Education budget decisions near the end after leaders agree on increase for schools

Lockers await a new school year.
A budget compromise provides a 2 percent increase for public schools in each year of the biennium. But some say it isn't enough.
Caroline Yang for MPR News 2015

Gov. Tim Walz and leadership from both parties decided over the weekend that the Minnesota general education funding formula should increase by 2 percent in each of the next two years.

That translates to more spending per student per year, and it's a big chunk of the additional $540 million that's getting dedicated to public education over the next biennium.

Early Tuesday the same leaders also made some decisions as to how exactly that money would be spent.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, who leads the Senate E-12 policy and finance committee, doesn't like the last-minute way these decisions were made.

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"We were kind of back in the same spot it seems like we've always been where these things just happen very late and not in the transparent, public way I would like to see," Nelson said.

Another big slice of money in the budget deal will cover a deficit created by a lack of federal funding for special education.

"The strong statement of freezing special education underfunding for the next two years means that 2 percent that everybody's getting on the formula each year is actually going to be 2 percent," said state House Education Finance committee chair Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis.

Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, welcomes more education funding, but said a 2 percent increase isn't nearly enough: "In fact, some would say that you're below the rate of inflation."

Denise Specht, the president of the teachers union, Education Minnesota, said even with the increase the budget overall was disappointing.

"We know how much it's going to cost to fully fund our schools," Specht said. "And while this is the best that can be done this year, given the Senate, and who's in play, we know that we can be doing better for our students."

Other funding in the new budget deal have been dedicated to voluntary pre-kindergarten funding and a one-time grants appropriation to pay for school safety measures.