ST. PAUL, MINN – After months of testimony, the Senate E-12 Budget Division presented its Finance Bill (S.F. 811) on Wednesday to committee members and the public. The $16.88 billion bill, an increase of $361 million from the previous biennium, draws a balance between the finance proposals put forth by the Governor and the House. E-12 Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) says he is proud of the bipartisan work of the committee and believes the legislation and investments contained in the bill are what is needed to create the World’s Best Workforce.
“We know that inflation is a constant battle for the K-12 system in the state, and that’s why our largest investment in the finance bill is a 1 percent increase on the formula for both FY16 and FY17, that’s an increase of $117 per pupil. This is money that provides districts flexibility in order to invest in areas that best suit their individual needs,” said Sen. Wiger. “Our second priority this session is a focus on getting all of Minnesota’s youngest learners ready for Kindergarten, and we did this by investing in school readiness, which provides free-of-charge programming for all 4-year-olds across the state.”
The 1 percent increase on the formula accounts for just under half of the committee’s budget target at $172 million for the FY16-17 biennium. The investment in School Readiness accounts for an additional $70 million, and will help serve some 40,000 4-year-olds, more than doubling current enrollment levels. The Senate’s Finance Bill also invests $5 million into early learning scholarships, as well as $4.6 million over the biennium into Reading Corps, which focuses on helping struggling readers achieve grade-level reading standards.
Another major priority for the Senate this session was finding a solution to the underfunding of facilities at most school districts across the state. Most buildings range from 40-50 years old, with the oldest school buildings reaching 87 years of age. Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield) led the charge on mending the broken system of school facilities funding, and says he is pleased to see $43.3 million invested over the biennium in this budget bill, and a significant ramp up of investment in subsequent years.
“Our schools have been struggling to keep up with infrastructure improvements for years. We have a responsibility to give our students a safe and clean environment if we expect them to learn to their potential,” said Sen. Dahle. “Giving all schools access to the same facilities funding will put Minnesota’s small and rural schools on the same footing as our larger suburban neighbors.”
According to a Georgetown University Study, 74% of jobs in Minnesota will require some post-secondary education by the year 2020. Ensuring Minnesota high school students are both college and career ready received increasing attention in this year’s Finance Bill. In an effort to boost Minnesota’s ranking of 48th in the nation for its counselor to student ratio, Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) championed a bill for greater investment in student support services. Her legislation received $8 million in the budget bill. Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) spent time advocating for programming that allows high school students to earn college credits while remaining at their district schools. This program receives $4 million over the biennium.
“We’re proud that our finance bill places an emphasis on long-standing goals like closing the achievement gap and helping to create futures for our students,” said Sen. Kent. “Personally, I’m grateful that my student services legislation was included in the finance bill because it addresses the inadequate number of counselors and support staff in Minnesota schools. It’s time we remedy this shortfall to ensure our students make the most of the services available to them.”
“The Pathways to Postsecondary Program allows high school students to take free college-level courses through partnerships between Minnesota high schools and colleges. Students take college classes at the high school, are taught by specially trained high school teachers, earn college credits, and still maintain their involvement in school activities,” Sen. Clausen said. “Students can save thousands of dollars through this program by earning college credits while in high school.”
The Senate also made technical education a bigger priority this year, after numerous hearings about the need for more technical educators and an emphasis on filling the skills gap across the state. Sen. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) championed several bills that will give state high schools more funding to purchase career and technical equipment. Career and tech education bills add up to nearly $4 million invested in this year’s finance bill.
“Investments in career and technical education bring what’s happening in industry into the classroom where students learn skills they can immediately use to transition into the workforce or take the next step in their education. Research shows time and again that students and the public both benefit from relevant, applied learning that engages students and connects them to work experience,” said Sen. Jensen. “This is a smart investment in our students, workforce development, and ultimately our communities.”
Sen. Wiger also prioritized greater technology funding in this year’s Finance Bill. He says ensuring students have quality access to high-speed internet and up-to-date technology is essential for 21st century learning. Technology bills this session include several technical changes that will help schools as well as an additional $6 million for Telecommunications Access Aid and Regional Basic Library Aid.
“Schools have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to technology revenue for quite some time. This session we have attempted to right that wrong, while it’s not as much as schools need, it’s a step in the right direction and that’s what is important,” said Sen. Wiger.
After a walk-through of the bill on Wednesday, the E-12 Committee is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday. A vote on the Senate Floor is expected in a few weeks.
If you have questions or concerns on this bill, please contact Sen. Wiger at firstname.lastname@example.org.