The following column by Rep. Ami Wazlawik was published in the White Bear Press and the Hugo Citizen on Wednesday, May 22, 2019:
As the 2019 legislative session comes to an end, I’m working hard to make sure that the values of the people in our community are put first. When I was out door knocking, people told me over and over again that a great education for all Minnesota students was a top priority for them. I’ve heard many concerns about inadequate funding for schools, special education, student mental health, and early learning opportunities. These concerns should be reflected in our state budget. I’ll continue to fight for Minnesota students and local schools in the final days of the session and beyond.
The House and Senate have each approved an E-12 education budget for the next two years. Members of both chambers are currently working together to resolve the differences between the two proposals and reach a compromise. Though the final version of the E-12 education budget will likely look different by the time the session ends and this column is published, I want you to know what I stand for. This is a vision that I’ll continue to work for even if it isn’t fully adopted this year.
The E-12 education budget that my colleagues and I passed in the House invests in every student at every public school. It increases per-pupil funding by three percent in 2020 and another two percent in 2021. Over the next two years, funding for White Bear Lake schools would increase by approximately $767 per student. Schools in Mahtomedi and Mounds View would see about $797 and $563 more for each student, respectively, and funding for Stillwater schools would increase by $587 per student. This increased funding would help schools support students inside and outside the classroom.
Our budget also freezes the special education cross subsidy for the next two years. Cross subsidies are gaps between the cost of providing special education services and what state and federal funding covers. Schools must use general funds to fill in the gaps. That depletes funds and pits groups of students against one another. Freezing the cross subsidy would benefit communities like White Bear Lake, where the cross subsidy increased 110% between 2002 and 2017, and ensure that schools are able to meet the needs of all students.
Keeping students safe and healthy is also an important part of the House budget. It provides grants to expand mental health services and crucial funding so schools can hire counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and other support staff. One of my bills that was included in the budget would require establishing risk assessment teams to help school districts address threatening behavior and connect students with underlying behavioral or mental health issues to the resources they need to address them.
Our budget also helps the youngest Minnesotans get a great start in life through expanded access to voluntary early learning opportunities. It preserves access to preschool for 4,000 kids by making School Readiness Plus, which is set to expire this year, a permanent program. 2,000 more of our youngest learners would benefit from increased investment in and flexibility for early learning scholarships.
Our students are the future of Minnesota. In my years working in local public schools, I’ve seen the great potential of young Minnesotans firsthand. If we invest in each and every student, give teachers and staff tools to help them succeed, and connect students to the resources they need to thrive, there’s no limit to what our students can achieve.