With tuition freezes, new workforce development programming and additional funding for the state’s public colleges and universities, the omnibus higher education finance and policy bill was passed by the House Monday.
Sponsored by Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton), HF993/SF975* was amended to include the House language. Passed 74-59, it will return to the Senate where Sen. David Tomassoni (I-Chisholm) is the sponsor. A conference committee is expected to work out the differences.
The $3.5 billion bill would provide $120 million in increased higher education funding for the 2022-23 biennium. The largest share would go to support the state’s public institutions’ operating and maintenance costs, with the Minnesota State system receiving $68.4 million and the University of Minnesota receiving $41.75 million.
Bernardy said the bill centers on three key elements: tackling the rising cost of attending college and mounting student debt; improving equity by incorporating recommendations from the Select Committee on Racial Justice; and holding for-profit colleges who act with negligence accountable for harmful practices.
“Our higher education budget is student-centered with lots of good provisions that will provide critical support to our students now, while delivering a brighter, equitable and prosperous future for Minnesotans as we emerge from the pandemic,” she said.
The State Grant Program, which is utilized by more than 75,000 low- and middle-income students, would receive an additional $6.3 million during the biennium, for a total appropriation of $421.1 million.
Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) noted the state is expected to receive $2.7 billion in undesignated monies in federal COVID-19 relief funding, in addition to $552 million that will go directly to colleges and universities. She offered a successful amendment that, as amended, would direct Minnesota Management and Budget to use federal funds to cover eligible expenses in the bill and then cancel those expenses back to the General Fund.
The bill includes several policy provisions and new programs, one of which aims to simplify applying for college. It would create a pilot program to automatically offer eligible public high school seniors conditional admission to Minnesota State colleges and universities. The pilot would be funded through a $1 million appropriation during the 2022-23 biennium.
Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have eliminated the direct admissions pilot program and redirected its $1 million appropriation to provide additional funding to the Minnesota Independent College and Community, which helps young adults with learning differences develop independent living skills, social and emotional skills, career skills and find employment.
“A working group does not seem like a wise use of tax dollars and I think we can do better,” he said. “I know that MICC has a proven track record of working with people that have autism.”
Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) opposed the bill and raised issue with a lack of information on how federal COVID-19 funding has been distributed to and used by the state’s public institutions.
“We should vote ‘no’ on this bill and demand an accounting from the U of M and Minnesota State before we proceed further, before providing any more funds for them,” he said. “This is where the accountability begins to happen.”
Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL-Moorhead) shared support for the bill, particularly components that would provide additional funding to help people of color and American Indians studying to become teachers.
Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) also spoke in support of the bill, highlighting components that would create a career and technical pilot program to bolster workforce development programing.
“There are certainly provisions that some might find objectionable, but I’m confident that as it comes back from conference it will have been improved to the satisfaction of many,” he said. “In the balance I believe this bill moves our state forward in a very broad, diverse and positive manner that will ensure every Minnesotan has the opportunity to create for themselves the life of their choosing.”
Programs that would receive new or increased appropriations for the 2022-23 biennium include:
Notable policy provisions would: