House Republicans on Saturday approved an education budget bill that increases spending by $157 million, setting up a confrontation with DFLers in the House and Senate who call the amount paltry.
The 69-61 vote, largely along party lines, occurred after about five hours of debate. Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, voted against the measure. Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, did not vote. Baker was in Willmar as part of a delegation coordinating the state’s bird flu response, and Davnie was excused for a family event, a DFL spokesman said.
The omnibus education bill would bring state spending on education to $16.9 billion, about 40 percent of the overall general fund budget.
Ahead of the Saturday floor vote, Republicans touted their bill’s increases for early learning programs. The education package also contains policy changes, including efforts to diminish the role of seniority for teachers during layoffs and streamline the process for licensure of out-of-state teachers.
“We have really tried to focus on doing a few things well, really tackling the achievement gap, looking at some very sensible reforms,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, chairwoman of the House Education Finance Committee. The bill also will “give school districts the flexibility that they have needed and have been asking us for.”
The $157 million Republicans have proposed in new spending for education is the lowest figure among two other proposals by the DFL-led Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton.
The Senate has proposed $350 million in new spending; Dayton has proposed an additional $695 million, most of which would be for his top priority of offering universal preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state.
DFLers have decried the Republican proposal, saying that its overall 1.2 percent increase to the state’s per-pupil funding formula is too small and doesn’t keep up with inflation. As a result, they say it will force schools to cut programs, increase class sizes and force the layoffs of teachers.
Meanwhile, the Senate and Dayton have proposed overall increases of 2 percent, which some schools say still wouldn’t be enough. Dayton said recently he would support an increase of 3 percent.
Late Saturday morning, dozens of teachers and members of the House DFL caucus rallied on the steps at the Capitol. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said that in light of a $1.9 billion projected budget surplus, legislators should invest more in education.
Republicans also managed, on a voice vote, to amend the bill to require students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms appropriate to their birth gender, following a recent Minnesota State High School League policy change. Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, proposed the amendment.