Minnesota governor candidates focused on predicable differences during a Thursday night education debate, but some agreements also surfaced.
The Independence Party’s Tom Horner, Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton all said they would push for better early-childhood education and the trio voiced strong support for reducing the learning gap between white and minority students. But they could not agree on how to fund education, or at what level.
The bottom line for each of the three:
— Emmer, a state representative from Delano, said he would keep education spending as it is now, not increasing to meet some education advocates’ expectations. “We need smaller government to be more efficient.”
— Dayton, a former U.S. senator who also has held several state positions, said his priority is education and he would raise taxes, especially on the rich, to fund a better system. “We are not reflecting that today,” he said of making education a priority.
— Horner, a former public relations executive and ex-Republican, said the other candidates are asking the wrong question. He said they should ask not how much will be spent on education but what should be funded.
The debate, hosted by The Minneapolis Foundation and moderated by Cathy Wurzer of Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television, featured the candidate trio arguing over funding, as in every one of the 13 other debates so far this election season. But Thursday night’s forum, to air several times across the state on public television’s Minnesota Channel including 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. today, brought the candidates’ education stands into clearer focus.
Emmer has gained a reputation of wanting to cut government, and may have surprised some when he said: “Our commitment is to increase K-12 education.”
But Dayton rebutted the Republican, saying that keeping the same spending as the current budget, as Emmer proposes, would not take into account inflation or an expected 20,000 new students in the next two years. Per-student funding would fall, Dayton said.
Horner complained that Emmer misstates the financial problem the state faces. Emmer says a projected nearly $6 billion deficit in the next two-year budget only exists if budgets are allowed to automatically increase.
“It is real money,” Horner countered. “It is a real shortfall.”
Horner and Emmer built into their budgets more than $1 billion of continued delays in state payments to school districts. Dayton said he would delay the payments only if there is no money available to catch up on payments.
Dayton urged the state to follow a decades-old Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that says school funding should not rely on local property taxes, as now is the case. The state should provide most school money, he said.
The former senator delivered a strong defense of Education Minnesota, which Emmer has attacked by saying it controls state education policy because it controls Democratic-Farmer-Laborite legislators.
Emmer criticized the teachers’ union defense of pay based on the length of time a person holds a job, saying that happens nowhere but in schools. However, Dayton said that is the basis of unions and destroying teacher tenure policies could have a far-reaching impact.
On Wednesday, Dayton released a detailed education plan, but did not specify how much it would cost. Dayton pledged to invest in all-day kindergarten and early-childhood education. He also promised to work for small class sizes.
On the same day as the debate, Emmer launched his second television commercial of the campaign, one that advocates protecting education funding.