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Funding for mental health and school support staff included in governor’s E-12 proposal

House Photography file photo
House Photography file photo

Following an informational overview from the Department of Education a few weeks ago, the House Education Finance Committee took another look at Gov. Tim Walz’s Due North budget recommendations Thursday.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), HF1065, as amended, was held over for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF960, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) is the sponsor.

The proposal includes new state investments of $745 million for pre-K through grade 12 education funding over the next two years. Investments include money for expanded summer learning, maintaining prekindergarten opportunities, student mental health support, American Indian education initiatives and stabilizing school district budgets.

The proposal would help address pandemic-related challenges students and schools are facing, Davnie said, adding that lawmakers bear a greater responsibility than usual to respond with the resources to help everyone get back up to speed as quickly as possible. 

“It’s a moral responsibility of ours. We also have a responsibility, of course, to be smart and strategic about those investments,” he said. “The measures and steps that we can take now can really help students bounce back more quickly post-pandemic.”

The largest new investments include $301 million to increase the general education basic formula, $95.4 million to simplify school funding formulas and improve levy equalization, and $72.7 million to freeze the special education cross subsidy.

Several testified in support of initiatives to improve student mental health services, including funds for trauma-informed professional development grants and a $46.9 million appropriation for districts to hire more support personnel.

“School support personnel, like school counselors, are in a unique position to provide the space, support and advocacy for students whose voices’ get overshadowed,” said Becky Mendoza, a school counselor at St. Paul Public Schools. 

Elisabeth Lodge Rodgers, assistant superintendent at Intermediate District 287, lauded some aspects of the bill but opposed language changes to alternative learning program eligibility, as well as a funding formula change, she said would negatively impact students served in that setting. 

In closing comments, Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) said the bill wasn’t “serious,” and is unlikely to move forward in its current form. He also expressed concern that it includes policy provisions that haven’t received much discussion and that it doesn’t include measures to resume fulltime in-person classes.

“I appreciate the fact that we have this up for conversation,” he said. “But the fact that we didn’t really even get a chance to delve into questions, tells me that the seriousness of this is lacking.”

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