walz budget signing

Gov. Tim Walz signed into law his first budget bill surrounded by preschool students at Bruce Vento Elementary School in St. Paul on May 30.

ST. PAUL — Schools around the state are set to see a funding boost next year (as well as the year after) under a $48 billion, two-year spending plan passed through the Legislature and was signed into law.

And that could mean districts struggling to make ends meet can skip bond referendum votes and resulting property tax hikes for Minnesotans, at least for now, Gov. Tim Walz and Commissioner of the Department of Education Mary Cathryn Ricker told reporters on Monday.

Walz, a former geography teacher, approved the $543 million E-12 education spending bill that will boost funding to Minnesota public schools by 2% next year compared to current levels and another 2% in the year after. It’s not as much of an increase as Walz wanted to provide for education, but it’s a “downpayment” on what he hopes will be a longer-term investment in public schools.

“This education budget is that sort of downpayment on that education state,” Commissioner of the Department of Education Mary Cathryn Ricker told Greater Minnesota reporters, referring back to Walz’s bid to make Minnesota the “education state.” “While I know that we can and we will do more, I know this is the start that our school communities were looking for.”

Education groups hoped to see a bigger number pass through the Capitol this year, but in the divided Legislature, Democrats said they weren’t able to get Republicans who hold control in the Senate to budge.

And while it’s not as much as Walz or the House DFL caucus hoped to provide for public schools, the DFL governor said with the increases in funding to the education formula along with state support to offset the growing price tag for special education could help schools stay afloat.

Farmers, who’ve paid an outsized amount in ag land property taxes, will also see tax credits and the state will help pay some of the property tax dollars ag landowners owe to school districts.

Under the education bill, the state will also pay to fund 4,000 voluntary pre-kindergarten slots that were set to expire.

Walz said his next budget request would likely include more voluntary pre-kindergarten slots. And after all 201 state legislative seats come up for a vote in 2020, Walz could have a group more willing to support that push in 2021.

“I think you probably expect to see that as a big piece, a cornerstone of our next budget,” he said of boosting the voluntary pre-kindergarten slots. The education spending plan also put another $8.1 million toward American Indian tribal schools over the next four years.

But looking down the road, there’s more work to do to get Minnesota public schools the dollars they need to provide students equal quality of education across districts in the state, Walz said.

Insulin access again a focus

The debate over access to emergency insulin resurfaced again Monday, as Walz prepared to speak with Nicole Smith-Holt.

Smith-Holt’s son Alec Smith died in 2017 after he rationed his insulin and suffered complications from Type 1 diabetes. For months, Smith-Holt advocated for change at the Capitol this year. And in the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers jettisoned a proposal to charge drugmakers to fund emergency insulin supplies from a massive health and human services bill.

Walz said he wasn’t sure whether he could bring an executive action to make the drug available to those who couldn’t afford it or needed an emergency supply.

“We’re pursuing what we can,” Walz said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get control of the price and accessibility.”

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com.

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