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Ventura Budget Holds Education Funding Increase
By Tim Pugmire
January 29, 1999
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Part of MPR's budget series

Governor Ventura says he'll give Minnesota schools more money, but they'd better get results in the classrooms. The Reform Party Governor unveiled his first budget proposal Thursday, and 70 percent of the new spending is dedicated to K through 12 and higher education. Lawmakers from both parties are welcoming the funding proposal, and his call for accountability.

GOVERNOR VENTURA SAYS HE'S NOT BACKING AWAY from public education, he's attacking it. And based on his budget numbers, educators won't be ducking for cover. Ventura wants a healthy spending increase of $561 million for Minnesota's K-12 public schools. Under the plan, school districts get an extra $88 per pupil the first year and $182 the second year. The state would take on a larger share of special-education expenses. And more money is earmarked for elementary school breakfasts, extended day programs and help for non-English speaking students. The Reform Party Governor says it's money worth spending.

Ventura: That's an investment I think we can all look at with a smile on our face and a laugh in our hearts and say, "This is Minnesota's future". And I don't think it's a bad idea to invest in our future, because these are the taxpayers of the future who will come out of those K through 12 and higher education.
The centerpiece of the education proposal is Ventura's $150 million in incentives for schools to lower class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Schools would apply for the money with detailed plans for reaching a student teacher ratio of 17 to 1. Ventura says his increased support for public schools comes with high expectations.
Ventura: We better get the results. The challenge is there, they will be backed financially to get those results, now the ball is in their court with no excuses. I will accept none.
Both Republican and DFL lawmakers say they like Ventura's funding plans for education. Republican Representative Alice Seagren, Chair of the House K-12 Budget Division, says the Governor's proposal closely resembles her funding priorities. She says she agrees with helping schools lower class sizes and then holding them accountable for results.
Seagren: The argument is, if you have lower class sizes, they'll be able to read better, they'll have their foundational skills down better. So, we want to see those results then if we give the money to those reductions.
Seagren's counterpart in the Senate, DFLer Larry Pogemiller, says Ventura is hitting on all the right themes, but he's not sure about the details. Pogemiller says he has a lot of questions about the class-size plan.
Pogemiller: It seems to me that's a bit cumbersome. I know his approach is he wants to get the class size reduction and he said during the campaign that he was frustrated that we had put money in and it didn't seem to accomplish the purpose. So we'll have to work through that. So again, the theme is good, but I'm not sure the approach he's taking is going to be the most effective, but we can work through with him.
Lowering class sizes means hiring more teachers, and the state's teachers union has been a big proponent of class size reduction. Judy Schaubach, co-president of Education Minnesota, says she's pleased with the Governor's proposal. But she's concerned non-licensed teaching assistants might be included in the equation for lowering class sizes.
Schaubach: The best way for students to do well is to have highly qualified faculty, and the studies where you see class size reductions accomplished by the use of non-licensed professionals show that it does not have the same outcome.
In addition to Ventura's challenge to schools to produce better results, he called on parents to take their children's education seriously. He says parental involvement is one of the keys to a quality public education system.
Ventura: I'm going to challenge the parents of Minnesota to quit blaming the system and look into the mirror. Because why should a kid care about his education if Mom and Dad don't? We've all been there. We know what it's like. Think back when you were that age. If your mom and dad didn't take interest in what you were doing, why should you?
The Governor's financial commitment to education doesn't end with 12th grade. His spending plan includes $248 million in new money for the state's post-secondary institutions. Half goes to the University of Minnesota and half goes to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. MnSCU Chancellor Morrie Anderson says many important needs were addressed, such as faculty pay raises, but he was disappointed by the omission of much-needed money for computer technology upgrades.
Anderson: We simply aren't going to be competative in a 21st century environment without being up to speed in terms of our equipment and technology we're teaching with.
Ventura's budget includes money to upgrade undergraduate programs and medical education at the University of Minnesota. The U of M's medical school would also get a big chunk of the money from the tobacco trial settlement. But the budget provides far less than the 18 percent increases each system wants. U of M and MnSCU officials will try to convince legislators in the coming weeks to add more to their budgets.

Tim Pugmire covers education for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at