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Minnesota Legislature

House passes conference committee report on E-12 education spending

Rep. Jenifer Loon, chair of the House Education Finance Committee, explains provisions of the conference committee report on HF844 during floor debate May 18. Photo by Paul Battaglia

A $17 billion plan to fund Minnesota’s schools was passed off the House Floor early Monday.

Sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), the conference committee report for HF844*/SF811 would increase K-12 and early education funding by $400 million over the next two years, with the bulk of that being dedicated to a per-pupil formula increase of 1.5 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017.

“This is truly a bipartisan bill, one that devotes and prioritizes funding for every pupil in the state of Minnesota, prioritizes early learning making sure we get kids off to a great start to close the achievement gap,” Loon said during House Floor debate that began shortly after midnight and wrapped up just after 4 a.m. with the House voting 71-59 to pass the conference report.

Although House DFL members expressed dismay that the funding formula falls short of the needs of schools districts to avoid teacher layoffs, the bill is expected to clear the Senate later today where Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) is the sponsor.

Whether it will become law remains to be seen. Gov. Mark Dayton has threatened to veto the bill unless it contains $550 million in added education dollars and includes provisions to create and fund a half-day universal prekindergarten program he has been advocating for since the early days of session.

The amended bill retains a House provision that would increase an early education scholarship program that provides preschool scholarships for low-income families by $30 million, and added an additional $1 million. It also retained a provision of the Senate version that emphasized nearly $31 million in increased funding for School Readiness early learning programs.

Big jump from original House target

The total dollar value of the spending bill reflects the Senate’s version more closely, which would have added $365 million to E-12 education over the next biennium. The House version passed late last month would have increased education funding by nearly $157 million.

The conference committee report the House passed includes myriad funding provisions that House and Senate conferees unanimously adopted early Sunday morning and contains language and funding initiatives from both the Senate and House versions.

Some of those notable provisions include:

  • $31.9 million increase in long-term facilities maintenance aid;
  • $9.5 million increase to the Q Comp program that gives schools funding to award teachers for performance;
  • $4 million increase to fund concurrent enrollment programs in high schools;
  • $3.5 million for the Minnesota Reading Corps program;
  • $3.5 million increase for Parent Aware, the state’s recently-developed rating system for participating early learning child care providers; and
  • $3.1 million increase for the American Indian education formula-based aid.

Debate over early learning approach, funding

The House Education Finance Committee voted down a full-day, universal prekindergarten proposal earlier this session. Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) has led the charge to side with Dayton on the issue.

Dayton’s education recommendations outlined the cost of creating a voluntary public preschool program for 4 year olds at $343 million over the next two years. But the governor has said in recent days he was willing to reduce his preschool proposal down to a half-day program for the 2016-17 biennium. He said the state’s projected $1.9 billion surplus was a major factor in his decision to now push for creation of the program. 

But House Republicans have opposed the idea, saying it is too expensive and unnecessary given the increased support for early education programs that have a more targeted approach in tackling the achievement gap that many advocates have said is best addressed before children enter kindergarten.

“The most disadvantaged and maltreated of those 4 year olds are the ones we should be focusing on,” said Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), in reference to the $62 million increase in early learning and family programs the conference committee report would fund, programs which predominantly target children from low-income families.

“We could have done so much more to help close the achievement gap with at least starting down the road with universal pre-K,” said Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls).

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