As primary nears, Walz offers policy outline for schools

DFL candidate for governor Tim Walz said he’s committed to reducing school class sizes, linking school funding to the rate of inflation and offering loan breaks to recruit more teachers of color.

Walz, a former teacher who has served six terms in the U.S. House, said his new, multi-point education agenda draws partly on experience in the classroom but also on conversations with educators. He’s one of three contenders for the DFL nomination that will be decided in next week’s primary; the others are Attorney General Lori Swanson and state Rep. Erin Murphy, the endorsed DFL candidate.

In a conference call with reporters, Walz declined to put a pricetag on the proposal or lock in other key details, such as what an ideal class size is.

“Each and every school is different. Each and every group of students is different,” Walz said. “For the state to mandate that as a set number is not a proper way to approach this. I think each of those districts can set that.”

Walz said some schools could decide to limit student to teacher ratios while others could add support staff to classrooms to help out. He said he would try to rework the state’s per-pupil funding formula to remove some complexities and give schools more flexibility.

“The decisions made further from the classroom tend to lose their impact as they get closer,” he said.

His plan would increase school levy assistance for districts with lower property wealth, which have sometimes had trouble getting referenda passed. For all schools, he said state aid should come with an expectation that allowances keep pace with inflation. To recruit and retain teachers with minority backgrounds — a struggle currently — Walz proposed forgiving loans who remain in place for at least five years. Other teachers could achieve similar loan help for serving in high-need schools or subject areas.

Walz didn’t say where the money for the increased spending would come from.

The next governor will have about two months to assemble a two-year budget for the legislature to consider.

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