On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Education formally applied for $167 million in federal education stimulus funding. The money could save as many as 2,800 teacher jobs in the next year.
Not that that matters to Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He’s irked that the money is part of Congress’ $26 billion stimulus package.
“The federal government should not deficit spend to bail out states and special interest groups,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “Minnesota balanced its budget without raising taxes and without relying on more federal money.”
The statement is ridiculous, of course. Plenty of federal money flows into Minnesota. The state has balanced the budget with accounting gimmickry as well as real financial pain to police, firefighters, health care workers and teachers. And exactly to which “special interest groups” does the governor refer?
Teachers, of course. The governor has exhibited time and again his antipathy toward educators. Thousands have been laid off since 2003 because of his financial irresponsibility to the state, and now he has the gall to grumble as the Congress and the Obama administration hold out a lifeline.
The federal money is earmarked for teacher and school staff jobs with about 1 percent to MDE for administration. School officials will be notified Monday how much each district will receive. It will be divvied using the same formula as state education aid: On a per-student basis with adjustments made for rural access, high-poverty students and other needs.
State aid for education has dropped an inflation-adjusted 14 percent since 2003. In addition to these massive budget cuts, the state is delaying about $1.5 billion in payments until next year, forcing districts to either lay off more teachers or take out loans until the state pays the money. Districts that chose to borrow money rather than lay off teachers can use the stimulus money to replenish reserves.
This money will help keep class sizes smaller, even though any new hires won’t be in class until after the first day of school.
Bad economic times require bold measures and Pawlenty has put himself in league with the church mice. Now is the time to keep our economic engine running and there is no better way to do that than keep 2,800 teachers employed across the state. Why does our governor argue against this? He must have another agenda.