A think tank called "Growth and Justice" outlined a new report on education funding today that identifies the most efficient ways to pay for schools -- but also calls on lawmakers and the governor to add at least $1 billion for schools next year.
The group's president, Dane Smith, says leaders should realize that spending money on schools now will save money on services like prisons and welfare later, even if that means raising taxes during tough economic times.
"We know we're coming into the next session with, likely, a $1-$2 billion projected shortage. But it shouldn't make a difference in our long-term strategy in this state," Smith said.
Smith lauded his group's report, which is the result of two years of studying education funding in Minnesota.
Smith said his group's ideas could blend well with a DFL-backed proposal that's being called the "New Minnesota Miracle." That plan, being sponsored by State Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, would also boost education funding but doesn't yet identify how to pay for it.
Growth and Justice also presented research that shows only about half of Minnesota's young adults have some kind of post-high school degree or professional certificate.
Policy director Angie Eilers says that number should increase to 75 percent, and lawmakers should establish that goal in state law.
"If we know where we're going and what target we're trying to hit, our aim might just be a bit better," Eilers said. "I think it's important to at least set expectations and goals, and work toward them and figure out how we're going to work toward them."
But it's not just think tanks, unions and lobby groups getting ready for a big debate on education and education funding. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has already outlined some initatives he'd like to see pass next year, including more stringent requirements for college students studying to become teachers.
On Thursday, the governor will tour the state to announce a new "online learning initiative." He has already called for legislation to require all Minnesota high schoolers to take at least one online course before graduating.
To date, Pawlenty hasn't offered any numbers for a state budget proposal, though he has resisted past efforts to fund initiatives or increased funding through higher taxes. Pawlenty has already raised questions about where the money for Greiling's "miracle" bill would come from.