Dayton’s budget prioritizes education

Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled his $42 billion two-year state budget Tuesday — a plan that includes several educational initiatives, investments in transportation and new resources for families burdened by the high cost of childcare.

Lawmakers in the DFL-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House will consider the governor’s proposals as they debate their own spending priorities for the 2015 legislative session. The state faces a roughly $1 billion budget surplus.

Dayton’s budget would tap $109 million from the surplus to create a new voluntary preschool program for all 4 year olds in the state. It also increases the per-pupil funding formula to $5,948 by 2017 for preK-12 schools, eliminates the waiting list for Head Start and makes new investments in school nutrition and behavioral health programs, among other things.

As for higher education, the budget includes an additional $93 million to help hold down tuition increases at the University of Minnesota and expands the State Grant Program.

“Minnesota’s future success — the health of our families, the vitality of our communities, and the prosperity of our state — will depend upon our making excellent educations available to all Minnesotans,” Dayton said. “This is exactly what my budget proposal aims to do.”

Dayton’s budget also expands tax credits for low-and middle-income families paying for childcare. Minnesota is among the most expensive states in the nation for childcare, and the tax credit is estimated to save families $429 per year, on average.

Another $44 million in the budget would help low-income families secure high quality childcare, pay for additional outreach services for parents of at-risk children and children’s mental health services, among other things.

The governor’s transportation spending plan includes $6 billion over the next decade for the state’s aging roads and bridges and public transit system.

In a statement released Tuesday, Mayor Betsy Hodges commended Dayton’s budget proposal.

“I’m especially pleased to see that the vast majority of new spending will be focused on education and improving the lives of young people,” Hodges said. “Some of our greatest opportunities to advance equity are with our children. I commend Governor Dayton for increasing funding for the Child Care Assistance Program for the first time in over a decade, and for his continued investments in our youngest residents, including the child care tax credit, universal pre-K, and eliminating the Head Start waiting list. These investments will go directly to addressing the achievement gap in our city and state.”

Hodges’ Cradle to K Cabinet released a draft report Tuesday outlining recommendations to improve early education opportunities in the city.

The Senate Republican Caucus, meanwhile, issued a statement highly critical of Dayton’s budget proposal. 

“A budget announcement should be an opportunity for a governor to present a vision for the state, but Gov. Dayton simply added more spending to current government programs and raised taxes to pay for it,” said Senate Republican Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie. “There is no plan for fixing his MNsure initiative, no tax reform and no budget reform of any kind.”