With the pandemic disrupting schools for the third year and a $7.7 billion budget surplus on the table, education is shaping up to be a top topic in the Legislative Assembly this spring.
In last year’s budget, lawmakers strengthened K-12 education expenses and early childhood education over $500 million each. Now, education advocates and lawmakers on both sides hope this session will be an opportunity to build on their work over the past year to improve educational outcomes for all Minnesota students — though they do not always agree on how to achieve this.
Here are three education issues to watch.
K-12 Education Funding
Education funding will again be a point of contention this session, as Democrats seem keen to funnel excess funds to K-12 schools while Republicans so far don’t appear to have an increase in school spending at all. their agenda.
Last year’s budget increased education spending by $525 million over the base level, bringing total state spending to $20.5 billion. The vast majority of new spending has gone towards increasing the general education funding formula – the complicated equation that sets minimum funding levels for school districts – by 2.45% this year and 2 % in 2023.
DFL Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan’s supplementary budget proposal for the next session includes another 2% increase in fiscal year 2023, at a cost of about $440 million over three years. .
The governor also suggests spending about $185 million to cut cross-subsidies for special education and English language learners — funding gaps that result from districts providing required services to students with disabilities or students learning English. , for which they currently do not receive sufficient state or federal funds.
The House DFL also listed reducing cross-subsidies as a priority, although it did not offer a specific funding amount. Eliminating funding gaps would cost about $870 million. School districts, the Minnesota Teachers Union and other education groups have urged the legislature to act on the shortcomings for years; last year’s budget provided $10 million for special education cross-subsidization.
So far, Senate Republicans have not publicly mentioned increased spending on K-12 education. Senator Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, described their education priorities as a “three-part, back-to-basics” approach: improving reading skills through literacy training for teachers, “empowering parents” with school choice options, and improving student mental health by addressing issues around social media and screen time.
“We are seeing an increase in funding for education,” Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, told reporters. “And yet the test results are down.”
The Association of Metropolitan School Districts, along with the Education Minnesota teachers’ union and other education groups, are pushing to tie the state’s funding formula to inflation. When inflation is taken into account, the state is spending nearly $600 less per student than in 2003, said Scott Croonquist, director of AMSD.
“Headmasters really struggle to engage in long-term planning because they don’t know, year-over-year, if there will even be an inflationary increase (to the formula)” , Croonquist said.
Legislators should revisit this session a controversial proposal to amend the state constitution with language proponents say it will ameliorate Minnesota’s worst racial disparities in education.
Minneapolis Federal Reserve Chairman Neel Kashkari and retired state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page introduced the proposal in early 2020, but their campaign was cut short by the pandemic. It received little backlash last year, although bills to make the amendment were introduced in both the House and the Senate.
Their proposal would replace language in the Minnesota Constitution requiring the Legislature to “establish a general and uniform system of public schools” with a clause stating that “all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education” and that it is the “primary duty of the State” to exercise this right.
The amendment attracted a broad coalition of supporters ranging from business executives to heads of nonprofit organizations and politicians across the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans signed the bills into law in the House and Senate.
It also attracted an equally diverse group of opponents, including the powerful Education Minnesota teachers’ union. Skeptics say they support the amendment’s goal but fear the proposal, as written, will affect the state’s public school funding structure or lead to greater emphasis on standardized testing, which proponents deny.
Child care and early childhood education
Even before the pandemic, Minnesota’s child care industry had been in dire straits for years.
More than 25% of Minnesotans lived in “childcare deserts” before 2020, and businesses operated on extremely thin margins. Labor shortages have exacerbated suppliers’ difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in an industry where wages are notoriously low — the median hourly wage for Minnesota child care workers was $12.28 in 2020 and $17.06 for preschool teachers.
Experts say quality child care benefits short-term child development and is linked to lifelong positive effects on education, criminal activity, employment and earnings . It is also the key to economic growth, allowing more parents, especially women, to enter the labor market.
The 2021 state budget included a $500 million spending increase for public child care programs and provider subsidies. It was an unprecedented sum — but almost entirely from federal COVID-19 assistance, which is not permanent funding. The package included just $24,000 in new state spending for early childhood education programs.
This session, Walz and Flanagan are proposing to pour millions into programs that help low-income families pay for child care, but don’t receive enough funding to serve all who are eligible.
Their recommendations would eliminate the waiting list for the income-tested child care assistance program, which has hundreds or thousands of families every month; increase state reimbursement rates for subsidized child care, which are well below the federal standard; and fund 10,000 additional child care grants for Minnesota’s most vulnerable families.
Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Childhood Committee, said Walz’s proposals align with the priorities of House Democrats. The House DFL has yet to offer specific spending amounts, but they said they would push for bills to pay early childhood educators a living wage and increase access to services. high quality storage.
However, the GOP-controlled Senate may balk at funding increases. Senate leaders didn’t mention child care when they unveiled their legislative priorities on Tuesday, and when a reporter asked about their plans in that area, Miller said he’d like to focus on child care regulations.
“The main reason (for the shortage of child care providers) is the regulatory burden on home child care providers,” he said. “One of the things I think we can do to address this issue – and we should be able to find bipartisan support – is to reduce the regulatory burden.”