Minnesota lawmakers reach education budget deal

By: - June 22, 2021 10:42 pm

The Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul as the sun sets on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Photo by Tony Webster.

Minnesota legislative leaders reached an education budget agreement Tuesday, just over a week before the June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a budget or risk not being able to send payments to school districts. 

The agreement lays out funding levels for new and existing programs, including a boost to the general education funding formula and millions for initiatives aimed at hiring more teachers of color. It also covers a handful of policy changes, though each party had to give up some top priorities during negotiations.

“I’m very happy with the way this bill came out. It truly is a compromise. It’s consensus,” Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said during a news conference Tuesday. “It really hit what we needed to hit.”

Earlier in the spring, Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders agreed to set the target for new education spending at $525 million above the current base spending level, totaling more than $20.5 billion. The vast majority of the new spending will go toward increasing the general education funding formula — the complicated equation that sets minimum funding levels for school districts — by 2.45% in 2022 and 2% in 2023. That will cost nearly $463 million, according to state Sen. Charles Wiger, the DFL lead on the Senate Education Committee. 

The funding formula increase comes as somewhat of a surprise. It exceeds initial proposals from both parties — the DFL-controlled House called for a 2% increase in both years, while the GOP-majority Senate’s budget included no increase.

Chamberlain told reporters Tuesday that the 2.45% increase was a compromise between DFL and GOP lawmakers. Chamberlain said he offered a 3% increase in 2022 and a 1.5% increase in 2023 in exchange for dropping policy mandates on school districts.

“(This is) the largest increase in the K-12 education (formula) for 15 years,” Chamberlain said. “The final bill ended up being very tight, very small, very few mandates, consensus policy.”

The agreement also includes more than $15 million for planks of the Increase Teachers of Color Act, which had been introduced each year since 2017. Both the House and Senate budgets included funding for teacher recruitment and retention programs, but they differed in funding levels: The House bill dedicated $23.3 million, while the Senate included $10 million.

“We are proud of the inclusion that makes a historic investment in programs to attract, train, and retain teachers of color and American Indian teachers. House DFLers will continue to emphasize the importance of improving student experiences so that Minnesota can better respond to the racial disparities in educational opportunities,” House Education Finance Committee Chair Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said in a statement.

Wiger said bipartisan support for the effort and growing awareness of the state’s struggles to hire and keep teachers of color — and the importance of having a diverse teacher workforce — helped push the bill through this year. 

“Investing in these programs is going to truly make a difference,” Wiger said. “We’ve taken some smaller steps (in the past), but this is a big one.”

Minnesota’s student body is now more than one-third Black, Indigenous and other students of color, but just 5% of the teacher corps come from those communities.  

Other provisions with bipartisan support in the agreement include a ban on shaming students who can’t pay for school meals, and $265,000 for suicide prevention training for teachers. 

Several DFL priorities made it into the agreement, including $46.5 million to maintain 4,000 preschool slots that were set to expire in 2022. There’s also $10.4 million to reduce the special education cross-subsidy — the funding gap that results from districts providing required services for students with disabilities, without receiving enough state or federal funding to cover those services.

A handful of GOP proposals are included as well. The agreement directs $3 million for literacy training grants for teachers, limits screen time at school for preschool students and creates a $1 million grant for training and resources around digital well-being for students.

Republicans dropped their proposal for a new voucher-style program called “education savings accounts,” which would give families state money to pay for private school tuition and supplies. Walz and DFL lawmakers weren’t willing to negotiate on the program, Chamberlain said.

A House proposal to create a new aid formula for school districts and charter schools to hire counselors, psychologists and nurses didn’t make it into the final agreement either. DFL lawmakers also wanted to alter teacher licensure requirements and require that students learn about Native history and culture in social studies, which aren’t in the agreement.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.