As the policy deadlines loom the discussion about respective budget plans is starting to emerge. With a $1.9 billion surplus in hand the debate about education should be a matter of how much and where to spend it.

The House Ways & Means Committee meets Monday morning to take testimony on what should be the upper limits of spending by each subject area.

Education groups have agreed to go in and ask for a target of $875 million for the next biennium. Our rationale? E-12 spending makes up 42 percent of the state’s general fund expenditures and should receive at least that percent of the surplus and actually a little more because we’re being asked to do more in early childhood education. If we don’t ask they won’t consider this level of funding on their own. Keep in mind, the House GOP majority is being lobbied by their own political party to return the entire surplus back to citizens in the form of rebate checks.

Support of Target

The Governor originally proposed $373 million for E-12 education. However, in light of the bigger surplus that was announced at the end of February, he’s indicated a desire to double down on universal four year old preschool. MREA is told he will propose another $240 million on top of his original $109 million into expanding universal preschool.

We might want that funding to go elsewhere, like closing inequities in facilities and teacher development and evaluation, but at a minimum it pushes the Governor’s target for E-12 to $613 million.

The Senate hasn’t formalized a budget plan, but Senate E-12 Chairman Chuck Wiger (DFL North St. Paul) indicated early on in session that he’s opening for a $500 million E-12 target.

Mounting Requests

While $500-600 million in new E-12 spending sounds like a lot, this level of funding won’t go far,given the number of requests and magnitude of preschool expansion. Statewide groups like MSBA and MASA are pushing for lots of money on the formula.

Certainly, MREA supports formula funding, but if we’re going to close the gap that exists in facilities funding, we need some of the E-12 target to go toward equalization aid to phase in a long term maintenance levy for rural districts. See our Ag2School proposal for details on what we would like the legislature to consider enacting this year.

Teacher Development & Evaluation funding is in the mix with an MDE report calling for an investment of $169 per pupil for non-QComp districts. Early indications hint that neither the House or Senate will consider TD&E funding at that level, but perhaps something less than that could be in the mix. Expanded concurrent enrollment funding and money for school counselors will likely be in the mix as well.

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