Lawmakers deadlocked on education budget; Senate Republicans release latest offer

    Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, speaks about the education finance bill on April 22, 2021.

    The June 30 end of the fiscal year is drawing near, and lawmakers have still not finalized a two-year budget agreement that will likely top $52 billion.

    The biggest piece is K-12 education, and Senate Republicans say they are at an impasse in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled House.

    Senate Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, released his latest proposal, which would increase the per-pupil funding formula — the complicated equation that sets minimum funding levels for school districts — by 3% in the first year and 1.5% in the second year.

    “Three percent is a greater amount than we have seen in 15 years,” Chamberlain said. “This far exceeds the original proposals from either Gov. (Tim) Walz or either body of the legislature.”

    House Education Committee Chair Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, called Chamberlain’s offer “political theater.”

    The size of the Senate’s proposed increase is somewhat surprising; House Democrats have previously pushed for a 2% in each year of the biennium, which Senate Republicans opposed.

    Chamberlain touted his latest proposal’s lack of mandates on local districts.

    The offer also includes “education savings accounts,” which give money for education expenses to students enrolled in private schools, funded by taking an equal amount from the student’s home district. The proposal is opposed by Democrats and their allies in the teachers union.

    “We can tell the Senate hasn’t gotten serious yet when they’re still including private school vouchers and not including anything for prekindargetten, ending that opportunity for 4,000 kids in the fall,” Davnie said. 

    Davnie also said the Senate does not put enough money into student mental health given the scars of the pandemic; the English language learning budget, which he said has stagnated in recent years; and extra academic help for students who need it after a year of distance learning. 

    “Schools have gotta to be different because kids coming back to school are different,” Davnie said. “We believe teachers can do it, but they need  some help getting there.” 

    If lawmakers — who are gathering June 14 for a special legislative session — can’t agree on a budget by June 30, state government will shut down.

    J. Patrick Coolican
    J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and toddler son.