Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


With just two weeks remaining in the 2022 legislative session, Minnesota House and Senate lawmakers are staring at a huge gulf between spending proposals on education.

They're in the throes of debating the supplemental budget for Minnesota's K-12 public schools, which enroll nearly 900,000 students. The DFL-controlled House plan would invest about $3 billion into schools over the three years, while the Senate version recommends about $30 million.

With the nearly $9.3 billion state surplus and the additional millions that came to Minnesota in federal COVID relief dollars, it's reasonable to spend some on education — one of the state's largest and most-needed budget items. But what are the greatest needs, and how does the state maintain a sense of fiscal responsibility?

House Democrats want to hire mental health and other student support workers, boost recruitment and retention (with an emphasis on teachers of color), expand prekindergarten offerings and improve literacy — all areas that merit some additional investment.

The highest-cost item in the DFL plan is to use more than one-tenth of the nearly $9.3 billion surplus to pay for ongoing expenses — nearly $500 million alone to fund federal- and state-mandated special education and English-language-learner programs that continue to strain school budgets year after year.

That's likely the area where the most compromise must come. While it's an ongoing budget problem for districts — largely due to the federal government's failure to fully fund its own mandate — lawmakers must be careful about making a long-term commitment. Although the current budget surplus is a huge bonus this year, it's unlikely to be available to sustain increases in years to come.

"Our budget emphasizes paying our education bills and student well-being and achievement," said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, and chair of the House Education Finance Committee. He told an editorial writer that the state should take this "once-in-a-generation" opportunity with additional funds to "work upstream" on areas like student mental health and early learning to prevent a later crisis in literacy and well-being.

Senate Republicans want another $30 million for a literacy initiative and $700,000 to hire school reading coaches. Their caucus is also seeking about $8.5 billion in permanent tax cuts over three years.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, and chair of the Senate education committee, has said that education received a big budget increase during the 2021 regular biennial budget session and doesn't need another one. He said the DFL plans fail to include results-oriented ideas and that having students reading well in the early grades is the most important way to improve test scores and achievement.

A Senate staffer pointed out that GOP plans include about $2 million for mental health and $20 million for school safety in bills that are outside the K-12 measure.

With the enormous difference in spending plans and just days left in the regular session, the education conference committee will begin deliberations on Monday. All Minnesotans should wish them well as they look for the best and most fiscally prudent ways to help Minnesota kids learn.