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Education finance bill moves to Senate after House repassage

By Lee Ann Schutz

The House repassed HF890*/ SF718 Tuesday, the conferred omnibus education finance bill, in a 72-59 vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), the bill now moves to the Senate with Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) as the sponsor.

The nearly $18.58 billion proposal, would increase General Education Basic Formula funding by 1.5 percent over the 2018-19 biennium. That would result in an additional $247.7 million, the number put forth in the Senate proposal.

Rep. Jenifer Loon

Opponents have argued a 2 percent increase is necessary to keep up with inflation and rising costs.

Voluntary pre-k programs currently receive $25 million in base funding and serve an estimated 3,300 4-year-olds at 74 school districts across the state. Its funding would be replaced by $112.9 million in school readiness funding and $138.7 million for early learning scholarships.

Supporters of the bill say it is a more targeted approach to reach students in need.

“We want to commit to proven strategies, and empower parents to choose the best programs for their students and the needs of their families,” Loon said.

But opponents contend the move could create a “voucher system” vacuum on public schools, further perpetuating inequity.

Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) said the absence of funding to expand pre-k education makes the bill ripe for a veto.

“The governor sent us clear signals of what is important,” and pre-k expansion is among his priorities, she said. “I do not understand the strategy behind your move to put bills on the governor’s desk” that will be met with a veto.

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, pleaded with members to think about the bill she described as setting a foundation for education. She pointed to the proposed pilot programs that would carefully study school readiness.

“This is a good bill for the target that we have,” Erickson said.

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