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House DFL proposes billions in education funding aimed at mental health, achievement gaps

The spending bill announcement comes as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate push to get major spending legislation through committees before a Friday deadline. With control of the Legislature split between two parties, most major spending bills will be a result of a compromise between the chambers.

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House Education Finance Committee Chair Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, right, with Education Policy Committee Chair Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, addresses reporters at a news conference at the Minnesota Capitol on Monday, April 4.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Democratic-Farmer-Labor leadership in the Minnesota House of Representatives on Monday, April 4, announced a proposal to boost education funding by more than $1 billion in the coming fiscal year, and more than $2 billion in the following two years.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and education committee chairs are calling for the passage of a bill that would provide $475 million for mental health services they say would allow Minnesota schools to hire 1,000 additional staff including counselors, school nurses and social workers. The proposal would also direct hundreds of millions to address achievement disparities between socioeconomic and racial groups and boost funding by $500 million over the next three fiscal years for special education and English language learner programs, which DFLers said face budget shortfalls.

House Education Finance Committee Chair Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, told reporters the state is in a good position to boost education funding with a $9.25 billion projected budget surplus. DFL Gov. Tim Walz expressed support for similar education spending proposals ahead of this session.

“Let us be clear on this: Our proposal was built from the ground up, it utilizes the resources that the state has and uses them to meet our responsibilities as the Legislature to the students of today and the Minnesota of tomorrow,” he said. “The House DFL is ready to meet the moment, step up to our responsibilities and I invite the Senate to join us.”

The DFL wants $525 million in 2023-25 for the prekindergarten program serving low-income and vulnerable children. Their proposal would also seek to address Minnesota’s achievement gap by expanding teaching opportunities for Native Americans and people of color — something backers said would benefit students of those backgrounds as they would have educators who look like them. Minnesota has among the largest racial and income-based educational achievement gaps in the U.S., with higher-income white students much more likely to perform better than others, according to a 2019 survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

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"The goal is to ensure that we are moving forward with a plan that is going to ensure Minnesota no longer ranks among the bottom when it comes to educational outcomes," said House Education Policy Chair Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights. "We have an opportunity to do that, and again, an obligation."

The education spending proposal comes as the DFL-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate push to get major spending legislation through committees before a Friday deadline. Republicans are proposing a $30 million boost to education spending with a focus on providing grants for a training program for teachers on instructing kindergartners through fifth-graders on reading. With control of the Legislature split between two parties, most major spending bills will be a result of a compromise between the chambers.

Legislators in both chambers last year agreed to increase the public schools funding formula and boosted 2022-2023 education funding by more than $554 million and nearly $669 million in 2024-2025, the largest increase in 15 years according to DFL lawmakers.

In a statement on the DFL proposal Senate Education Chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, questioned the need for further increases in the education budget pointing to the large increases lawmakers already agreed on the year before.

“Schools and students received historic funding in last year's budget. It's obvious now that the worst thing for kids was the isolation and mandates that kept them out of the classroom,” he said. “Our top priority is reducing burdens and mandates, stabilizing classrooms, getting kids back in school, and addressing our failing test scores: 40% of kids in Minnesota cannot read at grade level. Reading is equality and we are focused on proven solutions to get kids reading at grade level as soon as possible."

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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