Philosophical differences about how best to educate Minnesota children came to the fore Thursday.
But the House Ways and Means Committee eventually added two sections of the omnibus early childhood bill into the omnibus education finance and policy bill before approving HF4300, as amended, on an 18-10 party line vote. Its next stop is the House Floor.
Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), the bill attempts to increase learning opportunities for students, eliminate opportunity gaps and make the educational system fair and equitable, according to its supporters. It would appropriate $1.15 billion in fiscal year 2023 and $2.12 billion in the following two fiscal years, spending increases Republicans object to.
The DFL’s response: the spending is in the best interest of Minnesota.
“We have mandated certain services. Every child in Minnesota should have the opportunity for world-class education,” Davnie said. “We should not look at reducing services for some kids because they are more expensive or more inconvenient to educate. We mandate those services, because they are the right thing to do, because they create opportunity, and they create an opportunity for Minnesota.
“It’s our responsibility to pay the bills. The philosophical divide here is whether we should stand up to responsibility or not.”
Among its provisions, the bill would create a voluntary prekindergarten program for eligible 4-year-olds from low-income families and kids who are vulnerable, make significant investments in special education and English-language learner programs, and provide additional support personnel to help students deal with mental health issues.
Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) pointed to the high number of proposed mandates, saying school districts don’t like them and that providing money to schools and adding mandates is not the best way forward. Scott said she would have liked policies in the bill to help students recover lost instruction time.
The Legislature is responsible for the funding mechanism of the school system and the school system is responsible for curriculum and education of the kids. School districts know what’s best for them, said Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca).
Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), HF4735, as amended, would facilitate changes to several early education programs, including Head Start, early learning scholarships, early childhood developmental screening, and early childhood family education. It would also establish a grow your own program for early childhood educators.
Lack of adequate child care providers has made it difficult for employers to find workers willing to move to their communities in various parts of the state, Pinto said. The omnibus education bill would appropriate money for a study on the early childhood education workforce in Minnesota.