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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL)

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Release: Minn. House approves compromise Higher Education budget

Sunday, June 20, 2021

St. Paul, MN. – Late yesterday evening, the Minnesota House of Representatives advanced the compromise higher education budget bill on a vote of 71-57. House DFLers negotiated with the Republican-led Senate with a goal of using limited resources to protect students from rising costs, while also keeping Minnesota institutions vibrant and competitive, and shrinking racial and economic opportunity gaps in higher education.

“All Minnesota families deserve the opportunity to access a world-class education, no matter where they live or what they look like,” said House Higher Education Chair Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton). “Our bipartisan compromise with the Senate prioritizes students by helping them overcome pandemic-related challenges now and into the future. We are committed to ensuring students are prepared to move forward in the post-pandemic workforce. House DFLers advocated for strategic investments in Minnesotans, so we can all thrive and emerge stronger post-COVID-19.”

The bipartisan higher education budget funds the Office of Higher Education (OHE), the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MinnState), the University of Minnesota campuses, and the Mayo Clinic Medical School. Significantly, it makes investments into the State Grant program that will impact more than 75,000 students and expand access to nearly 3,000 grant applicants. Additionally, within the budget agreement is a new "fostering independence" grant program to fund up to five years of college for students raised in foster care.

“The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but our students are among the hardest hit,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “Our students deserve the education and job training they need to get jobs with wages and benefits that will support their families. Our final budget takes steps to close gaps and ensure our institutions are ready to prepare our students for the workforce of today and the future.”

The higher education budget contains several equity provisions to ensure all Minnesotans can prosper. It prioritizes financial support via scholarships for people of color and American Indians studying to become teachers, which is an important tool in helping to close the opportunity gap in Minnesota. The bill also contains updates to align the American Indian Scholarship program with other Office of Higher Education scholarship programs that will qualify students for summer term awards and help them graduate faster with less debt. House DFLers prevailed with the inclusion of the new Direct Admissions Minnesota pilot program, which will focus on removing barriers for low-income and students of color entering college by increasing enrollment opportunities.

“We’ve seen post-secondary education become a privilege for those who can afford it because Republican politicians increased costs on students and families to cut taxes for the rich and well-connected,” said Majority Leader Winkler. “Minnesota has the resources to provide affordable post-secondary education for Minnesotans who want it. Our economy will be better off when we invest resources in students, workers, and families who want to get ahead and build a better life.” 

In response to student testimony about their challenges this year and the need for more direct support for student health and wellness, the bill has investments in mental health resources, addresses food insecurity on our college campuses, supports z-degrees to help reduce the cost of textbooks and course materials for students, and contains emergency grant assistance to meet food, housing, and transportation needs.

Among other items, the budget also includes:

-Funding for Underrepresented Teacher Grants

-U of M Natural Resources Research Institute Funding Increase
-Enhanced Student Transcript Access
-Student Transfer Report
-SELF-Loan Cap Increase
-Risk Analysis for Financially Struggling Schools
-College Possible Increase and Report
-Small Campus Aid Increase
-Childcare Grant Maximums
-Concurrent Enrollment Updates
-Basic Needs Hub Requirements

The bill language is available here. The spreadsheet can be found here. A video recording of the floor debate is available on the House Public Information YouTube channel.