More than 50 of Minnesota's 553 school districts are facing budget shortfalls this year. Some say they're going to have to lay off teachers and staff, increase class sizes, or cut extracurricular activities. Now, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has asked the Legislature for $138 million in emergency funding. Dayton wants to draw on the state's $329 million surplus and spread the funds across all districts as additional per-pupil funding.
"These holes are just so big, they just keep coming and they're cumulative every single year," said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "School districts try to keep up and keep their chin above water, but it's just getting more and more difficult."
But Republicans in the Legislature say it's not an emergency. State Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee, say schools need a long-term solution to their perennial budget problems.
"It's a Band-Aid approach," Loon said. "It may help a few districts get through the year, but many reports I've seen of schools welcoming the additional money have said they're still going to move forward with cuts."
And with just three weeks left in the legislative session, Loon says it's too late to draw on the state's surplus.
"This surplus has been spent probably many times over with a lot of the proposals put forward," Loon said, noting proposals to use surplus funding for tax relief and toward pensions, a large part of which would go to teachers.
Loon said lawmakers and school leaders can get creative to come up with additional funding through other sources.
Click on the audio players above to hear interviews with Loon and Cassellius.