Senate Republicans’ education bill falls short for Minnesota students
ST. PAUL, MINN — Minnesota has a $1.65 billion budget surplus, but the Senate Republican education bill that passed on Tuesday invests only $300 million into public E-12 education.
“It’s not enough,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), the ranking DFL member on the Senate E-12 Education Finance Committee, speaking during a four-hour debate on the Senate floor. “At a minimum, school districts need a healthy increase in their per-pupil funding formula of two percent per year to keep up with inflation. They didn’t get it.”
The Senate bill increases the per-pupil formula by 1.5 percent per year.
While there is some money in the bill for voluntary pre-kindergarten programs, Wiger said it does not come close to meeting the demand. “I could spend 15 minutes reading the list of all the districts that applied for pre-k money and didn’t get it,” said Wiger. “The demand is there and it is growing. This is the way we close the achievement gap – by giving kids the early start they need.”
“Just like we did with all-day kindergarten, which has spread all over the state, we need to increase access to high-quality education for our four-year-olds. We know this is the way to have kids reading by third grade and graduating from high school on time. This is the way we produce the World’s Best Workforce.”
Wiger said he was encouraged that the bill includes increases for Minnesota’s Reading Corps, Math Corps, dyslexia intervention and a program to increase the number of teachers of color. The bill also includes grant funding for a transition program for students moving from 8th to 9th grade. But the total amount of money that Republicans targeted for public education falls far short of the need.
“Parents of young children who are spending thousands of dollars a year in daycare expenses are eager to have Minnesota help them by providing more pre-k programs, especially in rural areas,” said Wiger. “Students are our future. Investing in them is how we move ahead as a state. Education should be our number one priority in Minnesota.”
Wiger noted that Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed $175 million for expanding pre-k opportunities. Investments in education could grow after House and Senate members meet in conference committee to reconcile their differing versions of the bill.