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Dave Olson, Published March 16 2013

Legislative forum stresses education spending

MOORHEAD – Paul Marquart, chairman of the Minnesota House Education and Finance Committee, said Saturday that the goal of that committee is to help Minnesota children become the world’s best workforce.

And he said to accomplish that, the state’s resources must be applied carefully to specific areas like Head Start and voluntary all-day, every day kindergarten.

“The day is done when we just plop dollars on the (school funding) formula,” Marquart told a group of about a dozen people who attended a legislative forum at Moorhead City Hall.

Marquart, a Democrat from Dilworth, was joined at the forum by Rep. Ben Lien of Moorhead, and state Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley, both Demo-crats.

Lien said he is the author of a bill that restructures local government aid, which in recent years has been a flash point between local governments and a state government that struggled with shrinking revenues.

Lien said under the new formula – which sets up a three-tier system based on a city’s size and needs – Moorhead would see an increase of about half a million dollars compared to the current formula.

That is, he said, if the Legislature goes along with Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommended $80 million increase in appropriations.

Lien, a member of the House higher education committee, said a goal of that committee will be to deal with tuition costs.

“We really need to get that under control,” he said.

Eken said that while the state’s budget shortfall is improving, at more than $600 million “it’s still a very significant deficit.”

He said the challenge will be to reduce the deficit while creating structure that will prevent it from getting out of hand in the future.

“We’re going to have to fix that (deficit) and fix the structural deficit problem so we don’t keep coming back to one budget crisis after another,” Eken said.

When it comes to government spending, Marquart said, study after study has shown that one place where it pays to spend tax dollars is in the area of early education and programs like Head Start.

That sentiment was seconded by Lynn Tkachuk, a member of the audience who said Head Start’s requirement that parents be a part of the program is key to a child’s success throughout their schooling.

She said in her 16 years of working with students at Moorhead Senior High School, “kids who succeeded were kids whose parents were involved.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555