Monday, May 20, 2013

"Free" all-day K!

Twin Cities media outlets are trumpeting a provision of the state education bill on its way to Gov. Mark Dayton with the headline "free all-day kindergarten."

Well, it is "free" — to everyone but the taxpayers.

We can debate the efficacy of early childhood education for all, but there still is no such thing as "free" all-day K, and it's actually worse than that. The Legislature's appropriation for all-day K doesn't fully fund it. The rest of the tab for "free" all-day K will fall on local school districts.

The DFL and the media will spin the $15.7 billion education funding bill as a windfall for "Minnesota's kids," but unfunded or partially-funded mandates like all-day K, anti-bullying programs, and special education are a hidden burden on local school district budgets. The Legislature is acting like a state school board that doesn't have to worry about how to pay for its lofty agenda. Yet as any weary school board member knows, the money has to come from somewhere.

The bill does fund urban (read: DFL) public school districts with over $13,000 per pupil, while rural (read: Republican) districts receive about $9,900 per pupil. If the Legislature and governor were more concerned with educational outcomes instead of the status quo, they would allow education funding to follow the student to the school that best meets his or her needs, and they would relieve our independent school districts of paying for mandates designed to help get the DFL reelected.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Jeff Johnson announces run for governor

Jeff Johnson announcement, May 5, 2013. 
Jeff Johnson's choice of a venue to announce his run for Minnesota governor may have been a preview of his statewide appeal. The Hamel Community Building, located through a twist of local history in the city of Medina, is steps away from Medina's small-town main street, cornfields, the Inn Kahoots bar, and the picturesque Church of St. Anne.

Johnson is known as a former three-term member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and current Hennepin County Commissioner. As Republican National Committeeman since 2011, Johnson has gained national party experience. Yet his roots are in Detroit Lakes, where he grew up, and Moorhead, where he graduated from Concordia College. His wife Sondi is a native of Crookston. After receiving his degree from Georgetown Law School, he worked in Chicago before moving to the Twin Cities to work for Cargill and then open his own employment law practice.

About two hundred supporters and media packed the room at Sunday's announcement. Johnson stressed three priorities and two reasons why he makes the best Republican candidate for governor. Johnson's vision for jobs is that Minnesota will actually be the best state in the upper Midwest to start or expand a business. He would "give all parents the option of sending their kids to a great school." To make state government more effective, Johnson promised to undertake a "line-by-line, top-to-bottom audit" of state programs, to "celebrate and bolster" the ones that can demonstrate success, and eliminate those that cannot.

Speaking to the Republican base that will eventually vote to endorse their gubernatorial candidate, Johnson claimed that his appeal extends beyond the Republican party, making him the most electable of the party's eventual field. He also said that his record in the Minnesota House and on the county board demonstrates that he has the ability and integrity to actually follow through on his campaign promises around tax reform, public safety, and business climate. His Hennepin County Watchdog blog shows how a conservative can tilt against an unending parade of ineffective and extravagant programs, like an extra $14 million to turn the new Lowry Avenue bridge into a "signature" bridge.

Although it was Johnson's first official gubernatorial campaign event, it didn't look like it. The venue was professionally set up for the media and guests, including a stage, backdrop draping, and camera-friendly sight lines and lighting. Campaign signage and stickers, t-shirts, check. Mini-war room with website and social media humming, thanks to volunteer all-nighters so it would be ready for Sunday, check. Media notified, hardcopy press releases at the venue, candidate media availability, check. Greeters at the door and sign-up table for donors and volunteers, check. Oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies, bottled water, check.

Clad in red campaign t-shirts, activists in Johnson's past campaigns and other local Republican campaigns were busy in their appointed roles. Bloggers Walter Hudson and Craig Westover, and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's chief of staff David Gaither, Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R-Greenfield) were seen in the audience.