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House passes education bill that would appropriate $2.2 billion in new funding for MN schools

Rep. Cheryl Youakim introduces the omnibus education finance bill, HF2497, on the House Floor April 20. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Rep. Cheryl Youakim introduces the omnibus education finance bill, HF2497, on the House Floor April 20. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

State aid for K-12 education is primed to dramatically increase in the coming biennium.

The omnibus education finance bill would make appropriations of $23.2 billion, a 10.6% increase over base spending or $2.22 billion in raw dollars.

Both parties agree that schools desperately need this funding boost. However, they disagree on how to allocate this money, with dueling perspectives heard on the House Floor Thursday.

In the end, DFL priorities won out, and HF2497 was passed, as amended, on a 70-60 party-line vote. The 327-page bill now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), the bill sponsor, argues this infusion of state dollars represents an historic investment in Minnesota schools after 20 years of underfunding.

“Our proposal stabilizes school funding, supports the health and well-being of our students, works on equity and innovation in our schools, increases career pathways and connections with our local communities, as well as building up and diversifying our workforce,” she said.

Republicans fiercely disagree, laying out their case against the bill during a pre-session press conference.

“The DFL bill focuses on mandates, micromanaging our schools, restricting student discipline, … and closing pathways to licensing, leaving our schools with fewer teachers,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska).

He advocated for a delete-all amendment unsuccessfully offered by Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), which would “provide funding and flexibility, local control, innovation, and a focus on literacy.”

This 45-page proposal spurred an impassioned floor debate but ultimately failed along party lines. Among its key provisions, 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 and 70% of the transportation sparsity aid cross-subsidy;
  • provided $250 million to revamp literacy education based on the “science of reading”;
  • distributed $110 million in safe schools aid; and
  • mandated civics for high school graduation.

But this educational plan was not to be. Instead, the House handed a diploma to the bill brought forth to the chamber, which includes the following major appropriations:

  • $730 million to cover 47.8% of the special education cross-subsidy;
  • $705 million to increase the basic funding formula by 4% in fiscal year 2024 and 2% in fiscal year 2025, while pegging future increases to inflation (subject to a 3% cap);
  • $85.3 million to permanently expand pre-kindergarten education to 12,360 seats statewide;
  • $85 million to hire and train more student support personnel to attend to students’ mental, behavioral, and physical health needs;
  • $81.8 million to reduce much of the English Learner cross-subsidy, with a statutory goal of its elimination by 2027;
  • $73.2 million to overhaul literacy education;
  • $65.9 million to pay paraprofessionals and special education instructors for preparatory time, professional development, and orientations; and
  • $60.4 million to nearly double funding for American Indian education.

The bill would also make numerous smaller scale appropriations, such as:

  • $47 million for a tripling of investment in Grow Your Own grants, designed to increase the size and diversity of the teaching workforce;
  • $35 million for student safety and cybersecurity measures via the safe schools revenue program;
  • $25 million for after-school programming;
  • $22.4 million for full-service community school grants;
  • $20 million for the development of a special education teacher pipeline;
  • $14 million for a 21.8% reduction of the transportation sparsity aid cross-subsidy;
  • $4 million for a newly established Office of the Inspector General to bolster grant-funding oversight;
  • $3.6 million for menstrual products and opioid antagonists, which the bill mandates schools now carry; and
  • $2 million for the construction of gender-neutral bathrooms.

[MORE: Download the spreadsheet; change items]

Policy portion

The bill incorporates the omnibus education policy bill, which would alter the educational landscape in the following noteworthy ways:

  • mandating Indigenous education for all students and replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day on the school calendar;
  • adding civics and personal finances courses to the high school graduation requirements, while embedding genocide studies and ethnic studies in the social studies curriculum;
  • allowing 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;
  • phasing out the Tier 2 to Tier 3 experience licensure pathway; and
  • severely limiting the use of suspension, expulsion, and recess denial as punishments for elementary school students.

Finally, the unemployment insurance system would be expanded to include hourly school workers, such as bus drivers and cooks, allowing them to collect this benefit during the summer break.

In addition to Kresha’s delete-all amendment, Republicans offered another 10 amendments, touching on hot-button issues such as literacy, nonexclusionary discipline reforms, and ethnic studies. However, only two of these amendments were adopted: clarifying language around the civics graduation requirement and disciplinary measures for students suspended for violent conduct.

One rejected amendment generated a prolonged debate about religious freedom.

Offered by Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia), it would have struck language from the bill to prohibit postsecondary schools participating in the postsecondary enrollment option program from requiring applicants submit a faith statement.

Republicans argue this provision is prejudiced against faith-based higher education institutions; DFLers contend the current state of affairs is discriminatory towards high school students applying to these programs.

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