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With smaller deficit, Pawlenty recommends more school aid
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The governor's proposal would also boost funding for schools that choose to change their pay structure for teachers. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Pawlenty is proposing an increase in education funding as a part of his revised budget plan. Pawlenty wants to spend $108 million more than he originally proposed on K-12 education. The increase in funding is possible because the revenue forecast released last week showed the state's budget outlook improving. Critics say the funding for education still isn't enough. And others point out that Minnesota is still facing a budget deficit of $466 million in the next two-year budget cycle, without including inflation.

St. Paul, Minn. — It's clear that Gov. Pawlenty has heard the cries from the public for more education funding. Several thousand people held a rally outside of the Capitol last month saying their schools need more money.

Pawlenty hopes his supplemental budget will appease those concerns. He plans to increase the amount of money schools get for each student, boost special education funding and provide more money to programs for gifted students.

He's trying to claim credit today for funding for schools that he won't himself be willing to vote for.
- Sen. Steve Kelley

"There is no question that our public schools in Minnesota need additional funding, but we also want to make sure that we make progress on increasing accountability for improved academic results as well and we believe the package that we're putting forward today accomplishes those objectives," Pawlenty said.

The governor's proposal would also boost funding for schools that choose to change their pay structure for teachers. He wants to see schools go from paying teachers based on seniority to rewarding them for performance.

Pawlenty's budget also increases funding for DNA analysis in crime labs, expands tax breaks for rural startup businesses, and provides money to hire a state employee to coordinate faith-based initiatives with state programs. He also recommends the state keep $75 million in reserve to pay for proposed budget cuts on the federal level.

Reaction to the proposal fell along party lines. Republicans, like Rep. Barb Sykora from Excelsior, cheer the increase in school funding. Sykora, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee, says Pawlenty's budget will help schools.

"I urged the governor to do this. I'm very pleased that he did. the formula increase, the special ed excess costs, that's something we keep hearing about. These are things that are all going to be very helpful," Sykora said.

DFLers say Pawlenty's budget doesn't do enough for schools. DFL Sen. Steve Kelley, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, says Pawlenty is acting like his budget is a big boost for schools, but Kelley says schools are still talking about making cutbacks.

Kelley says Pawlenty is trying to take credit for school funding increases, even though the bulk of the money is coming from increased property taxes.

"He's trying to claim credit today for funding for schools that he won't himself be willing to vote for -- that he won't himself be willing to sign to raise the money for," said Kelley. "He wants other people to raise the money so he can claim credit for this big increase in education. That's not the kind of leadership we should have from the governor of this state."

Kelley is proposing to double Pawlenty's proposed annual increase in the per-pupil formula. He isn't saying how he and fellow Democrats would pay for the increase.

Other DFLers criticize Pawlenty for failing to respond to the concerns about his proposed cuts to the state's subsidized health insurance programs. The governor hasn't put any additional funding in those programs. He wants to cut at least 27,000 people from the state's health insurance program for the working poor.

Pawlenty says he didn't make any changes to the human services portion of the budget because he believes Minnesota has a generous system.

DFL Sen. Ann Rest of New Hope says Pawlenty's budget would make things worse for people who need health care.

"He makes claims about having the best system in the country, and yet he wants to undermine that system by throwing people off of MinnesotaCare. That's not a value that we're going to uphold in the Senate DFL," Rest said.

House and Senate DFLers say they'll release their budget proposal in the next few weeks.