Minnesota Senate and House pass $2.2 billion in new school funding

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, May 17, 2023

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By Elizabeth Shockman

The Minnesota House passed an education spending and policy bill Tuesday — followed by the Senate on Wednesday morning — that puts more than $2.2 billion in new spending toward K-12 education over the next two years, but opponents said it also includes new mandates that many schools will have difficulty carrying out.

The bill increases the per-pupil funding formula by 4 percent in 2024 and 2 percent in 2025 with increases tied to inflation at a maximum of 3 percent in following years. That will bring the formula up to $7,281 per pupil by 2025, as compared to the $6,863 per pupil the state currently spends.

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It increases the amount the state contributes to the general education formula, adds new money for libraries, school support staff, menstrual products in school restrooms, changes to reading instruction, an ethnic studies requirement and full-service community schools, bringing the total spent on K-12 up to $23 billion.

The House passed it by a 70 to 62 vote along party lines. It now heads to the Senate.

“With this proposal we make historic investments in our schools. We ensure that the learning environments in our communities work for all of our students and that our teachers, principals and administrators have the tools they need to meet students where they’re at,” said Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee.

The bill seeks to address shortages schools face when it comes to funding special education and English language learning programming — also known as cross-subsidies.

Schools are required to run these programs for their students, but the state only pays for 6.4 percent of special education costs and 28 percent of English learner costs. Under the bill, the state will increase payments to cover 44 percent of special education costs by 2024 and 50 percent of costs in 2027. English learner funding will increase to cover 87 percent of costs as compared to the 28 percent currently paid for.

Addressing the cross-subsidy and tying funding to inflation is something Minnesota school districts have been advocating for for years. But Scott Croonquist, who is executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, worries that the bill doesn’t go far enough to address districts’ concerns.

“School leaders greatly appreciate the significant investments — especially addressing the major shortfalls in the special education and English learner programs and linking the formula to inflation,” Croonquist said. “At the same time, the bill includes numerous new mandates and the formula increase falls short of the historic inflationary costs our school districts are facing.”

Rep. Patricia Mueller, R-Austin, worried the bill set too many requirements for schools without sufficiently funding them.

“More money means more control. It means more mandates. The bill that you have in front of you has at least 65 mandates that will be put on our schools,” Mueller said.

The bill includes new spending on libraries — $8 million over a biennium for regional libraries and $45 million for school libraries.

There is also over $100 million put aside to help schools hire and pay for more support staff — school nurses, counselors, mental health workers and other personnel. And $15 million goes to support full service community schools, with priority going to schools that already receive state grants or schools identified as “low performing” by federal standards outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Lawmakers wrestled over a provision that would require schools to pay hourly workers unemployment for the months they aren’t in school — most commonly over the summer. Districts raised concerns about the cost to schools, as well as worries that the change would make it difficult for them to staff summer programs.

Tony Taschner is the communications director for Apple Valley-Rosemount — the third largest school district in Minnesota.

“We’re going to be paying people not to work when we’ve got opportunities to work … that’s not helpful in terms of schools being able to staff the best they can. There’s work during the summer,” Taschner said. “Some of the four percent and two percent on the formula that might to be coming to districts is going to be eaten up by unfunded increase in unemployment.”

In an effort to address concerns, lawmakers set aside $135 million as a one-time appropriation that could be used to reimburse districts paying unemployment with promises to analyze the cost and make adjustments in the future.

Some of the new spending — $74.6 million — will go to the so-called READ Act, which is meant to change the way reading is taught in Minnesota elementary schools. The money will pay for new curriculum, teacher training and two Minnesota Department of Education literacy specialist positions.

Another $3.5 million will go toward funding the cost of supplying schools with menstrual products in restrooms and naloxone — an anti-overdose drug. And $6 million will be spent on ethnic studies grants meant to improve school access to ethnic studies curricula as well as helping schools retain racially and ethnically diverse staff — measures that accompany a requirement that schools begin offering ethnic studies courses by the 2027-2028 school year.