Distance learning financial aid for families

The E-12 Education Committee heard a bill that would provide distance learning financial aid. The bill aims to provide assistance for both public and non-public school students and families who would qualify for reduced or free lunch if schools were in regular session during this time. Due to COVID-19 and all of the challenges of distance learning, many of these families are struggling.

Minnesota’s non-public schools already receive $87 million over two years in education aid. This amount increases every time the Legislature increases the basic funding formula for public schools. The federal government in the last stimulus package appropriated $41.69 million for Minnesota non-public schools. Committee members questioned the need to provide funds for non-public schools and quoted that the Minnesota Constitution expressly directed the Legislature to provide for public schools.

The bill presented plans to give $450 to every eligible student. Eligible families with multiple children in school will get $450 per child. This is expected to be in effect for 2021 and 2022 only, assuming distance learning will have ended around 2022. It is estimated that around 290,000 students will be eligible for assistance in 2021 and about 235,000 in 2022, with about 2-3% going to non-public school students. Eligible expenses include tutoring services, instructional materials, online instructional content software or other educational technology, internet access and connectivity, classroom supplies, and pupil support services.

The Minnesota Department of Education is expected to pick a vendor to provide necessary services, dispense aid, and do any administrative work. The vendor costs are not included in the estimated bill price tag of $200 million annually.  The bill’s author did not indicate how to pay for the proposal’s price tag. (SF 351)