The Potluck

Walz seeks $5.1 billion to expand early learning, child care and enact paid family leave

By: - January 25, 2022 1:30 pm

Gov. Tim Walz visited a White Bear Lake elementary school on May 18, 2021 to announce the state’s plan to use $75 million in federal COVID-19 funds for summer learning programs. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a $5.1 billion proposal to fund schools, expand early learning programs and implement a paid family leave program he says will provide Minnesota students and families more options for pre-kindergarten and keep the state competitive.

The plan outlined on Tuesday would be funded with a mix of one-time state general fund money and some unspent federal funding; the paid family leave program would be paid for through employer taxes. 

With less than a week until the start of the 2022 legislative session, Walz has been unveiling a series of budget proposals to spend the state’s $7.7 billion projected budget surplus. 

“If Minnesota wants to stay competitive, we need to be able to continue to nurture, build out and reimagine what early childhood looks like, what childcare looks like, what pre-K looks like, and what our schools are doing,” Walz said during a visit to an Inver Grove Heights school. “This is an incredible opportunity to lean into things that are universally wanted across Minnesota.”

Democratic and Republican lawmakers are similarly unveiling their own spending and tax proposals this week, giving shape to the session’s legislative agenda. Legislators, however, are under no obligation to enact new spending proposals, having approved a new two-year budget last summer. 

Still, with a record surplus, Democratic leaders like Walz are pushing for their top priorities, which include direct payments to Minnesotans, a major public works borrowing bill and big increases to education spending. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers are calling for tax cuts, arguing that the surplus shows Minnesotans have been overtaxed. 

Senate Republicans pushed back against the proposal, calling it a “spending spree.”

“Throwing more money into schools without addressing literacy and allowing kids and educators to catch up is the wrong direction,” state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said in a statement. “We’ll focus on kids’ reading skills and prepare them for graduation through proven, successful programs and get them on the right track.”

Walz proposes policies to expand early childhood programs to more than 23,000 students through public schools, Head Start and private preschools using scholarships. He also wants to spend $183 million to pay for school breakfast and lunches and ensure students and their families do not go into debt because they cannot afford to pay for hot meals at school. 

He is also proposing increasing the basic per-pupil funding formula by 2%.

The governor, who is running for re-election, also wants all Minnesotans to be eligible for up to 48 hours of sick leave annually, as well as funding a family leave program. 

On Wednesday, Walz will unveil his final budget proposal along with full details of his supplemental budget.

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