Senate panel advances education spending plan

A Minnesota Senate panel approved legislation Thursday to spend $100 million on a variety of education initiatives, including voluntary prekindergarten, teacher development and school counselor grants.

Members of the of the Senate education committee advanced the measure by a vote of 11-5, with one Republican joining Democrats on the prevailing side.

Republicans complained that the bill, which includes $48 million of the state’s budget surplus, has too many strings attached. The grants for student support personnel, for example, requires matching local investments.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said the money should instead go onto the basic per-pupil funding formula.

“Let’s spend that money and give schools the flexibility to meet the needs that are unique to that district and to do the job, to let the school board do the job that they were elected and let the teachers do the job that they were hired to do,” Nienow said.

Senate Education Chair Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood said the funding bill targets several high-priority issues that need attention throughout the state.

Wiger said the shortages of teachers and counselors, for example, are at crisis levels.

“Adding more money to the formula just hasn’t necessarily done it,” Wiger said.

In addition to the surplus money, the Senate education plan relies on $53 million from some school districts making early repayment of state loans.

House Republicans are also counting the loan repayment money, which represents the only additional education spending in their supplemental budget plan.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget plan spends $77 million of surplus money on education, including $25 million for prekindergarten.