K-12 education funding was spared from cuts in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal released Monday, but higher education was not as fortunate.
Under Pawlenty's budget proposal, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State College and University system would both see cuts, but funding for K-12 schools was not affected. Officials in the education community expressed relief and even surprise at the move, considering how much of the state's budget is spent on K-12 funding.
SCHOOLS RELIEVED FOR NOW
The news was almost anti-climactic to Charlie Kyte, who lobbies at the Capitol on behalf of school administrators.
"Last week, we were pretty sure K-12 was going to get cut," he said. "We do believe that the governor's staff looked at cutbacks in K-12 anywhere from zero, which is where it ended up, up to about $500 million. So thank goodness for where we're at now."
More than a third of the state's budget is spent on K-12 education, but so far this fiscal year there have been no state cuts. Some payments to schools have been delayed, which has created extra charges for districts that had to take out loans to cover short-term cash flow needs. But all in all, district leaders agree a payment delay is much better than a cut.
Still, education officials say any celebration is temporary. Most, if not all, school districts in Minnesota face their own local budget shortfalls. That could result in more layoffs when those districts finalize their own spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
The problem, they say, is that state funding has stayed mostly flat for years, while costs for items such as teacher salaries and health care benefits keep increasing. There has been some reprieve from the federal stimulus funding, but that money dries up after next year.
That's why some lawmakers, like State Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, have pushed for more education funding -- even if it means higher taxes to pay for it.
"I'm thrilled that we didn't get cut, but cuts alone do not solve the kind of problem we're having economically," she said. "We have to stimulate the economy, and the other budgets that did get cut are going to keep getting cut if we don't invest in education."
The governor did address stimulating the economy in the plan, with a proposal for a number of tax cuts to spur business development.
U OF M HIT WITH $36M CUT, MNSCU $10M
Not all of the state's education spending was spared. The governor's proposal calls for a $36 million cut to the University of Minnesota and a $10 million cut for the MnSCU system.
The governor called the cut "relatively light", adding he would have cut more but was restricted by federal requirements.
Acknowledging the governer and legislature's authorities, U of M CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said the cut was expected, but no less easy to accept -- especially when areas like K-12 were spared.
"At this point, this late in the continuing budget cuts, to protect any part of it seems a little difficult to us," Pfutzenreuter said. "We'll go down there and make the case for a more balanced approach."
That's not to say K-12 interests are resting on their laurels. Officials say they're sure to be a target as the governor's budget plan gets hashed out at the Capitol. Also, if a new budget forecast in March predicts an even larger deficit, they say there's little hope of avoiding cuts at that time.