The three Democrats vying to be their party's nominee for Minnesota governor in this fall's election are battling over their education credentials.
MPR's Cathy Wurzer spoke with Minnesota Public Radio News education reporter Tom Weber about the proposals on education that have become big part of the DFL gubernatorial primary race.
NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
Matt Entenza is running an ad in which he proposes getting rid of President Bush's keystone education program No Child Left Behind, which is still the main law governing federal education policy.
"Let teachers teach to every child's potential, not just a test, and they'll make sure decisions are made right here in Minnesota, not Washington. Let's make Minnesota great again," states Entenza's ad, which focuses on the criticism that No Child Left Behind forces teachers to 'teach to the test' and puts unfunded mandates on states and districts. His plan would have the state create its own system of accountability and testing.
It's a position that differentiates Entenza from former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton or endorsed DFL candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who both say they have problems with aspects of No Child Left Behind, but they don't favor opting out because of the risk of losing federal funds. Dayton was U.S. senator when NCLB passed in 2001; he voted against it.
What the ad doesn't mention is that no single state has ever opted out of No Child: It would mean a loss of federal funds. Most federal education funding that states and districts receive is tied to NCLB, so 'opting out' would mean the state wouldn't get those funds.
Whether Minnesota would have to return its federal stimulus education money if it opted out is still unclear. A report from the state's Budget Office estimated that districts would lose $218.4 million annually if Minnesota opted out.
Entenza's campaign doesn't dispute there would be a loss of funding, but also claims the loss would be mitigated because districts wouldn't have to spend so much money complying with NCLB. Entenza's campaign cites another report, from the Legislative Auditor, that says it's "possible that NCLB's new costs will exceed the increase in NCLB revenues." That report also claims, however, that because of the loss of funding "relatively few school district superintendents favor opting out."
Dayton is running an ad in which he promises to increase education funding.
Dayton said in his first two years as governor, he'd raise spending on K-12 education by nearly $2 billion by reversing an accounting shift that delays payments to schools into the next fiscal year in order to balance the state's budget on paper. It's essentially a loan to the state from school districts. The only way to ensure that money is paid back is to actually appropriate the money -- the last time there were big shifts, it took the state a number of years to pay it back. But Dayton said he will pay it back in the first biennium.
House Majority Leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher said that's not an increase - she said paying back the shift is the same as paying back a loan. It's not new money, she said, it's keeping an old promise.
Kelliher hasn't run as many ads on TV as Dayton or Entenza, who are using their own personal wealth to fund their campaigns. Still, she has education plans of her own.
She's lining up behind a plan that's been a DFL proposal at the Capitol for a few years now called the New Minnesota Miracle. It's a complete overhaul of the formula used to fund schools that supporters say is fairer and more equitable than the current formula. But it would cost $1.8 billion to fully implement, so Kelliher said she would phase it in over six years, which is longer than a governor's term. In her first year, she'd raise education spending by $200 million as the first step.
Dayton said he supports the New Minnesota Miracle, while Entenza's campaign said he also support a change to the formula, but doesn't want to use the words "New Minnesota Miracle" because that binds him to that specific proposal.