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Education committee approves DFL budget proposal along party lines

The omnibus education finance bill has officially graduated.

Following a brief discussion Thursday, the House Education Finance Committee approved HF2497, as amended, on a 11-7 party-line vote. The bill now heads to the House Taxes Committee.

Prior to adopting the delete-all amendment outlined yesterday, the committee accepted five additional DFL-sponsored amendments, with the most substantive being a five-page sponsor’s amendment brought forth by Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins).

Most of it contains technical fixes but notable changes include:

  • a thorough job description of the proposed mental health services lead at the Department of Education;
  • $300,000 for an ethnic studies specialist at the department; and
  • a $3.1 million reduction in recommended funding for full-service community school grants, bringing the total allotment to about $25 million.

Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) and Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka) were responsible for the others, with each offering two friendly amendments.

Edelson’s made minor changes to the article on literacy and affirmed nonunionized charter schools would be eligible for funding to compensate special education teachers for the completion of due process paperwork. Pryor’s clarified the high school science standards to explicitly mention earth science and extended the prohibition on seclusion-based punishments through grade 3, as strongly urged by many testifiers. However, schools would have until Dec. 31, 2024, to put the ban into effect.

Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) unsuccessfully offered a contrary delete-all amendment representing Republican priorities, specifically greater local flexibility to utilize funding increases made possible by the budget surplus. A trimmed down proposal of 45 pages, the amendment would have:

  • raised the basic funding formula by 5% in fiscal year 2024 and 5% in fiscal year 2025;
  • covered 50% of the special education cross-subsidy;
  • provided $250 million to revamp literacy education based on the “science of reading”;
  • distributed $72 per student in safe schools revenue to local districts and charter schools, double the current rate; and
  • mandated civics for high school graduation, while leaving genocide studies, ethnic studies, and personal finance courses on the cutting room floor.

But this educational program was not to be. Instead, the committee gave its stamp of approval for a $23.2 billion budget (with $2.2 billion in new spending), which would make the following big-ticket allocations:

  • increase the basic formula by 4% in fiscal year 2024 and 2% in fiscal year 2025, while pegging future increases to inflation (subject to a 3% cap);
  • reduce 47.8% of the special education cross-subsidy and eliminate the English Learner cross-subsidy by 2027, at a cost of nearly $730 million and $81.8 million this biennium, respectively;
  • spend $85.3 million to permanently expand pre-kindergarten education to 12,360 seats statewide; and
  • appropriate $73.2 million for an overhaul of literacy education.

Additionally, public schools would have to supply menstrual products and naloxone (to counteract opioid overdoses) to students at a cost of $3.6 million, and the construction of gender-neutral bathrooms would be jumpstarted with an allotment of $2 million.

As previously reported, the bill also incorporates the omnibus education policy bill, which would alter the educational landscape in the following noteworthy ways:

  • mandate Indigenous education for all students and replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day on the school calendar;
  • add civics and personal finances courses to the high school graduation requirements, while embedding genocide studies and ethnic studies in the social studies curriculum;
  • allow Tier 1 teachers to join a union and place class sizes, student testing, and student-to-personnel ratios under the “terms and conditions of employment” to be negotiated during collective bargaining;
  • phase out the Tier 2 to Tier 3 experience licensure pathway; and
  • prohibit postsecondary schools participating in the postsecondary enrollment options program from requiring a faith statement from applicants.

Pryor is most excited about tying the basic formula to inflation and is already looking forward to the next session.

“That is a gamechanger and that is historic,” she said. “Then these discussions that we’ve had in an abbreviated way, I think that we can really flesh out and talk about where our innovation will be going forward.”

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