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House passes omnibus early childhood, E-12 education package

Rep. Jim Davnie, chair of the House Education Finance Committee, makes opening comments before debate begins on the omnibus supplemental education finance and policy bill April 27. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)

Investments in early childhood, special education and English-language learner programs are essential parts of the omnibus education finance and policy bill.

The provisions address the concerns of students and people of Minnesota and invest in their critical needs, said Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), who sponsors the bill, adding that it’s time the Legislature paid its dues to help all student learn today for a better Minnesota tomorrow.

Davnie sponsors HF4300, that, as amended, was approved 69-61 by the House Wednesday, and is on its way to the Senate where Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) is the sponsor.

It would appropriate $1.15 billion in fiscal year 2023 and $2.12 billion in each year of the 2024-25 biennium with a view to provide a world-class education to all students, Davnie said. It would so by relying on the Minnesota Multi-Tiered System of Supports, a systemic, continuous improvement framework for ensuring positive social, emotional, behavioral, developmental, and academic outcomes for every student.

The bill would provide $422 million in special education cross-subsidy aid in fiscal year 2023 and bring it up to more than $992 million in the following biennium, and it would increase English learner cross-subsidy aid from about $76 million in fiscal year 2023 to more than $202 million in next biennium. The additional funds would help close educational opportunity gaps and help create a more equitable system of education in the state, according to supporters.

It would also create a voluntary prekindergarten program for eligible 4-year-olds from low-income families and kids deemed vulnerable, make changes to many early education programs, require early childhood developmental screening, and early childhood family education. It would also establish a grow your own program for early childhood educators.

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) said the bill is about getting kids off to a good start in life, adding that opportunity gaps should be addressed before they become major academic issues.

Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) is the Republican lead on the House Education Finance Committee.

"Democrats are pushing massive new mandates, controversial curriculum, and prioritizing Minneapolis over the rest of the state,” he said in a statement. “This bill doesn't put $1 toward the per-pupil formula, and gives nearly twice as much funding to Minneapolis schools as the rest of the state — this bill won't do anything to address the stagnant test scores and devastating learning loss from Democrat school shutdowns of the past two years."

Seven Republican amendments were defeated, withdrawn or ruled out of order.

When it comes to mental health, the bill would provide screenings of students in kindergarten through? grade 12, and help to hire student support services personnel for better academic, physical, social, and emotional outcomes, said Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview).

The Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board would need to award competitive grants to increase the number of teacher candidates, and survey preparation programs and periodically report on teacher shortages and hirings to the Legislature.

But the bill doesn’t address the problem of substitute teacher shortage, or adequately support literacy programs, said Rep. Patricia Mueller (R-Austin). Throwing money at some programs and introducing new mandates for schools may not provide the solutions everyone is looking for, she said, adding that money needs to be targeted to classrooms, not unions or education bureaucracy.

Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) said as many as 50 mandates would be imposed without addressing the learning lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and expressed doubts about the effectiveness of proposed mandates in absence of any assessment measures.

Among other provisions in the bill are those that would:

  • modify academic standards requirements, including compulsory instruction in ethnic studies;
  • prioritize alternative student discipline provisions;
  • increase the percentage of teachers of color and American Indian teachers;
  • require school boards to address malicious and sadistic conduct;
  • improve reading proficiency among early learners through scientifically based evidence-based instruction that focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, oral language, vocabulary and reading comprehension skills;
  • modify a statewide after-school community learning grant program to help students develop healthy behavior and attitudes for long-term success in education and career;
  • develop a foundational blueprint for a statewide computer science program;
  • replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the list of holidays a school district may conduct school, and require at least one hour of the school program on Indigenous Peoples’ Day be devoted to the day’s observance;
  • require schools to provide students in grades 4 to 12 with access to menstrual products at no charge;
  • establish a task force to advise the Department of Education on ethnic studies standards, curriculum, and resources necessary to implement ethnic studies requirements;
  • require a district to report all new teacher hires and terminations by race and ethnicity annually to the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board;
  • increase the adult basic education maximum contact hour rate from $22 to $28;
  • require school administrators renewing a license to have at least two hours of mental illness training, including at least one hour of suicide prevention training and one additional hour on specified topics;
  • require the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board to adopt rules requiring any teacher renewing a license to demonstrate professional development in the cultural heritage and contemporary contributions of American Indians, with emphasis on Minnesota tribal nations;
  • require charter schools to be free to a resident of Minnesota, and to prefer Minnesota residents over out-of-state residents in enrollment; and
  • establish grants to close educational opportunity gaps.

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