The Minnesota Office of Management and Budget announced last week that the state has a $1.233 billion surplus for Fiscal Year 2015. But not all of that is up for grabs: after the state repays its debts—including about $246 million to Minnesota schools—it has a little less than a billion dollars of extra cash.
All of Minnesota’s legislators have ideas on how to use the money. Some want to put it into a reserve fund for a rainy day, some want to invest in their community through job training programs, transportation projects, public safety efforts, the environment, education and healthcare, while others advocate for tax breaks.
Gov. Dayton hinted in December about his hopes for the money: repay debts to Minnesota’s schools and airports (price tag: $261 million) and use about half of the remaining surplus on tax cuts (price tag: $436 million). That would leave $536 million for our legislators to strengthen the state, however they see fit.
There’s no better way to strengthen Minnesota than to invest in our kids. We could do this by: swiftly and properly implementing teacher and principal evaluations, expanding professional development opportunities for educators, properly staffing agencies that process teacher licenses, recruiting high-quality and diverse teachers to enter the field, and increasing funding for high-quality pre-K so more low-income kids can enter kindergarten prepared for success.
Unfortunately, legislators may have other plans for the record surplus. The House of Representatives just passed a bill that would use more than $500 million of the surplus on tax cuts. And Senate leadership has suggested that we add hundreds of millions to Minnesota’s already-healthy reserve fund.
With some of the worst achievement gaps and high school graduation rates for students of color in the country, Minnesota has a lot of work to do to ensure that all kids are prepared for success. We have to invest well and invest wisely, and while a billion dollars won’t get us over the finish line, it would certainly help us build on the momentum established in recent years to strengthen public education–kindergarten readiness and grad rates are now tracking in the right direction.
The budget surplus offers us a real opportunity to make a lasting difference for our kids and the future of our state. So, I’m asking you: Take a few minutes today, give your legislators a call and ask, “How do you plan to use the surplus to serve our kids and schools? Every child deserves access to a high-quality public school.”
With a great surplus comes great responsibility. And only with the support of concerned parents, educators and community members will we see great outcomes for our kids.