arrival. Amazing what real estate prices have gone to these days. And if you’re like me the next best thing to relaxing at the cabin is working at the cabin: nice to have a new project each year making it a little better. It all adds up I guess. And my Bunny Boots fell apart long ago; but, they sure were warm until you stepped into that pile of slush and that felt liner was a water magnet. I highly recommend the Keens, the best boot I have ever had: warm, lightweight and waterproof. I’ll stand by my more better is more money claim. And the sad fact is that a certain portion of the public are simply incapable of making good decisions; but, that does not stop them from multiplying and creating a societal problem that is not easily dealt with. Lectures from Sean Nienow on personal responsibility won’t help. Dayton’s proposals are the best that I can see to help slow down a nearly impossible problem to solve.

  12. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 02/25/2015 - 04:10 pm.

    Aren’t They “Government” Schools?

    Several conservatives commenters at MinnPost usually refer to our public schools as “government” schools. So, wouldn’t it be consistent for the “central government” – better known as state government – to have some control over how the “government” schools are spending money given to them by the “central government”?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/25/2015 - 05:27 pm.


      Since the money that is going to be spread around comes from all of the taxpayers of the state, shouldn’t there be accountability to all the taxpayers of the state?

  13. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/25/2015 - 04:45 pm.


    Well that was easy, all those deficient parents who are failing to do those tasks we all agree are critical to preparing and sustaining a student in school just need to address those troublesome deficiencies and problem solved. So; it seems we are in agreement on the nature of the problem, its’ the solution that’s troublesome. Possible solutions include:

    1. Send them to the orphanage/foster care. This may involve social engineering on a major scale as we legislate: “you’re an incompetent parent, we’re coming for your kids. Rule out #1.
    2. A memo from Sean Nienow to deficient parents telling them they are the source of the problem; so, shape up. I guess we can rule out #2 as an effective solution also.
    3. Fixing the parents to remove deficient parenting skills. This is the true solution; but, the most difficult and expensive choice.
    4. Admitting that fixing the parents is an admirable task; but 20-30 years of poor choices cannot be easily remedied and the best solution is to do our best to affect change with the kids themselves in these situations. How do you do that: Pre K education/interactions/experiences with adults who possess the skills they are not seeing/getting at home.

    I agree with Dayton on #4 above. What other realistic alternative is there?

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/25/2015 - 05:46 pm.

    Movie script

    Mr. Hahn sounds a lot like Gru in “Despicable Me,” trying to persuade his dismissive mother that, yes, he’s working on something “very, very big” that will make her proud of him.

    I’ll wait to see the specifics of the Republican plan, but past efforts have mostly focused on turning public education into corporate and private education. It would be nice to see some “reform” measures proposed by Republicans that don’t emphasize those things. Hope springs eternal…

  15. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 02/25/2015 - 11:03 pm.

    Pre-school education

    An acknowledged source of educational disparities are the advantages higher income children in terms of accelerated learning opportunities in nursery schools and from their highly educated parents. Poor kids do not not grow up with these advantages, as they are more often growing up in single parent households, with lower parent education levels, parents who are struggling to pay the basic bills with low wage jobs and don’t have to the same time and money to invest in their children’s education. Targeting money toward those children with the greatest need,as Dayton proposes, is the most direct way to attack the disparities. More of the Republican no strings attached money will go to districts with less need, who are likely to spend the money on extras for already privileged students – extracurricular activities, advanced placement classes, more college counselors, etc, in fact increaaing the disparities. They are taking a different direction from the Republican business leaders, who see early education as a key way to educate a better workforce for the future, as a growing share of children are growing up in poverty. The Republican plan seems like a way to pay back wealthy communities that are focused on local shortcomings rather than the state-wide crisis in early childhood education.

  16. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 02/26/2015 - 08:04 am.

    When Ms. Brucato, a journalist

    of good repute, but with a known Republican slant (note I did not say bias), writes that the Republican education plan is “short on new ideas,” it tells you something.

    Tearing down a barn is easy. Building one is a lot tougher. As someone once said …

  17. Submitted by Michael Hess on 02/26/2015 - 09:39 am.

    Interesting bias?

    an article today in City Pages highlights struggles at Duluth Denfield high school, and a legislative response. The legislative proposal comes from a twin cities DFL State senator. the teachers think its “a condescending load of bull”. Now if a republican state legislator proposed such a response, some heavy handed new requirement, there would be derision about how they have no new ideas and seek only to tear down public schools. But when such an idea comes from the DFL? Where’s the scrutiny?

  18. Submitted by joe smith on 02/26/2015 - 10:40 am.

    I think we can all agree that parental involvement is the biggest factor in a child’s success in school. If you can’t take out an hour of your day to read with or help your child with school work you shouldn’t have kids…. That being said, we all know many folks are having kids and not prioritizing education. We have tried throwing money at the problem for yrs with no results. Kansas City desegregation experiment from 1985-99 is good case study on it. School food programs were supposed to help grades, didn’t work. Until parents make education a priority for their children we will continue to throw money at a problem that money doesn’t solve. No easy answers… but trying to build the barn with a foundation that keeps crumbling (throwing $$$ at it) is not working.

  19. Submitted by joe smith on 02/26/2015 - 01:52 pm.

    Edward, I totally agree with you on your assessment of the situation with kids and bad parents. In a perfect world you’d change the parents attitude towards education and how important they are in the development of their own kids. That can’t be mandated by the state, it has to come from leaders in minority areas. That is not the message I hear from the Al Sharpton’s of the world. What I hear is some version of “the man is keeping you down”. That doesn’t help anyone…. Then out of frustration politicians throw money at education and wash their hands of it. Can’t build the barn with a foundation that crumbles.
    Black students entering kindergarten trailing white students by 21% in literacy testing, at the end of 3rd grade they trail white students by 54% in the Mpls school district. So the thought of pre K spending being the answer is not going to happen. It just makes all the folks who don’t live in the impoverished areas feel better and gives the black parents who don’t want to help their own kids another excuse.
    No easy answers but the black communities, churches, leaders and caring parents need to educate non involved parents how important they are in their child’s education and hold them accountable to the best of abilities. State can’t do it and either can money.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/26/2015 - 02:59 pm.


      There it is, the old “well I didn’t REALLY mean we should take their kids away” walk back, combined with throwing up of the hands and blaming other people (minority parents) for the problem. What you really meant to say is “We really need to solve this, just so long as it doesn’t cost me anything personally”. It would save a lot of typing.

  20. Submitted by joe smith on 02/26/2015 - 04:11 pm.

    I would never even think of taking anybodies child away from them. I will leave that to the Govt. Throwing money at a problem that doesn’t solve the problem is how we got 19 trillion in debt as a country. If lack of parental involvement is the main reason for poor performance by students it doesn’t matter what color that person is, it is called poor parenting. We are talking about the problems with Minneapolis schools (predominately minorities) not getting enough money and pre K education needed in inner city (again predominately minorities). The solution is educating poor parents not throwing more money at pre K, doesn’t help. We spend $23,000 per student in Mpls schools where the national avg is $12,438, that doesn’t seem to be working. Not throwing up hands, just stating facts.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/26/2015 - 07:11 pm.

      And how exactly do you propose to do that

      Platitudes sound lovely. Until actual, demonstrably effective, steps are taken that’s all they are. Please inform me who is going to be doing this “‘re-education” of defective parents, apart from who is already in the equation, and why are their efforts going to change anything? Who will pay for it?

  21. Submitted by cory johnson on 02/28/2015 - 06:54 pm.

    Let’s keep shoveling money at the problem…

    As long as it isn’t coming from my trust fund. Its been proven that it doesn’t help. But its also been proven that it makes me feel less guilty. Its all about good intentions.

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