If I were a rocket scientist and someone were to ask, “How much fuel will we need to make it to Mars?” I’d probably say, “Fill ‘er up.” Last month, the Minnesota Legislature had the opportunity to meet and surpass Gov. Dayton’s recommendation to invest much of our $1.9 billion budget surplus in kids. Parents, teachers and education advocates like me looked to our legislators, the guardians of our tax dollars, to “fill ‘er up.” Instead, in the face of a historic budget surplus, and against the backdrop of some of the widest race and income-based achievement gaps in the nation, the funding proposals coming out of the Senate and House of Representatives would likely not get us down the street.
With greater investments, our policymakers could have drastically improved early learning opportunities, closed the funding gap between public charter and traditional schools, increased staff for our under-resourced licensing agencies and increased per-pupil funding to ensure we meet all essential costs for schools.
While Gov. Dayton recommended increasing our education budget by nearly $700 million over the next two years, the Senate budget included only half this amount. The House scaled back even further, proposing $193 million less than the Senate. In fact, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratically-controlled Senate placed arbitrary limits on how much to invest in PreK-12 education, with both chambers prioritizing tax cuts over education funding. Instead of calling or raising the governor’s education ante, our Legislature did little more than fold.
Education advocates might disagree on how we should invest in public schools, but we can almost all agree that to help every Minnesota child thrive, our public education system needs more money. When it comes to investing in our kids, doing more with less is a dangerous strategy. If we want a world-class system, we can’t cut corners, and we need our investments to go hand in hand with a clear strategy on how to best improve outcomes for kids. We know that spending alone does not ultimately prepare our students for success—spending more wisely does.
Given the arbitrary spending limits set by the Legislature, we must make sure increased spending in our public school system first addresses our most pressing goal: close Minnesota’s race- and income-based student achievement gaps. It’s crucial that kids of color and low-income families have first dibs on all the resources they need to succeed.
Whichever budget our Legislature advances, our state’s education goals should remain constant: continue to fight for more resources to better serve all Minnesota children, while building out robust and targeted investments to serve historically underserved students first.
Do you have thoughts on what YOUR school needs to succeed? Comment below to share your ideas, and contact your legislators to tell them your priorities! And click here to learn more about the proposed budgets.