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Kids lose most from school cuts

I love Minnesota. I love Duluth. I love when we come together in places and in spaces across geography, across race, across gender, and across all that divides us, places where we really show what we are as a state.

And I had the opportunity to see this recently. A few weeks ago I visited our early education classrooms in Duluth, where I saw our education leaders beautifully blend together funding streams. Classrooms of little learners from across income levels and cultural backgrounds came together to walk into kindergarten on their first day on a level playing field.

This is what’s good.

When a mother cries at an open house when she hears about the early childhood opportunities because she’s so happy for what her kid could have, that’s good.

So I believe we need to build upon what’s good.

Unfortunately, what is good in Duluth may no longer be. The state budget that passed the Minnesota House of Representatives this month will undermine the progress we’ve made with our youngest learners in Duluth and rebalance our priorities away from building a strong educational foundation for all Minnesotans.

First, the budget we passed significantly underfunds our public schools to pay for private school neovouchers and tax cuts to the very rich. Those intentional choices mean our schools will be forced to lay off teachers and overcrowd our classrooms, eroding our students’ quality of education and hindering their ability to adequately prepare for college or a career. That’s not good.

Second, this Republican plan puts our pre-K program in Duluth at risk. In fact, the budget would not only stop the governor’s expansion of pre-K around the state; it would actually defund existing pre-K programs starting two years from now. It's difficult to imagine why legislators would want to use our children as a bargaining chip with the governor, but this is also not good.

Finally, the education budget specifically defunds Duluth’s own full-service community schools, which have begun the slow process of closing the opportunity gap in Duluth across communities and across racial lines. But these schools have always relied on a blend of local and state funding, and this year the state is not doing its part. Defunding a proven way of lifting up families is not good.

The truth is that if Minnesota were running large budget deficits that required deep cuts across the board, I might understand the need for shared sacrifice. But we are not. Thanks to the steady leadership of Gov. Mark Dayton over the last six years, we now have a projected $1.65 billion surplus. This manufactured crisis that is leading to cuts to our schools is the direct result of demands by some of my colleagues that we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on tax cuts for the rich that ultimately crowd out funding for students trying to climb up the socioeconomic ladder.

The Minnesotans I know expect better.

Thankfully, the budget process doesn’t stop at the legislature. Gov. Dayton has the power to veto this education budget and bring Republicans back to the table to negotiate a better deal for our young learners. If we want to build a stronger Duluth community and give families an opportunity to thrive, we need to reexamine our priorities in the state legislature.

As we begin the next round of budget negotiations, I hope we can start building on what is good rather than tearing it all down. Because if we tear down what has been good in Duluth, it’s our kids who will stand the most to lose.

Liz Olson

Liz Olson represents District 7B in the Minnesota House.