The Minnesota House has passed a $15.7 billion funding package for K-12 education that for the first time provides money for every school district to offer all-day, every day kindergarten.
The bill passed Tuesday evening by a 83-50 vote. The budget measure would increase education spending by $550 million over the next two years, including a 4 percent boost in the basic per pupil formula.
House Democrats contend that all-day kindergarten and pre-school scholarships will help disadvantaged students get a strong start in school.
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, the chair of the House Education Finance Committee, said the bill sets bold and ambitious goals for public schools.
"We close the achievement gap. We make sure everyone graduates. We make sure everyone is literate by third grade, to make sure everyone is ready for a successful career in college," Marquart said. "Those were the goals that we set forward."
Marquart also stressed that the House Tax Bill, which is up for a vote Wednesday, will pay back $850 million owed to schools from previous budget deals. That payback relies on a temporary income tax surcharge on top earners.
Republicans complained about several policy provisions in the bill, including the repeal of the statewide high school graduation tests for reading and writing known as the GRAD exams.
Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said the tests are working and shouldn't be abandoned.
"I am committed to an examination that links student achievement to their future. What I can do is point you to many examples where student achievement is rising in this state," Erickson said.
Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, and chair of the House Education Policy Committee, said the bill relies on a comprehensive assessment system to measure student performance rather than a single test.