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Students, Educators Rally for Increased Funding
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
March 5, 2001
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Gov. Ventura's education budget came under more fire from education groups who say it shortchanges schools. About 1,000 students, parents and educators rallied at the Capitol for more education spending, while U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone criticized the governor's budget at a St. Paul school. But Ventura isn't backing down on his intent to hold education increases to the rate of inflation.
Sen. Paul Wellstone reads Biddy Mason to 4th graders at Jackson Preparatory Magnet School in St. Paul Monday. He says Ventura's budget, combined with the Bush budget, is a "double whammy" against education. See larger image

AS EDUCATION SUPPORTERS packed the Capitol rotunda, teachers and parents talked about the increasing heating, health insurance and special education costs districts are facing.

Amy Withhart of Shoreview, a senior from Mounds View High School, sported a sign on her back that read My Governor thinks I'm a Black Hole, referring to Ventura's comments that "no amount of money will satisfy the education lobby."

Mounds View recently passed an $80 million bond referendum, but the district can only use the money to build classrooms, not hire teachers. Withhart says the Governor's budget won't help Mounds View keep class sizes small.

"I have a baby brother who starts high school next year, and I had trouble learning in a classroom of 30, and I don't want him to have to learn in a class of 40 to even 50 students," Withhart said.

Withhart says she probably would have voted for the governor, but she now thinks he's a disgrace. Withhart and other students and parents are lobbying legislators to approve more spending than the 5.5-percent increase included in the governor's budget.

Many lawmakers seem inclined to do so, but Ventura is standing by his budget recommendations. Spokesman John Wodele says the state put an extra $1.3 billion into education in the last two-year budget cycle, and the governor is not convinced districts put the money to good use.

"He has said that we just can't keep putting money into this big black hole without having some signal of what it's buying us, what it's value is. Is it reducing class sizes? If the schools are in as dire shape as they say they are, it doesn't appear that we have enough money to get them out of the dire straits that they're in," according to Wodele.

Ventura's education budget is also being criticized by Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone. While it's somewhat unusual for a U.S. senator to get involved in a state budget dispute, Wellstone says he's concerned about what he sees as a "double whammy" for schools, who will get hit by Ventura's budget and President Bush's proposed budget.

On Monday, March 5, 2001, students rallied in the Rotunda of the Capitol on behalf of more education funding.
Wellstone says both call for extensive tax cuts at the expense of public education. "President Bush and Governor Ventura are profoundly mistaken in not making the investment that we need to make in children and education," Wellstone said.

Wellstone says while he disagrees with Ventura's budget recommendations, he agrees with the governor's push for the federal government to live up to its promise of funding 40-percent of special education costs. That would bring the state an estimated $250 million a year in additional federal money. But Wellstone says Ventura's budget doesn't recognize the pressure on schools to educate an increasingly diverse population.

He met with teachers and parents at Jackson Preparatory Magnet School in St. Paul, where more than half of the 400-some students live in homes where English is not the primary language.

First-grade teacher Sue Rethwell told Wellstone that puts more responsibility on schools to help those children read.

"As parents, you sit down with your child, you read, but if you don't know the language, that's really a big barrier. So a lot of that has to be taken on in our classrooms," Rethwell said.

School officials told Wellstone that the budget surplus at the state and federal level presents a golden opportunity to help districts meet their increasing challenges. Ventura spokesman Wodele admits the governor's office is getting post cards and phone calls from citizens who want to spend more on education, although he says most appear to be organized by education groups. But Wodele says the governor believes the state made a significant investment in education last biennium, and this budget focuses on property tax relief, which should benefit farmers, homeowners, seniors and renters.