Labor-endorsed candidates back investments in public education, from pre-K to higher ed

Supporters line the sidewalk outside St. Paul Public Schools headquarters during a rally in support of the teachers' contract campaign.

Bold investments in public schools and early learners. Higher education that’s affordable for working families. An aggressive approach to narrowing the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

Labor-endorsed candidates have high hopes when it comes to education in Minnesota, but they will need to win a majority in the House – and maintain one in the Senate – to see their hopes turn into results.

“With a DFL majority in the House and Senate we can continue our work to build a positive future for Minnesota working families by investing in education at all levels,” labor-endorsed Sen. Greg Clausen, a longtime administrator in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district, said.

Clausen speaks from experience. With DFL majorities during his first two years in office, 2013-14, lawmakers expanded all-day kindergarten statewide and paid back money borrowed from school districts – over Gov. Mark Dayton’s objections – during a budget shortfall in 2011.

But efforts to think big during the last session, including Dayton’s push for a major investment in pre-kindergarten, fell flat. In a compromise, lawmakers settled on 2 percent annual increases in state funding and a modest pilot program for pre-K.

Don Slaten, a union retiree from Hastings seeking office in House District 54B, said he was disappointed to see school funding fail to keep up with inflation. “Republicans offered six-tenths of a percent, and they finally settled on 2 percent,” Slaten said. “We can do better.”

Slaten and other labor-endorsed candidates want to expand the $25 million pre-K program to meet existing demand. Nearly 7,000 four-year-olds missed out on pre-K because the pilot project lacked sufficient funding.

They also want to make investments in higher education, where state funding dipped by 55.8 percent from 1980 to 2011.

“By defunding higher education, we have essentially imposed a tax on behavior that we absolutely want to encourage – obtaining a secondary degree,” Matt Klein, the labor-endorsed candidate in Senate District 52, said. “Our state is a top draw for employers because we have an educated workforce. If we create barriers to higher education, our state economy will suffer.”

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said legislative horse trading and last-minute compromises haven’t served students well.

“Gridlock doesn’t hurt the people at the top, but the rest of us need the Legislature to do its job and give a hand up to working families,” she said. “In education, that means investing in our state’s future by giving every child access to high-quality pre-K and taking on the teacher shortage so every student has the opportunity to learn from an experienced, well-qualified teacher.

“Preparing young people for successful lives has never been more challenging. Educators and parents need more partners at the Capitol.”

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