Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said a two-year, $48 million spending plan will give schools across the state more stability and make them less reliant on bond referendums to meet minimum funding needs.
The increase was passed as part of a $543 million E-12 education spending bill cleared by the Legislature that provides a 2% funding boost compared to current levels, and another 2% the year after. Walz said in a conference call with reporters Monday that the funding increase wasn’t as high as he wanted, but along with Education Commissioner Mary Cathry Ricker, called it a “downpayment” on future public school investment.
“It gives them the stability they needed,” Walz said, referencing districts in Greater Minnesota. “There’s a lot of flexibility with 2% and 2% going into the formula.”
From the outset of his budget proposal in March, Walz has focused on reducing districts’ dependence on operating levies and referendums, which place the future of school funding on residents agreeing to an increase in property taxes.
In Floodwood, one of the administration's main examples in pushing for an increase in the school funding formula, voters twice rejected a 10-year tax levy proposal, forcing the district to lay off a number of staff.
But with expected gains in Greater Minnesota — from increases to Local Government Aid, County Program Aid, locally to Taconite Municipal Aid and investment in broadband — Walz said rural parts of the state shouldn’t have to lean on residents as much going forward.
“This was a solid budget for Greater Minnesota, as it should have been,” he said. “I think they feel some greater stability.”
Another factor expected to help schools is state support to offset to an increased cost for special education by not siphoning it off from the general education budget. That in itself, Ricker and Walz said, will make a difference for many schools districts.
The state is also funding 4,000 voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) slots that were set to expire. Walz expects the next budget request to increase the number of slots. Ricker said in her tour across the state, she found districts enthusiastic about the program, many with seamless integration plans into their K-12 programs and others ready to fill more slots.
“Communities were really intentional about building Pre-K opportunities,” she said. “So they were meeting the needs of the community and students and their families … there is a demand out there. School leaders talked about wanting more. We heard that.”
As part of the E-12 education bill signed by Walz, individual school districts will see an increase in funding for general education, special education and to main VPK slots. Here’s how it breaks down locally:
Virginia: An additional $1,590,952 in education funding including $789,640 in general education funding, $99,060 in special education, and funding to maintain 78 VPK spots.
Mesabi East: An additional $624,662 in education funding including $433,380 in general education funding, $94,397 in special education, and funding to maintain 10 VPK spots.
Eveleth-Gilbert: An additional $501,671 in education funding including $419,627 in general education funding and $82,043 in special education.
Hibbing: An additional $1,292,906 in education funding including $1,103,334 in general education funding and $189,572 in special education.