“We don’t believe school districts should have to turn to property taxes just to fund the basics,” Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Tuesday during an 11-hour debate on the omnibus education finance bill. “We think there should be strong state funding so that we can provide these opportunities for children all over the state, regardless of whether or not their local community can pass property tax increases.”
Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davine, DFL-Minneapolis, HF2400 as amended would provide $900 million in new E-12 education investments in the upcoming biennium. The bill passed 78-55 this week in the House and now heads to the Senate.
The most significant funding in the proposal would be used to increase the general education formula by 3 percent in fiscal year 2020 and 2 percent in fiscal year 2021, for a general education funding increase of $520 million above the base budget, Session Daily reported.
The bill would not only pay for thousands of children to attend preschool and expand full-service community schools, but would allow districts to hire more counselors and other mental health professionals. It would also provide designated funds for attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers of color, a proven strategy for raising the achievement of students of color, according to Education Minnesota.
Denise Sprecht, president of Education Minnesota, congratulated the House on passing the bill.
“Students shouldn’t be denied the support they need to succeed because their schools are suffering from chronic underfunding,” she said in a statement. “The bill passed by the Minnesota House will go a long way toward giving every student, no matter where they were born or what they look like, the freedom to go as far as their talent and hard work will take them.”
Republican legislators shared opposition toward the overall spending target, saying it will result in tax increases despite Minnesota’s current surplus. They took issue with the funding inequities between school districts – particularly between Minneapolis, suburban and rural districts.
“You are making promises to teachers, to parents, to schools that you have no ability to keep, and I think that’s incredibly irresponsible,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. “And what I mean by that is if you’re not successful in raising billions of dollars of new taxes, you don’t have any way to fund the increases for schools that are in this bill.”
Other new investments include a $118 million increase for special education, $47 million to maintain the current number of pre-kindergarten seats and $24 million for school safety and funding.
Several policy provisions were opposed by Republican legislators including changes to a school district’s referendum authority and to the teacher licensure system. A provision that would require the Department of Education to develop, and help school districts implement comprehensive sexual health education curricula was met with vocal resistance and several amendments, Session Daily reported.
The proposal would require the content to be age appropriate and medically accurate, with instruction starting in elementary school and continuing through high school. School districts or charters could opt out of the sex education model endorsed by the department, and implement their own model that meets the requirements.
Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, who sponsors the original legislation, said districts and parents are in the driver’s seat with the legislation.
Opponents questioned the appropriateness of the curriculum and said it diminishes parental responsibility and reduces a district’s autonomy to choose sexual health programming.
“One-size-fits-all government mandated sex education is really a one-size-fits-nobody,” Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said. “It’s a sensitive subject that should be left up to local control as to what to teach and how to teach it.”