House passes education bill

The Minnesota House passed an education bill Monday night that redirects money to teacher recruitment, school broadband equipment and mental health services.

The vote was 84-46.

The legislation is the first installment of a GOP-driven budget plan that will have to be reconciled with a competing one under consideration in the DFL-led Senate.

House Republicans limited new spending on public schools and colleges to $55 million drawn from savings in other areas.

Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said her bill also has also important policy changes. One gives teachers more leeway to remove disruptive or violent students from classrooms.

“I don’t prescribe what happens to that student,” she said. “I don’t prescribe any discipline matters that should occur. That should be worked out locally.”

Democrats called the overall bill meager and a missed opportunity given the state’s $900 million projected surplus.

Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said Republicans missed an opportunity to make a bigger investment in state schools.

“The education bill should be the most exciting bill of the session because it is really what defines our commitment to the future of our state,” he said. “I have to say this bill is generating no enthusiasm or excitement.”

Republicans want to use the surplus for transportation projects and tax cuts this year after boosting classroom spending last year.

On higher education, the bill is most notable for changes to  laws governing University of Minnesota research. The bill establishes a new oversight process for research involving fetal tissue and orders the Board of Regents to conduct a general review of the program by 2017. A legislative auditor report on fetal tissue research is also sought.

In addition, the college portion of the bill requires public service employers to do more to promote loan forgiveness programs for which their workers could be eligible.

The Senate’s budget plan has more money for schools and universities. The sides will spend the next month trying to work out a deal.