Walz seeks K-12 funding, draws ‘Santa Claus' comparison

Gov. Tim Walz promoted his proposed K-12 funding increase at a high school Wednesday, prompting the Republican senator who represents the area to compare Walz to Santa Claus.

Walz and House Democrats are seeking a 3 percent increase in base funding in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and another 2 percent in 2020-21. Senate Republicans are calling for a significantly smaller increase, 0.5 percent in each of the two years.

Walz said his visit to Stillwater High School wasn’t mean to “club” senators like Republican Karin Housley into supporting his plan, but to seek a bipartisan agreement. Housley countered that Walz’s plan was too costly.

“You know, I really do respect Gov. Walz, but there is a point where it seems he’s playing Santa Claus to everybody, and just giving anybody that comes to the Capitol and asks him, he’s said, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,'” Housley said in an interview after the event, which took place at the school her four children attended.

Earlier, the two participated in a roundtable with Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, students, teachers and Stillwater administrators.

Students told the politicians about their concerns surrounding mental health and social media. They credited a program at Stillwater High School for bringing students closer together.

Students and teachers asked for additional funding, saying they were concerned about sustaining the school’s programming.

It’s the second time in the past month that Walz has gone to a Republican senator’s district to promote his budget. In March, he blasted the Senate GOP over transportation funding during a stop in Anoka, near Republican state Sen. Jim Abeler’s home.

By contrast, on Wednesday, Walz did not directly criticize the Senate Republican education plan – either during the roundtable or speaking to reporters afterward.

“There’s a fair and honest debate to have about the budget. This (visit) is not about clubbing over the head,” the governor said, when asked about coming to Housley’s district. “This is about being joined by a legislator who understands this district incredibly well, understands the needs.”

Instead of the governor, it was Flanagan who drew the contrast between the budget plans.

“The difference between the Senate education bill of a 0.5 percent increase and a 3 percent increase is tremendous and it’s real money for this district,” Flanagan said.

The Stillwater Area School District stands to get $4.5 million in additional funding through the governor’s budget, the governor’s office said.

Housley said the Senate was providing additional money for K-12 while not raising taxes – as Walz has proposed.

“We are spending more money this year on education – new money – than we ever have in the history of Minnesota,” Housley said. “I’m very proud of the Senate bill. I’m sure there will be negotiating behind the scenes when it comes closer to the end of session.”

Lawmakers have six weeks to pass a budget before the scheduled May 20 end of the legislative session.