ST. PAUL — Any student or preschooler that needs extra support could be eligible for summer programming this year under a budget proposal put forth by Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
As part of the governor's two-year spending plan and additional "Due North" education proposal, the Democrat said he would use a combination of state and federal funds to expand summer school options for 4-year-olds through seniors in high school, increase mental health supports and build out educational programming in apartment buildings, parks or community centers.
The broader plan for Minnesota schools would also bump up funding to districts with low tax bases and offset the cost of per-pupil funding losses due to decreased enrollment amid the pandemic. And it would use a mix of reserve funds, carry-overs and new taxes on corporations and households that make more than $1 million to do it.
"We'll be expanding those summer programs and making sure we're prioritizing the entire wellbeing of students," Walz told reporters. "I hope that there's that sense of these students need these summer opportunities."
Calls for additional education and mental health services come after Minnesota schools for months have operated through distance learning or reduced in-person instruction due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom.
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The broader $52.4 billion plan would have to achieve bipartisan backing in the divided Statehouse before it could be signed into law. And pieces of the education plan yielded some division at the Capitol as Republicans who lead the Senate called for a quicker return for in-person instruction along with more options for families to take state funds with them to enroll in private or parochial schools.
"We have said we think kids should be back in the classroom, just like parochial schools have been doing from the beginning, just like other states have been doing, we think kids need to be in the classroom," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said.
"I'm willing to have a conversation on anything," he continued, "but I have a big problem with (giving additional funds to schools) when they really should've seen that kids in school was absolutely essential for their future and for their mental health and they decided against that."
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the decision on whether to open up summer programming should be determined at the local level.
Districts around the state have resumed elementary school instruction in-person this month and older students are set to return in coming weeks as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more readily available to teachers. And while educators said getting students back to school in-person would help they said many would need more instruction, tutoring or hands-on experience before the next academic year.
“We’re really working on expanding what those parameters look like,” Deputy Commissioner of Education Heather Mueller said, pointing to a proposal to spend $5 million on new programming in Minnesota communities. “I think it’s really redefining how it is that we are going to be able to offer supports and services to our students."
Lawmakers and the governor need to reach an agreement on a two-year spending plan to forgo a government shutdown. Walz said he was hopeful that the proposal for funding summer programming along with other priorities that would need to be set in the works before May could pass through the Legislature within weeks.