Chamberlain: Senate taking bold steps to make Minnesota an education leader again

Senate taking bold steps to make Minnesota an education leader again
By: Senator Roger Chamberlain

During the last year, Minnesota’s education system was put under great stress. Children, parents, and educators were put in incredibly difficult situations they had never before experienced. We learned school shutdowns had a devasting impact on both learning and the mental health of children. 

As chair of the Senate’s Education Finance and Policy Committee, we had to set priorities that not only addressed long-ignored issues but also the consequences of a year-long struggle with Covid-19 and school shutdowns. Our priorities started with kids first, second, third, and always. We have always been absolutely committed to listening to parents and local school districts. We had a plan designed around the idea of SIMPLE: student-focused, innovation, mandate-free, parent-involved, literacy-driven, and efficiency. 

In total, six priorities: All kids back in school full-time, literacy, mental health, teachers of color, fair funding, and empowering parents and local educators. 

First, state funding increases by about $800 million, or four percent. For 2022–2023, total local, state and federal funding will increase to about $31 billion – over $15 billion a year. New federal Covid aid to our schools totaled $2.6 billion, or 25% of annual state funding! That funding includes money for summer school, technology, learning loss, mental health, special education, and numerous other educational needs. 

On April 22, the Senate approved an education budget focused on those six priorities. We are putting $3 million a year to provide grants to make proven LETRS training available to educators to address literacy. We invested in new initiatives for mental health, including grants to LiveMore ScreenLess to address digital health and issues around social media, suicide prevention training for educators, other funds for addressing mental health. We doubled the funding for teachers of color, added money for teacher bonuses, provided a grant to the Black Men Teach program, and addressed the teacher shortage gap by protecting pathways for qualified teachers to secure teaching licenses.

Our bill addresses on-ongoing funding disparities by providing property tax relief for property-poor districts. The bill includes significant new funding for transportation, safe schools, and community education. We are also providing $60 million in one-time classroom aid, fairly distributed to schools based on the number of pupils, to address the huge disparity in the distribution of federal Covid-19 relief. 

Education Savings Accounts (ESA) will empower parents and fund children, not systems. ESA’s have 65% overall support, including 74% of African American parents and 71% of Hispanic parents. It is equal opportunity for all kids — ESAs improve outcomes for all kids and schools. 

Finally, we focus a lot of attention on allowing more local control and flexibility for education leaders to be innovative and to limit mandates – our proposal includes only ten “soft” mandates. We worked closely with school organizations to ensure these mandates focused only on high-priority areas such as suicide prevention, seizures, teacher safety, student discipline, and lunch shaming.

The proposal is highly focused, targeted, and a result of listening to parents and local school districts. We cannot solve all problems overnight, but our bill makes serious progress by addressing core issues to leverage greater success for kids and educators.