Described as “aspirational” by members on both sides of the aisle, the omnibus education finance bill passed its first hurdle Thursday.
Sponsored by the division chair, Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), HF2400 includes $900 million in new E-12 investments and an array of policy provisions. It was approved, as amended, by the House Education Finance Division and now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it is scheduled to be heard Monday.
“It’s a package that puts the student at the center and surrounds them with the services, supports, opportunities and challenges that they need to succeed,” Davnie said.
The bill recognizes cost drivers for districts, particularly in the area of special education funding, he added. It also targets barriers to student development and achievement by increasing the availability of school support services.
With nearly a dozen amendments offered, and all of them adopted, the bill leaving the division is a bit different than when it was introduced Monday.
An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka) would require the Departments of Education, Human Services, and Health to create a legislative report on early child care and education coordination. It would also transfer $600,000 during the upcoming biennium from scholarships to the Office of Minnesota IT Services to create a database that would allow for better coordination between programs.
At the request of Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), the amendment was divided into two parts. While in support of the creation of a report, Kresha and Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) opposed the funding portion, saying it’s premature and takes away from scholarships.
“This section puts the cart before the horse because we’re allocating money to what we don’t know and we don’t have yet,” Kresha said.
The amendment was created in consultation with the agencies and based off a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor. Pryor explained stakeholders have indicated they lack the technology component needed to measure program impact and better coordinate.
While the money would mean fewer early learning scholarships are distributed now, Pryor anticipates efficiencies identified through this work could result in more kids benefiting from scholarships in the long run.
Erickson questioned whether MNIT has the capability of developing a database that can achieve the end goal.
“I have reservations about some of the projects that have gone forth before that have failed,” she said. “I think we need to know first, are they capable of this, before we send them these dollars.”
While expressing appreciation of the robust discussion and noting areas of common ground, Kresha reiterated a point he made earlier in the week, saying the plan was lofty and is still in aspirational mode.
“As previously stated, the $900 million target is aspirational,” he said. “I believe that simply cannot be achieved without a $400 million shift of transportation dollars.”
He warned that expectations have been set too high. “To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I think the most difficult task you will have now is to temper the optimism and expectations that have been created.”
Agreeing that the plan was ambitious, Davnie said that it reflected the aspirations of students, teachers and parents. “You’ve described the bill as aspirational as if that’s a bad thing, and I don’t think it is.”
“I think our students are aspirational, I think that our teachers are aspirational, I think that the parents are aspirational for their children and for the future of Minnesota,” Davnie said. “And if today we can help support those aspirations — those dreams to reality — good on us.”