Gov. Mark Dayton vowed on Thursday to once again boost per-pupil funding for the state’s public schools, which he said still remains in the middle of the pack when compared with other states.
“As I promised four years ago, we increased support for K-12 education in real dollars for every year I’ve been elected with no excuses and no exceptions. And I’ll do so again if I’m re-elected,” Dayton said in a speech at a political conference of Education Minnesota, the 70,000-member teacher’s union.
Although he didn’t mention him by name, Dayton took a few swipes at his Republican opponent, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. In stump speeches and debates, Johnson has regularly accused Dayton of trying to solve the problems of failing schools by “throwing money at them.”
Despite the per-pupil spending increases, Dayton countered, Minnesota was 24th among the states in terms of education spending as of the last ranking in 2012. When that ranking is calculated based on the income of the state’s residents, Minnesota drops to 28th, he said.
Dayton touted a range of union-backed initiatives enacted during his tenure, including free all-day kindergarten, early childhood learning scholarships and the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.
Although he criticized the extensive testing mandates for schools, he said teachers deserve credit for strong performances on the ACT tests, where Minnesota students have ranked first for nine straight years.
He said much of the criticism of Education Minnesota — and its role in policy making on the state level — is unfair.
“I know how you feel to receive that kind of constant criticism because I get it too — from many of the very same people,” said Dayton.
Dayton thanked Education Minnesota for its endorsement, though that the union’s nod hardly came as a surprise. Education Minnesota is throwing its support behind DFLers in all 67 state house races, eight congressional races, and four constitutional offices on the ballot this year.
Other speakers at the conference included Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, who is the DFL-endorsed candidate for secretary of state, and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who delivered his remarks in a pre-recorded message.