The National Education Association has named Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton this year’s greatest education governor. The NEA presented the award during its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
In the statement announcing it, the NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said that Dayton made education a priority in Minnesota, and championed an increase in state funding. According to an article on TwinCities.com, however, the NEA might be giving Dayton a bit too much credit.
Dayton and Republican legislative leaders struck a budget deal in 2011 to end a 20-day government shutdown that included borrowing an additional $770 million in state aid from schools to help close the state’s $5 billion shortfall. That brought the amount owed to schools to $2.7 billion and forced schools to borrow money to manage cash flow. But the budget deal also included an additional $50 per pupil in state aid to offset borrowing costs.
The state now owes schools about $2.4 billion since Dayton and GOP lawmakers agreed earlier this year to apply a projected $323 million surplus to the debt.
Dayton also thwarted the efforts by the state’s Republican legislators to use the state’s financial reserves to further reduce the school debt by nearly $500 million, and vetoed the measure that would have done away with the practice of using teacher seniority as a primary factor to determine layoffs. The repeal of the “last in, first out” policy was opposed by the state’s teachers union, Education Minnesota.
But House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said Dayton put the interests of adults over those of students by rejecting performance-based evaluations of teachers. “So it’s no surprise that a national organization that opposes education reform would bestow on him their highest honor.
“It’s bad for the kids of Minnesota but a great win for the teachers union,” Garofalo said.
The pool of governors for NEA to consider for its award must have seemed particularly small this year due to the number of states considering or passing legislation unfriendly to the union at the behest of the their reform-minded chief executives. Since 2010, the union membership has declined by more than 100,000 and the union projected further 200,000 losses over the next several years. The number represents a nearly 16% decline.
The declining influence of the NEA can also been seen by the fact that Democratic lawmakers aren’t as assiduous in courting union membership this election year. Even President Barack Obama has chosen not to make a personal appearance at the 2012 NEA convention, sending Vice President Joe Biden to address members instead.