The “New Minnesota Miracle,” an education finance and reform bill introduced today, would seem to have “a snowball’s chance in hell” these days.
That’s because it would require an estimated $2 billion to $2.5 billion in state money, and nobody needs to be reminded that this session is all about cost-cutting in order to plug the state’s historic $5 billion deficit.
But after the bill’s introduction on the House floor, its author, Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, chair of the House K-12 education committee, provided an optimistic view about finding the money somewhere, somehow.
“We will be the acrobats of the session,” said Greiling. “We’ll be looking for any way we can scrape together anything … whatever we can do to get started on this bill.”
The original “Minnesota Miracle” refers to a major 1971 overhaul of education funding in which the state took over much of the spending for K-12 education.
Supporting Greiling and her legislation at a post-session news conference were Reps. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, newly minted Assistant House Majority Leader Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, and Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
“We see this bill as the way we get to provide a high-quality education for every student, no matter where they live in the state,” said Kelliher. “The whole bill is the reform that people have been waiting for, [after] nearly three decades of waiting.”
Greiling says her legislation would simplify public school funding in part by revising the per-pupil formula, and weighting every student the same. She says the new formula would make education funding more equitable across the state, from the high-cost metro districts to the sparse rural areas.
“Instead of using politics to measure how much is needed for each different type of student, or each different type of district … it’s a need-based bill that funds what every kid needs equitably to graduate ready with success,” she said.
The bill, Greiling said, also requires the state to fully fund special education and districts to meet strict performance targets and accountability measures.
To make the proposal’s cost more palatable, Greiling said, her legislation is written to be phased in over several bienniums. Additionally, she said her bill would create a $600 million property tax reduction.
“There’s property tax relief in here, big time,” said Greiling. “For the new state funding, property taxes go down.”
Greiling said even if they just get a single penny this session, that’s enough to get the ball rolling.
After Greiling and the DFL leaders finished their comments, House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R- Marshall, told reporters that his caucus is always interested in reform and accountability but said the timing isn’t right for Greiling’s proposal.
“The ‘Minnesota Miracle’ might be the ‘Minnesota Mirage’ for a lot of folks who believe in fiscal accountability,” said Seifert.
Seifert said phasing in the proposal over several years does not really help Greiling’s bill. He said he doesn’t want the state to lock itself “into future spending obligations to the point where we’re never going to have a balanced budget.”
“I just want to bring in the reality that we’re $5 billion in the hole,” said Seifert. “We certainly want to work together with our friends on the other side, but we want people to be realistic. You have to govern with spreadsheets, with money coming into the state treasury. You can’t do it by press conference.”
Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, is expected to introduce a Senate companion to Greiling’s bill soon.