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Scholarship program proposed to address Minnesota’s persistent police staffing shortage

Police forces are shrinking, and Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) would like to do something about that.

“Our law enforcement agencies are experiencing dire workforce shortages,” he told the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Thursday. “This places a direct threat to the safety and security of our communities. So it’s incumbent upon us to use every tool at our disposal to attract more people into the law enforcement profession.”

His suggestion is a state-funded scholarship program that would award grants to students who commit to a career as a peace officer. HF863, as amended, would appropriate $960,000 in fiscal year 2024 and $954,000 in fiscal year 2025 for the program, with an annual base outlay of $923,000 from fiscal year 2026 until the program expires in 2031.

The bill was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

“In fall of 2021, there were 883 Minnesota resident students enrolled in eligible law enforcement programs,” Wolgamott said. “Of those, 271 would receive an average award of $2,798 in 2024, while 221 would receive an average award of $3,831 in 2025.”

It’s a “last dollar” grant program, meaning it would fund any remaining tuition and fee costs for students after any Pell Grant, state grant, or other grants and scholarships awarded to the student. It would be awarded for no more than four semesters over not more than three years.

Grant awards would need to be repaid if the student fails to complete the program or does not become a Minnesota peace officer.

“I don’t like using the word, ‘crisis,’ because we use it too often,” said Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston). “But, if there is a crisis, this would be one of them, and this bill starts to address that.”

 Rep. Jessica Hanson (DFL-Burnsville) emphasized that it would be just a start.

“A holistic approach to public safety isn’t just making sure that there are more police,” she said. “Our officers are asking us to make some equitable investments in social workers, as well, so we can have social workers at some of these really intense mental health events.”

“I cannot agree with you more,” Wolgamott said. “This bill is certainly not the one magical solution, but is one tool that I hope we can use to incentivize more people into the law enforcement profession."

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) wanted to know how many colleges in the state offer such law enforcement programs. He was told that there are 27 accredited by the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.

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