The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on nearly every aspect of life in Minnesota, with an especially devastating effect on educating children. Many schools are in the process of reopening after months of remote learning — a situation that's made the state's wide educational disparities even worse.
That's why the equity goals outlined in Gov. Tim Walz's education budget proposal announced last week are on target. He wants to improve learning for students of color and help all students recover from the educational difficulties caused by the pandemic.
"It might be easy to say, well, we can't do much now, we're focused on COVID, we don't have the resources," Walz said. But he acknowledged that with racial and economic inequities even more exposed by the pandemic and George Floyd's death, failure to tackle them together "would be exactly the wrong solution."
Those are worthy goals, but they're not new. And it's understandable if Minnesotans are unconvinced that better results will necessarily follow.
It's also an expensive plan.
Walz recommends an additional $745 million for E-12 education under his administration's Due North plan. And the state expects to receive another $649 million specifically for COVID-19 education recovery.
The largest chunk of the E-12 funds would be about $300 million to increase the per-pupil amount received by all districts. The student spending formula would add 1% the first year and 2.5% in the second year of the biennium.
Nearly $100 million of both federal and state funds would go to a variety of targeted summer school, tutoring and mental health programs to help students catch up academically. The spending plan puts more than $100 million into subsidizing districts with lower tax bases and with declining enrollments.
The Walz proposal also has longer-term education investments, such as expanding the number of schools that offer wraparound services to students and families. The plan also would expand education about Indigenous people, establish ethnic studies standards and expand Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and technical education courses.
Some Republican lawmakers criticized the overall proposed budget increases as unnecessary and "unsustainable" and instead recommend 5% cuts across most state agencies. For the education portion, which makes up about 40% of the state budget, critics complained that the administrative plan lacks "meaningful reforms" to improve achievement.
Those concerns merit further debate. And once lawmakers receive the February state revenue forecast, as well as further information about federal COVID assistance, it could be clearer that less new spending and more cuts are necessary.
Meeting the goals Walz wants to achieve would benefit all Minnesota students. But as the budget debate continues, he and his administration will need to do more to address understandable skepticism that the plan would be more costly than effective.