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Minnesota Schools Face Questions About a Government Shutdown

How would a state government shutdown affect schools? Minnesotans could soon find out.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans in the state legislature are deadlocked over how to close a $5 billion projected budget shortfall. Dayton supports raising taxes on the upper 2 percent of income-earners in the state. Republicans say they won't raise taxes and insist on reducing the gap through spending cuts. Budget talks In Minnesota are continuing, but if a deal can't be hashed out, a shutdown is scheduled at the end of this month

Several states, from North Carolina to California, are locked in budget impasses, which isn't necessarily surprising, given the ideological gulf between some state Democrats and Republicans on fiscal issues. But the specter of a shutdown—the possibility has also been raised in New Jersey—is an an unusual twist, which probably reflects the severity of states' buget situations.

No one is certain what the impact of shutting down state government would be on Minnesota's schools. But school officials are nervous about whether it could disrupt the flow of state aid, according to a recent story by Minnesota Public Radio.

A decision about what services would be deemed essential in the event a shutdown could be decided in court. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swason recently filed a court petition asking that education be identified as a "core function" of government.

Minnesota's Department of Education, meanwhile, is still evaluating the potential of a shutdown on its operation and on K-12, spokeswoman Charlene Briner said. In Minnesota, money flows from the state's general fund through the department to schools; about 80 percent of schools' funding comes from the state, she said.

In most cases, a shutdown that lasts a few days, or up to two weeks would have little impact on schools, Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst for the Education Commmission of the States, told me.

But a shutdown that drags out for a month or longer could prove disruptive, if it cuts off the flows of checks from the states to schools. Shutdowns that come near the beginning of the school year can also proved problematic, to the extent that schools are dependent on state money for purchasing the equipment and resources they need, he said.

All of which could be avoided, should Minnesota policymakers strike a deal. But this legislative season, in Minnesota and elswhere, bipartisan deals have proved hard to come by.

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