A school safety funding package that would give Minnesota schools more money to improve building safety and hire counselors and resource officers won the approval of state lawmakers Thursday.
The school safety budget plans approved by the Republican-majority House largely mirrors a $21 million proposal offered by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year. The House bill expands on the governor’s plan, providing $28.5 million to be shared by schools in every district in the state. GOP lawmakers in the House say they also plan to dedicate $25 million in a separate bonding bill to schools for building improvements.
The Senate was considering its own version of the school safety bill Thursday evening.
“The goal is to ensure that our children are safe in their classrooms and in our school buildings, and also to know that their needs can be met,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, chairwoman of the House Education Innovation Policy Committee.
In a news conference earlier Thursday, Dayton expressed similar sentiments.
“Wanting to keep our students safe when they are in school is a shared responsibility and a shared conviction,” he said. “I don’t think there should be any partisan differences on that.”
While most of the safety spending plans have not been controversial, the funding isn’t a done deal. The two chambers must now work to come up with one plan to send to the governor for his signature. If the safety funding remains linked to a broader education funding bill — or gets lumped into a bigger policy bill — it could get caught up in a political struggle as the Legislature wraps up its work next month.
The Republican education plans do not include another key request from Dayton: $57 million to continue funding prekindergarten programs in 59 school districts around the state. Without the Legislature’s approval, programs serving about 4,000 preschoolers would lose funding after the 2019-2020 school year.
Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, chairwoman of the House Education Finance committee, said she knows prekindergarten is a top priority for the governor, but she and other Republicans believe the state should offer scholarships that can be used for public or private programs, rather than expanding public preschool.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s public universities are likely to receive some additional funding — particularly Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. The House bill set aside $4 million for that system, and $500,000 for the University of Minnesota system.
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said both systems asked for $10 million, and lawmakers tried to distribute their limited funds to the places that need it most.
“With the number of campuses and the issue of enrollment, there’s a whole host of things putting a lot of pressure on our Minnesota State campuses,” he said.