A formula for education success is S.I.M.P.L.E.
The largest single component of the state budget is the education of our kids. It is also arguably one of the most important responsibilities for the legislature.
The Senate’s Education Finance and Policy Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, faced a daunting task this year. Not only did we have to put together a budget, but we also had to address the consequences of school lockdowns, mental health, declining academic outcomes, declining enrollments, increasing the number of teachers of color in classrooms, and, of course, dealing with the reality of the only divided state government in the country.
It took longer than expected but we got it done. The result was one of the best education bills this state has seen in years. I thought it appropriate to take this opportunity to share some highlights.
We created priorities for the session using the acronym “SIMPLE”: Student-focused, Innovation, Mandate-free, Parent involvement, Literacy-driven, and Efficient. I am happy to report we achieved most of those goals. There was a second reason we used this acronym. It was a constant reminder that the ask from schools and educators was a simple one: “Money, not Mandates.”
First the numbers. While there are many worthy causes and programs, we stayed focused on our priorities. The Senate supported the largest student formula increase in fifteen years – a 2.5% increases for 2022 and 2% for 2023. That is $296 per pupil. Senate Republicans actually pushed for more, but in the end, we compromised with the House, who wanted less per-student funding.
Overall spending for education increased six percent, to $21 billion. Total local, state, and federal spending will be $31 billion for 2022 and 2023.
In other words, schools are fully funded. They will have more than enough resources to deliver on their promise to students.
We also had other priorities that needed to be addressed.
- Teachers of Color: We more than doubled funding to attract, hire, and train teachers of color. Students of color make up about twenty percent of the student population while teachers of color make up only four percent of licensed teachers. Research shows that hiring more teachers of color improves the performance of students of color. The benefits include stronger reading and math scores, higher graduation rates, more interest in higher education, and fewer disciplinary issues. Students have reported feeling motivated by having teachers of color as role models, as well as a stronger sense of belonging.
- Literacy: We approved a bipartisan proposal for $3 million for the successful LETRS teacher training program with a strong track record of helping those kids struggling to read.
- Math Corps: We funded this proven intervention effort to boost math achievement.
- Mental health: We provided funding for suicide prevention training, and $1 million in grants to LiveMore ScreenLess to proactively address Digital Well Being and the extreme negative impact of social media on children.
Finally, but just as important, we included very few mandates in our legislation. The ones that are included are relatively small, and would only impact a few schools that may not already have the required policies in place — for example, a prohibition on shaming students who can’t afford school lunches. The few mandates mean schools keep more money to spend according to the needs of their community.
That is it! It is what the schools asked for: “Money, Not Mandates.” SIMPLE. Focused, true game changers for Minnesotas’ students that address teachers in the classroom, literacy, math, and digital health.
It’s a great bill for Minnesota students and families.