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GOP attempted to insert radical education policies into budget talks

In the hours leading up to the Minnesota state government shutdown, Republican lawmakers tried to push through a series of radical education policy changes as part of a final budget plan, including Wisconsin-style attacks on the collective bargaining rights of teachers.

That maneuver came to light on Friday as both parties revealed previously secret offers the two sides exchanged before the shutdown.

As late as Wednesday, Republicans demanded the following:

  • Vouchers to allow public school funding to pay for private school tuition for some students.
  • Eliminating integration aid for programs designed to close the achievement gap.
  • Unidentified "collective bargaining reforms." In the previous GOP education budget bill, vetoed by the governor, some of those measures included eliminating the right to strike, forcing teachers to accept "qualified economic offers" and limiting bargaining to the summer months.
  • Eliminating the 2 percent set-aside for teacher development and the Jan. 15 contract deadline.

The Republicans also wanted caps on higher education tuition, the elimination of 15,000 state jobs by 2015, changes in prevailing wage laws and a series of controversial social issues such as further limits on abortion, photo ID for voting and stem cell research bans.

In exchange, the Republicans offered $1 billion in what they called "new revenue," but which really involved an additional $700 million shift in school funding, borrowing from future tobacco payments and millions in unspecified other revenue.

Gov. Mark Dayton rejected the so-called new revenue, calling it "principally two big loans. This does not add revenue, it adds debt.  And it's what got us into this budget mess in the first place," Dayton said.

Policy issues 'disappointing'
Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said the revelation about Republican efforts to inject policy into the budget discussions was disappointing.

"Minnesota deserves better," Dooher said. "The GOP choices to harm education are not necessary. We need meaningful education policies that truly help children learn and help teachers teach.

"Gov. Dayton already vetoed the GOP education policy proposals because they are not in the best interests of Minnesota students. Minnesotans deserve a balanced budget without playing politics with our schools," Dooher said.

Dayton scaled back tax proposal
In the final round of negotiations, the governor offered to scale back his request for taxes on the richest 2 percent of Minnesota taxpayers, to those making more than $1 million a year -- only 7,700 Minnesotans, or about 0.3 percent of the population. Republicans rejected that offer, and Dayton responded during a 10 p.m. news conference Thursday.

“I cannot accept a Minnesota where elderly widows are denied the at-home services that permit them to remain healthy and able to live in their own homes, or a Minnesota where local governments have to further slash their firefighters and police forces, or a Minnesota where special education is being cut, so that millionaires do not have to pay one dollar more in taxes,” Dayton said.

Dayton’s plan calls for a mix of deep spending cuts and tax revenue increases to balance the budget, while GOP plans still do not raise tax revenue.  Dayton said he agreed to further spending cuts in the last round of talks, bringing his total spending cut proposal to more than $1.9 billion.

Republicans jeered governor
Several media organizations reported that Republican lawmakers filled the Governor’s Reception Room during the speech and news conference, hooting and jeering when Dayton said things that offended them.

"Longtime Capitol reporters said they'd never heard a governor receive the sort of disrespectful treatment Dayton received," MinnPost reported.

The StarTribune reported Friday that GOP insistence on controversial policy may have contributed to derailing the talks.

The paper also reported lawmakers admitted struggling to stay calm during the last-day stress, and specifically referred to a "blistering attack" on Thursday morning from Rep. Pat Garofalo, chair of the House Education Finance Committee, "… at a time when most legislators had dialed down the partisan bickering."

Some lawmakers have called for a cooling-off period before any more talks begin. It appears no talks will take place before July 5.

9,000 teachers need to renew licenses
The Department of Education reported that about 9,000 teachers licenses are pending for renewal, but no licenses will be processed during the shutdown. Only six staffers remain at MDE and processing license renewals will not be among their responsibilities.

Education Minnesota is an affiliate of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO.

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