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Conferees commence work on omnibus education bill

Sen. Mary Kunesh and Rep. Cheryl Youakim discuss the day’s procedures before gaveling in the conference committee on the omnibus education finance bill May 1. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Sen. Mary Kunesh and Rep. Cheryl Youakim discuss the day’s procedures before gaveling in the conference committee on the omnibus education finance bill May 1. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

Minnesota should dole out $2.2 billion in new funding for K-12 education.

On this, the House and Senate are in agreement. How to spend those billions – and what policy changes should go along with those dollars? Those will take some time to sort out.

That’s the upshot from the first meeting of the conference committee on HF2497/SF2684, the omnibus education finance bill.

No matter what is ultimately decided, Gov. Tim Walz is sure to be happy. This was made clear in the opening remarks of Education Commissioner Willie Jett.

“The bills provide the funding for the fundamental building blocks of school finance, so schools have the resources to provide an excellent teaching and learning environment to all students,” said Jett. He also noted the bills contain many policy changes the department has long sought to implement but couldn’t “due to political division for almost a decade.”

While complimenting both chambers, Jett took a side in one major funding dispute, urging conferees to index future basic formula increases to inflation starting with the 2026-27 biennium, as found in the House proposal.

Conference Committee on HF2497 5/1/23

Indeed, the basic formula is the source of most of the appropriations discrepancies. While both chambers recommend a formula increase of 4% in fiscal year 2024, the Senate calls for a 5% jump in fiscal year 2025. The House only opts for a 2% increase that year, leaving space for more specific line-item appropriations in the coming biennium.

[MORE: View side-by-side summary, change items]

Substantial funding differences can also be found in special education, English language learning, and literacy:

  • the House wants to cover 47.8% of the special education cross subsidy annually, while the Senate’s plan would ramp up slower and then eclipse that number, hitting 60% in fiscal year 2026;
  • both chambers propose gradually reducing the English Learner cross-subsidy. However, the House would cover 100% of this shortfall starting in fiscal year 2027; the Senate maxes out at 64.4% starting in fiscal year 2026; and
  • a statewide overhaul of literacy education would net $73.2 million from the House vs. $41.4 million from the Senate. A $40 million House investment in new curriculum and instructional materials accounts for most of this disagreement.

Big-ticket appropriations found on the House side but nonexistent in the other chamber include:

  • $50 million for special education due process prep time;
  • $35 million for building and cybersecurity grants;
  • $20 million for a special education teacher pipeline; and
  • $14 million for a 21.8% reduction of the transportation sparsity aid cross-subsidy.

Minor House appropriations that merit a goose egg on the Senate side include money for the CTE consortium, computer science education, ethnic studies, nonexclusionary discipline training, the Sanneh Foundation, gender-neutral bathroom construction, and opiate antagonists.

Meanwhile, the Senate budget calls for two considerable line items wholly absent on the House side: $59.3 million in school library aid and $56.1 million for a new category of funding called ‘general education disparity aid,’ to be distributed to property poor schools ranking in the bottom 20% of per pupil funding.

Furthermore, significant daylight can be seen in the following categories: the Department of Education; student support personnel aid and workforce development; full-service community school grants; Grow Your Own teacher grants; afterschool programming; and museums and education centers. The House favors the former three items, while the Senate sends more dollars to the latter three.

Consensus (or near-agreement) can be found in the following areas:

  • around $30 million in new funding for American Indian education;
  • approximately $15 million for paraprofessional paid orientations and prep time;
  • $3.5 million to cover the cost of newly mandated menstrual products; and
  • $416,000 to cultivate heritage language and culture teachers.

Lastly, both chambers concur on the need to permanently install 4,000 pre-kindergarten seats at risk of disappearing. However, the House would fund an additional 5,200 seats starting in fiscal year 2025.


Conferees are already aligned on numerous policy issues, such as:

  • allowing Tier 1 teachers to join a union;
  • embedding Indigenous education and ethnic studies in the state’s academic standards during the next 10-year review;
  • permitting American Indian students to wear tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies and carry tobacco pouches at school;
  • replacing the Online Learning Act with the Online Instruction Act;
  • modifying departmental oversight of the federal summer food service program in response to the Feeding Our Future scandal; and
  • requiring students to complete civics and personal finance courses for high school graduation.

Agreement can also be found in the majority of the discipline reforms and the banning of American Indian mascots. However, the Senate language utilizes different effective dates for the former and provides a more expansive exemption application process for the latter.

In contrast, negotiations will be necessary to determine if:

  • all school employees will receive full pay and benefits on e-learning days;
  • genocide studies will be embedded in the social studies curriculum;
  • modifications are made to active shooter drills;
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Day will replace Columbus Day on the school calendar;
  • a substitute teacher pilot program will be established;
  • teachers can negotiate class sizes during collective bargaining;
  • Tier 1, 2, and 3 teachers of world languages and culture, performing arts, and visual arts will be exempt from the requirement to hold a bachelor’s degree; and
  • the tier 2 to tier 3 experience pathway will remain.

Finally, while the House explicitly prohibits postsecondary schools participating in the postsecondary enrollment option program from requiring a faith statement from applicants, the Senate only requires that “an eligible institution must be in compliance with relevant law and judicial decisions.”

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