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Minnesota leaders propose measures to boost education

(The Center Square) – Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan released a $5.1 billion surplus spending plan for education and families.

One of their desires is to expand prekindergarten for 23,000 Minnesota kids. Their proposed model would combine school-based programs, Head Start, child care centers and family child care program, easing navigation and ensuring choices for families, their office’s news release said.

The budget increases investment in early learning scholarships and early child care access through raising child care assistance payment rates to the federal standard and tying increases to recent market rates, the release said. It would fund child care payments to all eligible families through the Basic Sliding Fee Child Care Assistance Program and clear waiting lists, they said.

They want to add 2% on the general education formula and reduce cross subsidies to promote school districts’ and charter schools’ aid to special education and English language learners.

Free breakfast and lunch would be provided to students at Minnesota schools in the national school breakfast and lunch programs through a $183 million and 4% increases each year; $5 million would support implementation of Minnesota BOLD: A Birth through Grade 12 Action Plan for Literacy Achievement; and another $5 million would expand the community schools grant program.

The budget adds $15 million for education support professionals’ training and development and $47.3 million for culturally and linguistically appropriate youth development, employment and training opportunities.

Another $77 million would address shortages of school support personnel services for students’ social, emotional and physical health. There would be $6 million in school-linked behavioral health grants; $9.983 million for school-based mental health screening; $3.759 million to increase access to infant and early childhood mental health programs; and $26 million for inpatient mental health beds for children. Homework Starts with Home would expand into early childhood.

They also proposed a Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance program and ensuring workers can accrue 48 hours per year for recovery from illness, going to a medical appointment, caring for a child during a school closure, or getting care following domestic abuse, stalking or sexual assault. Nearly 16,000 Minnesota youth could keep health insurance through a continuous medical assistance program.

The state anticipates having a $7.75 billion surplus with more than $1 billion available through unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds.

MN Association of Charter Schools Executive Director Eugene Piccolo told The Center Square there is a need to support students’ and staff’s mental health, which has suffered since the pandemic began – and the need began “well before the pandemic.”

“[Compared with the rest of the country] Minnesota has a very low number of school counselors per kid to begin with,” he said.

He said increasing the funding formula makes sense because schools’ purchasing power should keep up with inflation and the state is anticipated to have the revenue to afford raising it.

“Schools do need additional resources,” he said.

Attracting teachers to the profession is also crucial, he said, as finding paraprofessionals, substitute teachers and bus drivers has been challenging.

Legislators should also clarify what temporary online learning should look like and what criteria need to be met for school districts and charter schools to make those decisions without having to obtain state permission.

Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, Education Finance and Policy Chair, said in a statement that Senate Republicans had passed “record funding” for schools last year, with a 2.5% increase this year, a 2% increase next year. Minnesota schools received $3 billion from Congress.

“We also stopped additional mandates and worked to keep kids in classrooms,” he said. “Throwing more money into schools without addressing literacy and allowing kids and educators to catch up is the wrong direction. We’ll focus on kids’ reading skills and prepare them for graduation through proven, successful programs and get them on the right track.”

Minnesota’s 2022 legislative session begins Monday.

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