DFL legislators got their first detailed look at Gov. Mark Dayton's proposals to boost education spending, create preschool scholarships and broaden all-day kindergarten.
"The governor's budget makes investments in education that have been missing for far too long," said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, who chairs the E-12 Division. The bill would spend $344 million more on education from early childhood through high school over the next two years.
Wiger said that while the education measure may change slightly as it weaves through the DFL-controlled Legislature, it will be the foundation for what will become law.
Lawmakers, particularly Republican minority members, have been anxious to see details of the budget Dayton announced last month. The education bill is the first major piece of that budget directly before lawmakers.
Dayton's vision would have the state spend $125 million more over the next two years on special education, increase the money the state gives to K-12 schools and spend $84 million more on the state's smallest learners, funding all-day kindergarten and preschool and child care scholarships. Dayton's agencies estimate that about 10,000 students would be able to get the scholarships.
"Over the coming days and weeks we will closely examine the governor's budget bill and we look forward to working with Governor Dayton and Republicans in putting our kids on the path to the world's best workforce," said House Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who leads the House Finance Committee.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, said he was concerned the Dayton budget would not smooth out "regional inequities" in funding between metro area schools districts and those in suburban and rural areas. At the same time, he said, he worries the scholarships Dayton proposed for the youngest children -- $4,000 per student -- may fall short of full preschool and child care costs in the metro area.
The biggest criticism of Dayton's plans -- from both Democrats and Republicans -- is that he would not completely repay the state's debt to schools until 2017. Put in place during lean budget times and used as part of the 2011 shutdown-ending budget deal, the state shifted when it gives school districts their funding.
"The governor pays it back in his budget, he just does it in the next biennium and we would like to be a little more aggressive than that," House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul said last month.
On Thursday, Rep. Kelby Woodard, the ranking Republican on the House finance committee, echoed that call.
"There seems to be a real bipartisan consensus, at least here in the House, that that needs to be a real focus," said Woodard, of Belle Plaine.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb