Friday, September 3, 2010

Will Tom Emmer Pay Back the K-12 Funding Shift From Last Session?

In the words of the mighty magic 8 ball, "Outlook not so good."

Today I headed out to the MN State Fair for the MPR Gubernatorial debate. I was hoping to be able to get a question in, but it was packed and due to some unforeseen circumstances, I arrived a little late. Even though there have been a good number of debates, so far they have nearly exclusively focused on the economy, jobs, and taxes. Those are all important issues, but there are other things concerning Minnesotans that are not being discussed such as education, clean water, healthcare, the desperate need for more public defenders, etc. Once again, this debate spoke primarily about taxes and jobs. It was a lot of what we've already heard with the exception of a few audience questions about protecting our water, bullying, and whether to close some state higher ed institutions. There wasn't a lot of new information.

After the debate ended, I was leaving when I noticed Tom Emmer departing off to the side of the stage. He was exuberantly shaking hands with a crowd of people in "Emmer for Governor" hockey jerseys and buttons and stopping to pose for photos with them. This went on for about ten minutes, when an older lady walked up to him and introduced herself as a teacher and asked him about his plans for K-12 education. I was curious to hear his answer so I stopped to listen. He put his hand on her arm and talked about how important our schools are and the need to make sure "more money gets to the classrooms." (Although, no specifics were explained as to how he would do that.) I saw my window of opportunity and decided to take it.

As he shook her hand and thanked her, I asked if I could ask a related question. He looked me up and down suspiciously and curtly said "We really don't have time. I need to get going." (I'm pretty certain that he suspected me of being a DFL tracker because I had been filming a few things on my cell phone, which was still in my hand, but not being used.)

"You don't have time for just a single question?" I replied.

He sighed and said "Okay, what is it?"

I told him that I am from a family of educators and that I myself had worked with middle schoolers and that my family was very concerned about educational issues. After that, I point blank asked him, "Are you willing to guarantee that if you are elected governor, the K-12 funding shift will be paid back?"

*Side note: For those who don't know what the K-12 funding shift is, last session the MN state budget was balanced in part on one time gimmicks. One of these was to delay paying out money that was allocated for funding our K-12 public schools in order to balance the budget. Essentially, we took a loan from our schools to balance the books. Schools were told that it would be paid back next session, but due to the coming changing of the guard in the governor's office, there is no real guarantee that that money will be paid back. Although Governor Pawlenty said it would be, the decision to ultimately do so will rest with his successor. I haven't heard anyone yet ask the candidates about it, so I've been curious to try to get some answers from them.*

This was Tom Emmer's response:

"We're going to pay it....well....We can't guarantee anything. [Emphasis his] We're planning on paying it back, but it will be tied to our educational reforms."

"You mean that if the schools want the money that was allocated for them last year, they'll have to agree to whatever reforms you put in place?" I inquired.

"Essentially, yes. It will be tied to our proposed educational reforms." He stated.

At that point he kept moving. I didn't get the "Thank you" or the handshake, but I got my question answered. So for those of you who work in education and have been wondering what Tom Emmer will do about the K-12 shift, under his plan you will get your money back as long as you implement whatever reforms he decides are necessary. I don't know what those would be and am anxious to hear more. To clarify, if he decides that schools need to adopt performance pay, alternative licensure, vouchers, (all items he supports on his campaign website) etc, the schools will not receive the money that the state borrowed back after its allocation unless they agree to abide by those reforms.

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