House passes bill to put $55 million into literacy, teacher training and pre-K programs

A view of the Minnesota Capitol with clouds.
Districts across Minnesota have reported being overwhelmed trying to implement measures approved last year.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Minnesota lawmakers on Tuesday moved forward with a K–12 education budget touch-up bill that allocates $55 million to literacy training for teachers, a pre-kindergarten program expansion and plans to study student absenteeism.

“This year, we have the opportunity to invest in our K-12 students once again and I believe that we make efficient and effective use of those funds in this bill,” said Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins, who sponsored the legislation. 

Districts across the state have reported being overwhelmed trying to implement measures included in last year’s education legislation. According to Youakim, the top request from school leaders and educators has been money to pay teachers for time spent outside school to get training. 

A majority of the money in the bill — $37 million — will go toward addressing issues related to implementing last year’s Read Act. This includes $31 million in stipends to pay for teachers to get literacy training and a $1 million allocation that funds a process to review evidence-based literacy curriculum for cultural responsiveness.

“We want to make sure these materials are responsive to our diverse state. Forty percent of Minnesota students are diverse students, and we need diversity reflected in our literacy curriculum,” said Rep. Heather Edelson, a Democrat from Edina. 

Several Republican lawmakers raised concerns with the review process. 

“It appropriates $1 million for the Department of Education to request proposals for a contract to develop supplemental culturally responsive materials. That’s what we call gobbledygook,” said Rep. Walter Hudson, a Republican from Albertville.

“We gotta spend a million dollars of state money to take time to sift through the curriculum and ensure that things we deem to be culturally destructive don’t make it in front of students. By the way, this is all happening parallel to an ongoing debate about, quote ‘banning books.”

Another change made to the Read Act in the bill is a stipulation that pushes back the deadline for districts to begin implementing changes in the way reading is taught. 

Some funding in the bill is aimed at training more people to work in Minnesota classrooms. Lawmakers approved a pilot program to give $7,500 in stipends to student teachers working their way through degree completion at seven Minnesota colleges and universities, provided those institutions place students at schools in the state. 

“This is about strengthening the pipeline for qualified teachers and focusing on getting more teachers in the classroom,” said Rep. Mary Frances Clardy, DFL-Inver Grove Heights. 

The bill also expands a voluntary pre-kindergarten program by adding 5,200 seats. And it includes measures to address a rise in student absenteeism, which, according to a report from the Minnesota Alliance with Youth using U.S. Department of Education data, has risen in recent years. Bill authors say their legislation includes plans for a task force meant to study data around student absenteeism.

Lawmakers voted 68 to 61 to pass the bill, which will head to the Senate for a vote. If the two houses pass different proposals, they would put the legislation through a conference committee to iron out final details of a compromise bill.