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Minnesota education spending: A tale of two budget bills

Sen. Carla Nelson and Rep. Jim Davnie
MinnPost photo by Taryn Phaneuf
State Sen. Carla Nelson and state Rep. Jim Davnie, chairs of the education conference committee, talking after recessing the committee so the House could consider a Senate budget offer.

By the time the education conference committee chairs took their turn briefing the governor and leaders of the House and Senate on their budget bill progress, Rep. Jim Davnie was eager for them to step in.

“This has been a very slow process, particularly today,” he said Monday night with roughly five hours to go before the regular session adjourned. “We need to pick up the pace. The House is willing to pick up the pace. We just are waiting for direction from the leadership.”

Davnie, Sen. Carla Nelson, and their respective conferees were locked in a long back-and-forth over how to spend the remaining $148 million of the $540 million target they got Sunday from Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman. Less than 24 hours went by before that trio took over the education spending bill.

Around the same time, legislators cutting deals on higher-education spending broke their cone of silence with an alert that they would meet shortly to pass their bill – the only budget bill that would be sent to the governor’s desk during the regular session.


Between the education plans, lawmakers showed their willingness to take at least two paths: Leave negotiations up to committee chairs or break stalemates with executive decisions. Both paths test deadlines and vows of transparency. Apparently, both also lead to a budget.

The wait

A dozen or so lobbyists representing administrators, school districts, teachers, and families spent Monday camped out in a basement conference room in the State Office Building, waiting to hear news of the education bill. Negotiations started with a brief meeting at 8 a.m., when House members made the first offer.

It included annual 2 percent general spending increases and permanent funding for tribal contract schools – two provisions secured by the global agreement announced a day earlier. The rest of the offer looked like a pared-down version of the original House bill, this time with a total of $540 million instead of $900 million. It included all the House’s policy provisions, which cover a range of topics and were opposed by Republicans, who refused to debate even those policies that didn’t have money attached until after the target was delivered.

As committee members returned at 2:30 in the afternoon, and again at 4:30, advocates, whose numbers had swelled, lined up by a table near the door to snatch the too-few copies of spreadsheets outlining the latest offer.

Those with school budgets on their minds felt most concerned about what would happen with special education and preschool funding. Schools must finalize their own spending and revenue plans by June 30. They would have to decide whether to keep their preschool programs running without confirmed state aid. Several advocates speculated the 2 percent increases in general aid won’t be enough, especially if the budget didn’t prevent the special-education cross subsidy from growing. They expect to see school levies on ballots in November.

The committee recessed for the last time with 10 minutes to go before the 5 p.m. deadline. The Senate chair said they would consider the House’s second offer, but neither side had appeared to budge on their most contentious points.

Nelson didn’t want any discussion of policy until the numbers were decided, yet the House walked through a list of 26 policies it still wanted in the bill. It included provisions on increasing teachers of color, health and safety, teacher licensure, and student discipline, among others.

They had made no progress on familiar sticking points like early learning, special education, and safe schools. Nelson had brought an offer to earmark $50 million for preschool without specifying how it would be spent – on scholarships or school-based programs. She proposed they continue that debate after they settle the rest of the spending plan but before they pass the bill.


“Where do you expect to find time to do that?” Davnie asked.

Silence, then a higher-ed budget bill

The higher-ed bill, SF 2415, came together in two long negotiating sessions with a couple of elected officials and a Cabinet member. Sen. Paul Anderson, Rep. Connie Bernardy, Commissioner Dennis Olson, and their staffs, worked through the night Sunday and again through the afternoon Monday.

They didn’t bring offers to public conference committee meetings, release spreadsheets detailing their back-and-forth negotiations, or respond to media inquiries as the Legislature crashed toward its self-imposed deadline to pass bills out of committee by 5 p.m..

But theirs was the only finance bill to finish before the regular session ended.

“Nothing that was discussed wasn’t fully vetted in front of the conference committee,” Anderson said in the moments between passing the bill out of committee and taking it up on the Senate floor. “How you get it to that final agreement was done between the three of us and a lot of staff. But, again, a lot of that was also with input of conferees throughout the night, too.”

The tight turnaround between receiving the budget target and passing a finished bill made it necessary to hash out the details out of sight, as they did. This is what happens “when you’re told to put a bill together in less than 24 hours,” Anderson said.

“We needed to get the bill done today, so when we got our targets, we had to move quickly,” Bernardy said. “If we wouldn’t have started when we got our targets, it wouldn’t have gotten done by today. … We can’t control when we get it, but we had been transparent all the way through our conference committees.”

$150 million split three ways

For this committee, the public process ended almost a week before the bill came together. They met five times between May 7 and 13, then recessed till May 20 at 8 p.m, when they convened to vote on a $3.4 billion spending bill, including $150 million in new funding split between the Office of Higher Education, University of Minnesota, and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. It was a 53-page bill that solicited no questions or discussion before being unanimously approved by House and Senate conferees.

It was promptly delivered to the Senate, where members took turns with a few comments. DFL Sens. Ron Latz and Sandra Pappas criticized a lack of support for the state’s research university. A number of questions demonstrated how quickly everything happened. Members hadn’t read the bill and wanted to know what parts of the original Senate version were deleted or retained.

The university got just $43.5 million of an $87 million request, which the state hopes it will use to buy down a tuition increase for the next two years. House DFL had hoped to freeze tuition, but it would have cost $114 million. The bill specifically asks university administrators to cap any increase at 3 percent.

That same cap rose to the level of a mandate for Minnesota State, which received $64.5 million in new funding for campus investments. The House wanted to spend $159 million, also calling for a tuition freeze, but gave that up when the target came in lower.

State Sen. Paul Anderson
MinnPost photo by Taryn Phaneuf
State Sen. Paul Anderson signing the committee reporting on the higher-education budget bill so it can be sent to a vote on the Senate floor.
New spending for Minnesota State totals $81.5 million for the next two years, including $8 million toward a new student data system. It also allocates $7 million for Workforce Development Scholarships and $1 million for a textbook-free associate’s degree program, $500,000 for skilled workforce partnerships, and $250,000 for mental health services.

Republicans wanted to force Minnesota State to bring tuition rates for online classes in line with those charged students who take in-person classes. Online courses at Minnesota State cost more. The change would have cut the system’s revenue, and was fiercely opposed. Anderson said his caucus settled for freezing online course tuition and demanding a report that would call on Minnesota State to justify the discrepancy between online and in-person course costs.

The state higher education office got $25 million more toward its budget this year, including $18 million for the state grant program that helps low-income students go to college, whether they want to go to a public or private school.

In statements to the press, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malholtra thanked lawmakers for their support.

“Although this investment by the state was short of our request, we are grateful for the amount provided and we look forward to working with the Legislature and governor to grow Minnesota’s economy,” Kaler said. “This support will help make the university an excellent and accessible institution for all Minnesotans.”

‘At the table inside’

Nelson left the meeting with Walz, Gazelka, and Hortman with a smile on her face and no intention of going back to a negotiating table before the regular session lapsed.

“I believe right now this is something that will be decided at the table inside,” she said, referring to the Cabinet meeting room she had just exited. “In a sense, it’s too bad because our conference committee has been very open, everything has been decided in the public, and that’s important. … And we’re not exactly sure how all these things will happen now.”

Later that night or early Tuesday morning, the leaders initialed a new agreement on the education bill spending $543 million. It preserves the preschool seats and freezes the special education cross subsidy, as Walz and House DFL wanted. It also sets aside $30 million in one-time funding for safe schools grants, as long as the 2019 closing balance exceeds the February forecast.

Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for Walz, said Tuesday he thought education would be a unique situation. But more deals signed by leaders were released Wednesday on taxes, environment, and public safety, showing they were willing to decide the fate of those budgets, as well.

The deal funds Minnesota Department of Education operating and legal costs and cancels a legal appropriation of $2.5 million from this fiscal year. Lastly, it gives the House and Senate each $1.5 million without specifying how they should spend it.

The leaders also agreed to ditch any policy that had not already been approved by the conference committee. Nelson said previously that the conference committee agreed on a few items where they found common ground covering voter referendums, student safety improvements (she cited lead in water and background checks), and special education paperwork requirements.

She had held up any debate over more controversial policy measures during the two weeks the conference committee waited for a budget target. Davnie worried then that policy would be set aside in favor of reaching a budget deal quickly.

Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins, pushed hard for policy inclusion throughout the process, trying to preserve changes supporters liked. She said wanted to talk about the legislation “not just to make sure our schools run well but also to be respectful of the four-plus months that our policy committee did function.”

Changes to teacher licensure opposed by some advocacy groups and Republicans were among those provisions nixed in the final deal. Legislators are scheduled to meet on education Wednesday afternoon, but their agenda isn’t outlined.

Walz had said earlier in the day Tuesday that he believed teachers would be understanding of the concessions they had to make to pass a budget with divided government. He listed four provisions he would be sure to have in the budget – two more than the first global deal included, which foreshadowed the deal he eventually helped reach.

“We put out a proposal early on. This is a big chunk of that,” Walz said.

But the state teachers union reacted unfavorably to the deal Tuesday with a statement from Education Minnesota President Denise Specht.

“This is a lukewarm outcome to a legislative session that had a lot of potential for Minnesota students,” Specht said. “We have a status quo in our public schools that is driving out educators, failing to serve the needs of thousands of students and was rejected by voters who elected a former educator as governor in a landslide last year. This budget makes some progress, but Minnesotans want transformational change.”

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 05/22/2019 - 10:27 am.

    Do we know what happened with the special education tuition billback and whether that revenue is made up somewhere (eg with shared levy $)?

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 05/22/2019 - 12:32 pm.

    More wasted money! Everybody is trying to get a piece of the 3.4 billion pie as students (supposed main concern of publicity funded schools) continue to slide in world rankings and workforce ability. No talk of adding trades and changing school curriculum. Total disaster!

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/24/2019 - 09:09 am.

      Actually, you’re wrong. Many teachers do support job training. Schools are moving in that direction too. As a former teacher, I say in a lot of meetings over this very issue.

      As for curriculum, if you’ve never taught, your perspective doesn’t have any credibility.

  3. Submitted by Terry Frawley on 05/22/2019 - 02:20 pm.

    . Many Minnesotans, including me, had high hopes for this governor, you know the mandate we gave him and Representative Hortman. Well, their work on fixing education is almost in, and they has failed to keep two promises, to fix education and not waste money.
    Of course, it is only wasting $50 million, and it will placate the teacher’s union.
    “It preserves the preschool seats”! Based on what research would that decision be made? Minnesota does not have kindergarten readiness statistics, confirmed by a legislative audit report in April 2018. The research by the University of Minnesota does not line up with this method, as a matter of fact, they can predict 3rd-grade reading scores by two years of age. Four years old is too late to make the kind of impacted these kids need.
    This decision would NEVER be made in business without high-quality research, and if it were, the board would have already met and appointed a new interim CEO.
    At what point do our legislators consider the needs of the children over special interests!

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/24/2019 - 09:14 am.

      There is a hint of fascism if your going to make that comparison of government to business. Preschool is a great investment, it’s just that similar investments haven’t been made to maintain those gains.

      Also, there’s is a lot arrogance behind the statistics of student achievement. Test results really fail to capture the full potential of students. But our schools, and society, are built on a deficit belief. We need education investments that allow students to build the best version of themselves, instead of quantifying everything based on test scores. It would be pretty easy to do this, with proper funding, the “achievement gap” could be eliminated tomorrow.

      • Submitted by Terry Frawley on 05/24/2019 - 12:17 pm.

        The comparison of government and business was to show that any organization needs quality information to make decisions to invest in programs.
        To your point that ‘pre-school is a great investment,’ you are simply wrong. There is no credible evidence that there is value by investing in pre-school.
        Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Harvard, and many more credible institutions have determined that 80% of brain development happens by three. Age four is simply too late for the kids that are most in need.
        I am not sure what you mean when you write ‘Test results really fail to capture the full potential of students”. Scoring is how we figure out if we are in a position to succeed, in school, work, and life. A student’s success is not limited by test scores. Test scores allow us to determine whether the worker (teachers & schools in this case) are successful.
        What is not fair is judging a teacher or school using just test scores. How a child arrives at school is critical to their school success. Eighteen school districts graduate 100% of their eligible students, 84 graduates over 95%. Minneapolis Public Schools graduate about 66%. If we had kindergarten readiness statistics, we could compare. While the Minnesota Department of Education has paid millions to generate kindergarten statistic, they are not readily available in a usable format. (See Legislative Auditors report April 2018).
        The problem is that the Achievement Gap is only a symptom of the problem. The problem is poverty.
        Lastly, this is a complex problem; no amount of money can solve the ‘problem’ tomorrow and throwing money at the symptom is wasting it.

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/25/2019 - 09:25 am.

          Your comparison is flawed, just because a business makes decisions based on money, that doesn’t mean they make the right one. Even more, if you use examples like Apple or any big tech company, government research paid for every component of that product so the comparison is even more grotesque. Your faith in business models is misplaced.

          As a teacher, I’ve seen how tenuous academic gains can be from year to year. Your criticism offers no suggestions to improve educational outcomes and debases education in no-nothing commentary.

          How can you suggest there is no value for high quality preschool programs when they offer resources many parents couldn’t normally provide? Talk to those parents and they might suggest otherwise. Democracy is about pooling resources to provide opportunities otherwise not afforded to regular people. It works great when everyone believes that, and doesn’t seem to marginalize individuals as your comments show.

          • Submitted by Terry Frawley on 05/27/2019 - 02:02 am.

            Research by leading universities has established the following seven key areas impacting the achievement gap. [Note: Recognition for each fact will be clearly displayed in the body of the document, and a link will be provided.]
            1. When Children Learn: Critical leaning years are from birth to 3-year-old.
            2. How Children Learn: The most effective learning method during this time is called serve and return. The baby shows interest in something (serving), and the responsible adult returns an answer.
            3. What Impedes Development: Elements impeding learning are toxic stress, Chronic neglect, Caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, accumulated burdens of family economic hardship without adequate adult support.
            4. What Segment of Society It Exist In: The achievement gap is economically driven; impoverished families need support from the state.
            5. Self-regulation skills are learned and should start to show by age three.
            6. State funding in early education return on investment applies only to high-quality programs for at-risk children.
            7. Parental Knowledge: Parents across all economic segments would benefit from education on best practices of parenting their children.
            How to improve outcomes for children and families
            • Support relationships with responsible adults
            • Strengthen core life skills (i.e., resist impulsive behavior, ability to focus, etc.)
            • Reduce toxic stress
            Minnesota Issues in Early Childhood Education
            Summary
            Minnesota is trying to solve the symptoms not the problem. The problem is poverty and should be handled by the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services.
            • Minnesota has a significant problem with the Achievement Gap; in 2017 approximately 66,330 students were enrolled in the school system approximately 11,497 will not graduate high school in 4 years.
            • Graduation rate statewide 82.7%. This is just the symptom and not even statewide.
            o 18 school districts have 100% graduation rate
            o 84 school districts have a 95% or higher graduation rate.
            Consider the approximate cost in Wayzata, estimating 800 4-year-olds; the cost would be $6,000,000 for UPK. Using current graduation rates, of the 800 only 42 will not graduate on time. This is not a reasonable cost/benefit model.
            Kindergarten Readiness statistics are critical to understanding the problem. Providing kindergarten readiness stats is the law in Minnesota. It cannot be determined if the Department of Education will provide quality information at this time.
            Currently, there is a two-prong approach in Minnesota
            1. Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) essentially all 4-year-old children will be offered 1/2 day classes, during the school year.
            2. ‘Scholarships” to impoverished families, to assist with year-round daycare.
            Universal Pre-Kindergarten (4-year-olds) is being pushed by Governor Walz, Minnesota Education (the teacher’s union) and the Minnesota Department of Education.
            UPK, if implemented would cost between $500 & $700 million.
            Based on current research at the University of Minnesota, reviewing graduation rates of all school districts and long-term statistics UPK has little if any impact on the Achievement Gap.
            Applying that same amount of money to help impoverished families with high-quality daycare will solve the problem. It will also affect the following:
            • Lower the cost in the school systems, such as less remedial classes
            • More kids will graduate from high school and become taxpayers.
            • Reduce crime
            • Reduce prison costs
            Pay now or pay later, the return on the dollars invested in this program has been determined to be between $7 & $16. Payback would start when the children start school and continue through their life.
            It seems the most accurate statistic for kindergarten readiness come from a report put out by the Itasca Project. “The Itasca Report notes that in Minnesota “only 43% of incoming kindergarteners are proficient in the language and literacy skills…required for a successful star.” 2005https://www.theitascaproject.com/documents/ECDReport.pdf
            Office of the Legislative Auditor looked into this problem and found reporting was woefully inadequate.
            April 2018 (see https://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/ped/2018/earlychildhood.htm)
            Solutions
            1. Minnesota Department of Human Services should be charged with solving this problem.
            The problem is poverty in the first years of life.
            Minnesota Department of Education’s model (students in classrooms) will not solve this problem.
            2. Educate all new parents, the broad brush; you immediately elevate awareness of best practices. This could be done in maternity wards by hospital volunteers at a very reasonable cost.
            “Indeed, studies show that parents who are knowledgeable about child development are better prepared to support their children’s development. On the other hand, parents with little knowledge are more likely to engage in negative parenting behaviors (e.g., abuse and neglect) that can have harmful long‐term effects on their children’s well‐being”. (https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/FGReportOnParentKnowledge_ChildTrends-.pdf)
            The study also indicates that the lack of knowledge is across all income levels. This report was issued in July 2018 and is worth reading.
            There are approximately 70,000 births per year in Minnesota. A conservative estimate of cost would be $3.5 to $4 million. This should be done by the state. However, I believe it could be done by a non-profit, a fitting legacy for the right benefactor.
            3. Expand the Scholarship Program
            Consider, some legislators think that by investing $500 million in UPK it will solve the Achievement Gap, it won’t.
            Invest that same amount of money for impoverished families, to provide year around daycare.
            • Full day.
            • From birth to kindergarten (the goal is to limit the amount of toxic stress).
            • High quality, well-educated instructors.
            In reducing the Achievement Gap, you are also helping:
            • all kids have a better experience in school; teachers would spend more time teaching rather than taking care of the basic needs of their students.
            • reducing school costs, less remedial instruction, etc.
            • reducing crime
            • reducing the number of prison cells
            • creating a better workforce in the future, as these children come into the workforce, they will generate more tax dollars.
            4. English Language Learners (ELL)
            Translator apps are plentiful, and most are free. Working with one of these companies to create instructions on how to use their app to teach ELL kids to speak English, prior to kindergarten.
            My belief is that immigrants to the US would like to learn English and given the proper knowledge and tools they will help their children learn.
            5. Daycare centers that receive state funds need to comply with the Parent Aware standards.
            6. Create a “franchise type” daycare business plan. This plan may help existing daycares and assist in starting new daycares. Strongly recommend a ‘Non-Profit” model.

            • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/27/2019 - 09:24 am.

              I’ll keep it short. There is no achievement gap. It’s an opportunity gap created by a deficiency model prevalent throughout our schools and society. It’s implicit throughout your writing that children who do not meet some sort of artificial benchmark which barely gauges learning and knowledge can never find a meaningful path forward in life. This sort of thinking, put forth by the media and universities, is wrong and dangerous to democracy and human emancipation.

              • Submitted by Terry Frawley on 05/28/2019 - 10:04 am.

                Geez, your observations are fluid. You refer to the ‘Achievement Gap’ in your original comment. Now it’s not the Achievement Gap; it is the Opportunity Gap.
                Then you reference decisions based on money. I never said that I said decisions need to be based on research, then the investment should be made.
                You were correct in that I didn’t offer suggestions, so I did. If you reviewed my recommendations, you would have seen that I do believe in providing a high-quality early childhood learning experience and the state needs to make an investment where it will do the most for children.
                Now universities and the media are the problems. You may want to add the American Federation of Teachers to your list.
                Three points:
                1. ‘Closely related to achievement gap and learning gap, the term opportunity gap refers to the ways in which race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, community wealth, familial situations, or other factors contribute to or perpetuate lower educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment for certain groups of students.’ http://www.edglossary.org/opportunity-gap/.
                2. ‘The Importance of Early Years Experiences
                We learned from the longitudinal data that the problem of skill differences among children at the time of school entry is bigger, more intractable, and more important than we had thought. So much is happening to children during the first three years at home, at a time they are especially malleable and uniquely dependent on the family for virtually all their experience, that by age 3, an intervention must address not just the lack of knowledge or skill, but an entire general approach to experience, American Federation of Teacher Spring 2003.’
                3. “Development is a highly interactive process, and life outcomes are not determined solely by genes.” (https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/8-things-remember-child-development/)
                I am done with this thread. If you want to see my research, I have put it on a website Solving Minnesota’s Achievement Gap, (http://solvingmnag.com/).
                You are entitled to your opinion as I am entitled to mine. I am comfortable with my conclusions based on my research.
                The bottom line is that I am appalled at Gov. Walz and Representative Hortman stance on Pre-Kindergarten. It will not solve the Achievement Gap; it wastes money.

                • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/28/2019 - 11:20 am.

                  Have you ever taught? It’s hard to take anyone’s comments seriously if they have not taught. That’s why no one asks me for foreign policy or economic advise.

                  Your argument reflects the values of corporate America, instead of the values of this country, which is quite sad. You talk about preparing students to add tax value. If you really wanted to do that, you would, as I do, support apprenticeships for students starting in tenth grade. It works well in Germany.

                  Whatever term you want to use misses the larger point. If we really want to teach students the intrinsic value of knowledge, that would create a crisis of democracy. Maligned groups of people would press their demands in the political arena, instead of accepting society as it is. That is very dangerous to Republicans. They need people like to continue talking about the achievement gap and misrepresenting the true goals of education, so they can promote privatized education in which tax credits and money will go to private institutes supporting their narrow religious constituents. It’s shocking how no one sees this, and the news doesn’t pick this up. It’s all publicly available information.

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/22/2019 - 06:13 pm.

    2% per pupil per year and the bond referendums have already started due to draconian cuts requiring teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, etc.

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