The education bill that passed in the Minnesota Legislature Tuesday received strong backing from area lawmakers. The bill would provide school districts with an additional $51 per pupil.
Most of the legislators said they also would vote to override a possible veto by the governor.
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, said Tuesday's passage by the House and Senate of an education bill that provides a funding boost for schools shows the Legislature is ready to help schools, with or without the governor.
The bill, which would provide $51 more per student, passed the House by a 97-35 margin and the Senate by a 55-10 vote.
Ward said Wednesday he hoped Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty wouldn't veto the bill. He said the large delegation of Brainerd School District residents who were concerned about inadequate education funding made an impact this spring.
"The message our citizens brought was that our schools are drowning and they delivered that message loud and clear," he said. "The citizens of Brainerd truly made it visible."
The bill also would give schools the flexibility to transfer an additional $51 per pupil from their capital budget to their general fund to address critical needs. It makes use of unused Q-comp funds, state budget reserves and budget cuts at the Department of Education to provide the additional funding. Q-comp is a fund established to reward exceptional teachers that has been championed by the governor.
"It doesn't take away Q-comp from those who currently have it," he said. "Our proposal is to use those (unused) dollars right now, because our schools are drowning right now."
Ward said most of the 30-some districts which take part in the Q-comp program are larger or are from the metro area while the additional funding in the education bill would benefit all districts. The Brainerd district participates, he said but Crosby-Ironton does not, he said of Q-Comp.
"The process for applying is intensive. It's long and you need the manpower," he said. "A lot of the smaller schools don't have the resources."
The House and Senate were not scheduled to convene Wednesday as lawmakers prepare for what could be marathon sessions between now and Monday, the scheduled adjournment date. Ward said he's hopeful legislative leaders can reach agreement with the governor on the key issues before them.
"It takes everybody giving and taking - not just taking," he said. "Quite frankly, there are moving targets going on. People have to be up front and honest."
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, voted for the bill but hasn't decided if he would vote to override a veto. He said he would have to think about the vote and talk with leaders. He said he believes DFLers in the Senate could override the bill.
"With the situation in my district, with the Brainerd School District and the Crosby-Ironton School District and a lot of the school districts are hurting," he said, explaining his support. "I thought it was the right thing to do."
Another Republican who supported the education bill was Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker. Howes liked the idea of the boost in school funding and noted that the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District voters rejected referendums twice. Howes said he expects the governor to veto the bill and suspected the House would be two votes short if it attempted to override the veto.
"That's the way I count it right now," he said.
Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, voted for the bill because it offered broad-based support to every student in the state. She said the Senate has a veto-proof majority. She said she doesn't know how someone could support the bill and then not vote to override a veto.
"There are a number of schools in my district that are struggling," she said.
Rep. Al Doty, DFL-Royalton, who supported the bill, said he would vote to override a veto. He said the Q-comp program currently only benefits 30-some school districts in the state. He said he thinks it's possible the House could override a veto on the education bill.
Legislators weren't sure whether legislative leaders would come together on an overall agreement on the budget in the next few days.
Koering said he was not very hopeful an agreement could be reached and that he was concerned the governor might then have to draw down state reserves and engage in unallotment of state funds in order to balance the budget. Spending down the reserves, Koering noted, would hurt the state's bond rating and leave no cushion for next year. That was a scenario Koering said he would like the state to avoid.
"If we can't it's going to put the state of Minnesota in a bad financial state, especially in our bond rating," he said.
He supports Pawlenty's intent to avoid more taxes.
"At a time when people are losing their jobs, losing their health care, now is not the time to start piling more taxes on the people," he said.
Howes said he would place the odds at 60 to 40 in favor of an overall agreement. Spending down reserves and unalloting resources would not be preferable.
Olson criticized the governor's negotiating stance in relation to an overall budget agreement.
"We feel that we're very close," she said. "If the governor wants to cut a deal it's a very achievable end. The problem is the governor keeps moving the goal posts."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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