ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota House passed the $273 million education funding bill last Friday with a 75-54 vote.
As Alpha News previously reported, the omnibus education spending bill has drawn harsh debate between Republican legislators and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton over Pre-K expansion.
The Republican-sponsored bill proposes 1.25 percent yearly increase to the General Education Basic Formula–a per pupil formula that covers general operating costs. It also includes increases to school readiness programs and teacher loan forgiveness. In order to fund these increases in spending, the bill funnels money away from a voluntary public preschool program.
“We’re putting an investment into Minnesotans, using the dollars in a way we feel is more flexible and serve our students better,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said at a press conference before the vote.
Dayton is not satisfied with the proposal, instead lobbying for a $700 million education spending increase. The governor’s recommendation includes a 2 percent increase to the General Education Basic Formula and a $175 million increase in Pre-K funding.
“Investing $175 million in voluntary Pre-K this year will allow more than 17,000 Minnesota four-year-olds and their families to have access to better opportunities to succeed in school, and in our economy,” Dayton said. “I am appalled that anyone would use the best interests of Minnesota four-year-olds as a political bargaining chip. I urge House Republicans to invest in voluntary preK opportunities for our youngest learners this session.”
Voluntary Pre-K programs currently receive $25 million in funding. The money has gone to 74 school districts, serving 3,300 Pre-K students. Dayton’s proposal is aimed at expanding the program to all school districts that have applied for the funding, potentially extending a Pre-K option to 13,800 students.
The House-approved bill would eliminate the current base funding for voluntary Pre-K programs, instead moving the money to school readiness adjustment credits and early learning scholarships.
“It’s important to make resources go further; we have a limited number at the end of the day to do good things with. We’re focused on early childhood education, but we’re doing it in a way that funds children and not necessarily programs,” Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) said during a House Education Finance Committee hearing last month. “We’re going to attempt to target those who need it most.”
“We’re providing parents with scholarships to offer choice of programs for students. Let’s reinforce choice, and trust parents to make those decisions,” she added.
Dayton has previously stated that it was too early to tell if they are on track for another government shutdown over education funding. Loon thinks House Republicans will be able to reach an agreement with Dayton.
Hearings start this week for the Senate version of the omnibus education funding bill.
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