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Lawmakers reach $3.5 billion higher education deal

(The Center Square) – Minnesota lawmakers have reached a $3.5 billion higher education deal, aiming to increase college funding by nearly $100 million over the next two years.

According to House Session Daily, that’s divided:

  • $1.58 billion to the Minnesota State system (45% of the higher education budget)
  • $1.39 billion to the University of Minnesota (40% of the higher education budget)
  • $546 million to the Office of Higher Education (16% of the higher education budget)
  • $2.7 million to the Mayo Foundation for education programs

The bill is expected to be introduced Monday when the Legislature likely reconvenes for a special session in which lawmakers must pass a $52 billion state budget before July 1 or shut down the government.

The Minnesota State system of 30 community colleges and seven universities would receive a $56 million increase to its two-year appropriation. It requested $120 million.

The University of Minnesota would get a $38.5 million funding bump for its five campuses. It asked for a $46.5 million raise.

“Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota, as I understand, feel that they can do well for their students with the funding that we got them,” Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, said. “We did a good job helping students in the state.”

The compromise allows the Minnesota State system to hike undergraduate tuition up to 3.5% per year.

Mike Dean, executive director of the community college student association LeadMN, argued for a tuition freeze at Minnesota State.

Minnesota State’s 37 colleges and universities will pocket $186 million from COVID-19 stimulus packages to fill deflated revenues caused by the novel virus.

“The legislators said they weren’t going to balance the budget on the backs of students, but that’s exactly what they did,” Dean told the Star Tribune.

About $1 million aims to create a “College Possible” program that would automatically admit high school seniors who meet academic standards into local colleges without applying.

About $4 million to create a “fostering independence” grant program to pay for up to five years of college for students raised in foster care. The grants would apply to dollars post-scholarship.

The bill aims to require Minnesota State to activate mental health awareness programs, including online resources and employee and student training through its system by fall 2022.

“One of the biggest things we heard about was mental health needs,” Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Sen. David Tomassoni, I-Chisholm, said

The higher education agreement is the first omnibus bill ready when the Legislature likely reconvenes for a special session Monday. If they don’t pass a budget by July 1, the state government shuts down.

Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders reached a May deal that didn’t guarantee a passed budget. However, more complicated battles remain, including Walz’s pandemic powers that divide the House and Senate.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, on Wednesday, said continued declining hospitalization and COVID-19 case counts show the emergency is over.

“There is simply no reason for Gov. Walz to continue his one-man rule,” Gazelka said in a statement. Minnesotans deserve better and it is time to restore the role of the people, stop the remaining mandates and executive orders, and let families get on with planning their lives without worrying about what rules could drop from on high.”


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