DFL senators on Wednesday unveiled a lengthy list of priorities for education that included offering free breakfast for all students up to sixth grade, boosting state funding to fix aging schools and universal preschool for all four-year-olds, among other goals.
Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, and chair of the Senate education committee, announced the package of bills Wednesday and said he would be requesting about $500 million to fund the legislation. Wiger said an exact cost of the bills won't be determined until after the release of a budget forecast at the end of this month.
The bills, some of which have received bipartisan support, are about "creating the world's best workforce," Wiger said.
Many of the Senate bills are similar to proposals Gov. Mark Dayton included in his budget recommendations late last month, including free preschool, the expansion of child care tax credits and free breakfast. That Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Alice Johnson, DFL-Blaine, would go further than Dayton's proposal, which calls for free breakfast for kids up to the third grade.
Johnson's bill would provide free breakfast to all students regardless of family income. The Blaine lawmaker said her bill would help reduce the stigma she said low-income students experience for receiving free breakfast. Johnson is also sponsoring legislation that would provide free comprehensive eye exams to students.
Students who start the day hungry or have vision problems won't be focused on learning, Johnson said.
The other bills are:
-- Senate Files 75 and 76, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, that would revamp how repairs to school facilities are made. It's aimed at reducing inequities between rural school districts and larger ones that have led to a deterioration of school buildings.
-- Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, is carrying legislation that would offer matching state money to school districts interested in hiring more support staff, including counselors, nurses and social workers.
-- Wiger's bills would help expand rural broadband access and provide more state money for technology upgrades identified by local school districts.
-- Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, introduced a bill that would expand opportunities for Minnesota students to earn dual college credit for courses while still in high school.