Gov. Mark Dayton is standing by his threat to veto an education bill over a lack of pre-kindergarten funding, drawing both praise and criticism from southeast Minnesota lawmakers.
Dayton told reporters today he wants a bill that has at least $550 million in increased funding for education with $173 million set aside half day pre-K. Without that, Dayton said he won't hesitate to use his veto pen and call lawmakers back for a special session.
"If they think they can just say, 'Well, we're going to finish on time' when they are going to send me something they know I'm not going to sign, then they are responsible for the consequences. Not me," Dayton said.
The governor's warning comes as lawmakers have been working day and night to pass a $42 billion budget before Monday's midnight deadline. Republicans chided the governor for threatening to veto an education bill agreed to by both Senate Democrats and House Republicans. The bill boosts funding for E-12 education by $400 million. Despite the governor's threat, lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to pass their education bill.
Rep. Nels Pierson, R-Rochester, said he hasn't heard from any school district officials pushing for pre-K funding. And while the governor has always said pre-K was a priority for him, Pierson said it would be a shame if he scrapped the education bill over it.
"To basically dissolve all the progress, all of the additional funding that we created out of this is pretty remarkable and disappointing," Pierson said.
Most Democrats hailed the governor's decision to fight for more education funding. Still, several of them questioned whether his universal pre-K proposal is the best way to go. The education plan advancing in the Legislature increases the school funding formula by 1.5 percent the first year and 2 percent the second year.
Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said schools need at least a 2 percent funding formula increase each year just to keep up with the cost of inflation. As for the governor's pre-K push, Norton said she would support some pilot programs but questions whether this is the right time for a universal pre-K push.
"I just think this whole message across the whole state is falling a little flat. Districts don't have the space, they're still struggling to get all-day K implemented. I just think to talk about the public schools taking on this one more thing so soon is just premature," Norton said.
Dayton said if lawmakers send him the education bill without the pre-K funding, he will veto it and then tour the state to talk about the importance of early-childhood education. He would also call them back for a special session to work on the bill. With the Capitol closed for reconstruction, the governor suggested lawmakers could meet in a tent on the Capitol lawn.
During the special session, Dayton said the attention will be focused on House Republicans' "Intransigence" when it comes to pre-K funding at a time when the state has a $1.9 billion budget surplus.
He added, "They are going to turn their backs on 40,000 4-year-olds who could benefit from this? They've got to explain that to the people of Minnesota."