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Dayton, leaders clash over Minnesota school funding

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislative leaders and the governor are on a collision course over education funding as time runs out for the 2015 legislative session.

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Minnesota state senators who arrived on time pause for a moment of prayer Saturday, May 16, 2015, before starting work for the day. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislative leaders and the governor are on a collision course over education funding as time runs out for the 2015 legislative session.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton promises to veto education spending legislation that is not rich enough to fund universal pre-kindergarten programs. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said they don’t want to waiver from a budget deal they drew up that falls short of Dayton's wishes.

The governor wants enough money to fund half-day pre-kindergarten programs statewide, as well as increasing per-pupil spending in schools. While Bakk and Daudt are leaving details up to education conference committee negotiators, Dayton said Saturday that $150 million more than is in the Bakk-Daudt plan is needed to fund his projects and avoid a veto.

A veto probably would force a special legislative session.

The education money in dispute pales in comparison to the overall budget, which under the Bakk-Daudt plan would spend $41.5 billion in the two years beginning July 1. Current spending is expected to be $39.3 billion in the two years ending June 30.


Negotiations among Dayton, Daudt and Bakk throughout the past week did not reach an overall budget agreement. While meeting with Dayton at his official home, Bakk and Daudt retired to a closed-door meeting Friday afternoon, met two hours and left after giving Dayton their budget plan. After looking it over, Dayton had several criticisms, but nothing rising to a veto threat like what he considers inadequate education funding.

Legislators have until midnight Monday to finish their session.

If they cannot finish on time, holding a special session will be difficult because on Tuesday construction workers begin expanding their Capitol renovation work by ripping up the House and Senate chambers. Dayton said that if a special session is needed, it could cost millions of dollars.

In the rush to finish on time, House and Senate negotiators pushed to finish writing their eight spending bills so the full House and Senate can vote on them before adjournment. Lawmakers were expected to work Sunday afternoon and night and all day Monday.

Saturday's focus was on education funding for early childhood through high school.

Democrat Dayton met with reporters, but first greeted a Duluth brother and sister, ages 8 and 11.

"The situation is all about their future," Dayton said, nodding to Stella and Charley Schutz, whose grandmother works for the House Public Information Office.

More than 50 House Democrats signed a letter supporting the Dayton spending level.


"In a time of surplus, we should not be shortchanging our kids," the Democrats wrote to Dayton. "Democrats in the Minnesota House will stand with you and with families across our state as these budget negotiations move forward."

Bakk said that he and Daudt are firm on passing their own plan, not increasing spending to please Dayton. "We are out of time here."

The senator warned that Dayton's veto threat "is very risky." He said if the bill is vetoed, Republicans could return to a special session with an even lower spending target. "He may get a smaller education bill if he goes into special session."

The Dayton administration disputed Bakk's claim that lack of an education bill would allow schools to keep their funding. He said a veto would only result in the state Education Department closing.

While some funding would continue, the administration released a memorandum saying that not only would the 400-worker state department close without an education bill, but considerable school funding also would dry up. Teachers also could lose jobs, the memo said.

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