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Education committee mulls Dayton’s updated E-12 budget recommendations

While House Republicans are filling in the details of the $16.87 billion budget target they have stated they will commit to education appropriations in the next biennium, a House committee continues to mull over Gov. Mark Dayton’s E-12 recommendations – which have grown by $322.8 million since he released his supplemental budget . 

Currently, the governor’s revised recommendation — based off the release of the February economic budget forecast — calls for $695 million in additional E-12 funding for $17.51 billion in total spending in the next biennium.

House Republicans have indicated they want to increase education spending by $157 million over the next two years. The DFL-controlled Senate’s education budget target increase is $350 million.

The bulk of Dayton’s supplemental budget recommendations for E-12 education is an additional $234 million to create a voluntary, universal preschool program at public schools for 4-year-olds.

Republicans favor increased funding for existing scholarship-based programs that target families with the most need.

Dayton’s proposal — which would allow public elementary schools to receive funding to “scale up” to offering all-day pre-K to 4-year-olds on a voluntary basis — has been met with strong opposition from many private, licensed child care providers, some of whom testified Wednesday afternoon before the House Education Finance Committee. The committee took no action and heard more testimony at night.

“The universal preschool movement is in direct conflict with research that amplifies the critical importance of early childhood play-based learning environments,” said Pat Gentz, a 32-year licensed child care owner, who testified on behalf of the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association.

Over the last four years, the number of licensed family child care providers in Minnesota has decreased from more than 12,000 to 9,700. That is largely due to increased burdens the state has placed on providers, said Gentz, who added that those still in business would not be able to compete with a free, public model.

“We need to let our 4-year-olds be 4-year-olds,” Gentz said. “We know from research they learn best through play, that they need to be loved. That is what child care providers do best.”

Testifiers on behalf of Minneapolis Public Schools expressed support for the proposal.

The district already offers public preschool for 4-year-olds through various funding mechanisms it has cobbled together, said Josh Downham, a lobbyist for the district. He said the universal pre-K model would allow its schools to expand existing programs and reduce their waitlists.

Other high profile topics of discussion included the governor’s recommendation of a 1 percent increase to the base per-pupil funding formula and the discrepancy in Dayton’s and House Republicans’ education spending targets.

Other notable items included in Dayton’s supplemental education budget recommendations:

  • $39.4 million increase to the special education formula;
  • $24.2 million for development of a Teacher Workforce Recruitment and Retention program to target shortages in specific subject areas and in specific school districts;
  • $10.3 million increase to the Indian Education Per Pupil Formula Aid;
  • $6 million increase to fund expansion of the Department of Education’s Regional Centers of Excellence program; and
  • $5.2 million to eliminate equalization cap for Bureau of Indian Education schools across the state.

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