An omnibus education bill would increase state spending in E-12 by nearly $157 million over the next biennium (for a general fund budget of $16.86 billion) with a 0.6 percent increase to the basic funding formula – which would amount to a $157 increase per student.
Unveiled Tuesday, the House Education Finance Committee took testimony Wednesday. Committee members are expected to offer amendments and vote on the bill Thursday. Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), the committee chair, sponsors the bill.
Several testifiers representing school boards, teachers’ union and school administrators asked for an increase in the basic funding formula of as much as 3 percent per year. Without the additional support, many school districts across the state would face cuts to programs and staff, several testifiers told committee members.
The 0.6 percent increase to the basic funding formula “is not only bad for students and class size but bad for our families, communities and teachers,” said Paul Winkelaar, a lobbyist for Education Minnesota.
Debate over scope, size of early childhood education
The major difference between Dayton’s E-12 funding proposal and HF844 is that the governor calls for a 1 percent increase to the basic education formula. And House Republicans have decided to say “no” to the governor’s call to create a public universal pre-kindergarten program, which would cost $343 million over the next biennium. Instead, they plan to fund an early learning scholarship program — that targets 3- and 4-year-olds from low income families — by an additional $30 million.
The House plan also calls for a $9 million increase to School Readiness programs that aim to ensure those in need have access to pre-kindergarten programs, and a $3.5 million boost to the Parent Aware child care rating system, which is tied to the eligibility component of the early learning scholarship program.
The debate over how the state can best help its earliest learners has centered on a number of studies in recent years that indicate the critical importance of early childhood education in closing the achievement gap. But experts and early childhood advocates disagree the size and scope of such programs and funding.
While the governor and House DFLers have campaigned in recent months for creation of a public preschool model, House Republicans have advocated more targeted help for families who struggle to pay for early childhood education opportunities. Organizations like MinneMinds and the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association have advocated for more scholarship dollars and have criticized the universal preschool model.
The committee also heard from Art Rolnick, a former economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, whose highly-publicized research on public investment in early childhood education indicates that early learning scholarship programs are one of the most effective ways to close the achievement gap.
“Ultimately you want to provide an early learning scholarship to every child born into poverty in this state because the research shows it is the best economic investment you can make, and probably the best moral investment you can make,” said Rolnick, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, who asked the committee to continue its commitment to expanding the early learning scholarship program.
Also included in the omnibus bill are provisions that would result in nearly $20 million in projected savings from a proposed repeal of the 2013 law that made taking the ACT a requirement to graduate, and a proposed reduction in the number of standardized exams students must take during between third and 12th grade.
Other funding provisions would:
Notable policy provisions included in the bill would:
What's in the bill?
The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus K-12 education finance bill: