2024 Minnesota legislative session

School resource officers top Minnesota lawmakers' education to-do list

Sunset light is reflected off the capitol building
The Minnesota State Capitol is illuminated at sunset on Dec. 12.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Following a historic legislative session that delivered a big boost in K-12 funding, Minnesota lawmakers say the coming session for schools will be one of adjustments around literacy, school meals, civics education and school resource officers. 

Gov. Tim Walz has already promised to revisit state law limiting use of force in schools after police agencies in several districts pulled school resource officers last year over what they described as ambiguities in the law. Those changes are a priority for Republicans.

“It's important that we figure out how to get those resource officers back in the schools and we make sure we get some of those de-escalation and security issues handled so it’s not all falling on the teachers,” said state Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls, the lead Republican on the House Education Finance Committee.

DFL committee chairs have said they want to go over allocations for the universal school meals program, literacy efforts, student mental health needs and school transportation. They’re also looking for ways to address teacher shortages.  

“We have to make sure that we actually have teachers,” said state Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins, who’s also a substitute teacher. “Most districts are struggling to find teachers. In general, as a sub, I see that every day when I click on and see how many openings there are.”

Policy focus follows the money

Last session the DFL-majority Legislature dedicated close to $23 billion to the state K-12 education budget, with sweeping investments in raising the per-pupil formula, launching a change in the way reading is taught and spending on libraries, school support staff and menstrual products in school restrooms

“We just want to continue on with the momentum that we built from the previous session, and bring things to a higher level of completion in this next session,” said House Education Policy Committee Chair Laurie Pryor, DFL-Eden Prairie.

Pryor and other lawmakers said they’ve spent the past few months touring the state, listening to students, parents, teachers and school leaders. What they’ve heard has been a mixed-bag of appreciation for new spending and policy, and requests for changes. 

“We passed that legislation, and much of the funds, you know, are in the schools already. And we’re hoping to hear how those dollars best met the needs of our students especially,” said Senate Education Finance Committee Chair Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton.

Much of the work this year, in a non-budget cycle will focus on policy changes, like adjusting a bill passed last year that makes civics education a graduation requirement. 

“The school districts came forward after session and said, ‘Is there a way we can align the implementation and push it back a year so it jives with the implementation of the social studies standards?’ And it was kind of like, ‘Well, yeah, we can delay it a year if it really helps you,’” said Senate Education Policy Chair Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie.

“We’ve got a few little things like that, that we're going to be tweaking and clarifying this next session,” he added.

Other K-12 committee heads said they wanted to look at policies to address library needs and book banning attempts, update levy equalization on the formula and review reports on how new legislation that grants unemployment insurance to hourly workers has affected school district budgets. 

‘Hopes and dreams’

Republican education committee leads, in addition to wanting a focus on sufficiently funding the READ Act literacy legislation, have also raised concerns about how last session’s education-related legislation placed financial burdens on districts. 

“Our schools are spending too much time complying with new bureaucratic funding mandates to that don’t focus on academics and learning," said state Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City. “We’ve all heard from education leaders the new mandates are eating into the new funding and have left districts with fewer resources for what students really need.”

While not a budget year, Twin Cities area districts will advocate for more money in the per-pupil formula, said Scott Croonquist, head of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

“The vast majority of our districts are still in precarious budget situations,” he said, noting the end of aid that flowed to schools during the pandemic. “Many are going to be looking at budget challenges, if not shortfalls, heading into next school year.”

Croonquist’s organization also expects to ask for policy changes to allow districts to offer school credit for apprenticeships that happen outside the classroom. 

“We want to clarify the law in that area to make sure that when students are engaged in those kinds of experiences, that they can still gain credit, you know, and earn the requirements that they need to graduate,” Croonquist said.  

Education committee heads said they are scheduling hearings and hoping students, families, teachers and school leaders will speak up about what they want to see get done this year. 

“We love it when students testify,” Cwodzinski said, adding that lawmakers want to hear how students are doing and how COVID-19 has affected their education. “We want to know what their hopes and dreams and desires are as citizens and what we can do to make their K-12 experience richer than it hopefully already is.”