Minnesota Lawmakers Continue Education Funding Debate


The House Republican majority in Minnesota has finalized their version of the state’s education budget, which passed 69-61 mostly along party lines.

The budget puts an extra $157 million in the till for schools and low-income families. This money, along with policy changes, says House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), will assist students without affecting state monies, according to the Associated Press.

Democrats, however, say the increased funding will not keep up with inflation and will lead to teacher layoffs and increased class sizes. Both House and Senate Democrats believe that the state should put more of its projected $1.9 billion budget excess into education.

“We don’t face fiscal stress in Minnesota,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul. “There is no better, stronger investment that we can make as a people than investing in our … student population of young Minnesotans.”

There are still gaps to overcome before the education budget is finalized in the last weeks of the session. The budget penned by the Senate has approximately $361 million more for schools, yet Governor Mark Dayton and many parents say both the Senate and the House education proposals are inadequate.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are rejecting the governor’s $343 million high-quality, voluntary preschool plan, which was to be offered to every 4-year-old.  Lawmakers plan to give early education scholarships to low-income families and offer more money to schools in order for pre-kindergarten programs to be offered or to contract with private providers.

Elsewhere in the House bill is a proposal to make teacher performance the main criteria for layoffs rather than seniority. Democrats and teachers union officials say that layoff practices should be decided by districts.

“I think between the House and the Senate numbers, you will find a pathway forward with a very responsible education finance package that does what we need to do,” said House Education Finance Chairwoman Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie).

The Republican education bill would bring state funding for education to $16.9 billion, which is 40% of the overall general fund budget, writes Ricardo Lopez of the Star Tribune.  Dayton would like to see an additional $695 million increase, which for the most part would go toward his universal preschool program.

On Saturday, dozens of teachers, parents, administrators, students, and members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party gathered on the steps of the Capitol to urge lawmakers to vote against the Republican- proposed education budget.

Republicans were able to amend the bill to require students to use school facilities that are appropriate to their birth gender, as related to a recent Minnesota State High School League policy change. A similar legislation failed to pass in the Minnesota Senate.

An Associated Press article included an opinion from the DFL side of the aisle:

“For weeks, we have heard from parents, teachers, and school administrators from across the state about the teacher layoffs and budget cuts that the Republican education budget would mean for their schools,” House DFL Leader Paul Thissen said in a statement. “With a $2 billion surplus, it is inexcusable to lay off teachers and ignore the needs of our youngest learners. Our kids should be our top priority.”

School leaders are concerned that there will not be adequate money for general school operations, reports Christopher Magan writing for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  In the Republican bill, the amount is raised just .6% annually. The Democrat-controlled Senate has a 1% increase, and school district lobbyists are insistent that anything less than 2% per year will result in staff cuts and program eliminations. Loon noted that although there is work to do, the bill includes significant investments and policy changes. It also “focuses like a laser beam on initiatives to close the achievement gap.”