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K-12 spending package with $2.2 billion boost for education on its way to governor

MN House debates spending package including $2.2B for education
MN House debates spending package including $2.2B for education 01:55

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A large K-12 education funding package that includes a $2.2 billion boost for schools is on its way to Gov. Tim Walz's desk for signature.

It includes indexing the per pupil formula funding to the rate of inflation in future years—capped at 3%—with a boost of 4% next fiscal year and 2% the following year. There's additional money to cover some of costs for special education programs, recruit more teachers of color and hire more school psychologists. 

Additional funding will support stocking schools with menstrual products free of charge to students, and keeping a supply of the opioid antagonist naloxone, as the epidemic fueled by illicit fentanyl intensifies. Personal finance, Holocaust and genocide education, and ethnic studies will be incorporated into school curriculum. 

The bill, which is a compromise deal reached by House and Senate negotiators, passed on a 70-62 vote after five hours of debate in the House. The Senate followed suit, discussing the proposal overnight and approving the bill just before 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Democrats praised the bill as a "transformational" investment in education not seen before in the legislature. 

"This entire bill is about investing in our future, in our Minnesota learners," said Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins. "It's our job as legislators to make sure that every one of our public schools are a healthy and safe learning environment for all of our kids."

The 300-page bill includes the "Read Act," which has new literacy benchmarks, instruction and teacher training as state leaders look to improve student achievement after test scores dropped from pre-pandemic levels. State data show just half of students were proficient at reading last year. 

These changes include developing new screenings that will be mandatory to assess literacy skills for students in kindergarten through third grade, and additional monitoring if they are not proficient in later years. 

Republicans criticized the bill as stripping schools of local control and argued it will burden districts with an onslaught of new requirements. 

"Mandates cost money. So while we are 'transformational' in the amount of money we give, we are also 'transformational' in the amount of mandates we give," said Rep. Patricia Mueller, R-Austin. "It decreases the amount of money that actually goes to our students and our teachers."

Another point of contention for Republicans is a provision that allows hourly school workers to be eligible for unemployment insurance. People like bus drivers and food service workers were previously excluded from filing for jobless benefits when school is out for summer, and this bill changes that.

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