Pawlenty’s poor support for higher education disqualifies him

Mike KnaakEditorial, Opinion0 Comments

After eight years as a lobbyist for the financial industry, Tim Pawlenty wants to return to Minnesota’s governor’s office.

The Democrats competing for their party’s nomination quickly responded when Pawlenty made his long-predicted announcement.

After his announcement, Democrats attacked what they consider the failings of his administration. The critics citied  inadequate funding for health care, infrastructure and public education.

Republican Pawlenty served two terms, from 2003 to 2011, after 10 years in the House or Representatives. In 2002, Pawlenty won a three-way race with 44 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Roger Moe and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny. He was re-elected in 2006, beating Democrat Mike Hatch by less than 1 percent.

During his tenure, opponents challenged his “no new taxes” programs which actually shifted funding to fees and balanced the budget with bookkeeping tricks at the expense of school-district funding.

All those issues will surely be part of the debate if Pawlenty wins the Republican nomination. Rebecca Otto, one of the DFL candidates for governor, served as state auditor during Pawlenty’s second term. She has been particularly hard on how Pawlenty managed state finances.

Pawlenty’s record on pubic education, especially higher education funding, should disqualify him to serve another term as Minnesota’s governor.

When the state doesn’t fund new roads or replace bridges, the next administration and Legislature decides how to spend the money. Then the roads and bridges are built, although usually at higher cost.

When user fees are used to mask tax increases, a future administration can roll back or remove those fees.

Education is different. Future funding can’t catch up for opportunities lost.

A 6-year-old only gets one shot at first grade. If there are not enough teachers or school supplies or a safe school, the 6-year-old moves on without the proper educational support.

An 18-year-old college freshman, faced with limited family financial support and rising tuition, can’t wait around for the state to act. She starts racking up student loan debt and tries to squeeze in studying between working a full-time job to pay the bills.

During Pawlenty’s eight years in office, tuition at institutions of the Minnesota State system, which includes St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Technical & Community College, increased 55 percent. At the University of Minnesota, in-state tuition increased 68 percent. At the same time, student grants decreased 7 percent.

In Pawlenty’s decade, Minnesota lost its status as a leader among states in funding higher education. Minnesota’s ranking in state funding for higher education dropped from 12th in fiscal year 2001 to 35th in fiscal year 2006.

In recent years, some of the significant cuts were restored.

But if you entered college during Pawlenty’s eight years, you spent more money, took longer to earn your degree and today are paying off student loans that made up for cuts in state support for higher education.

Don’t let another Pawlenty administration steal affordable higher education from another decade of young people.

Author: Mike Knaak

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