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Final education budget makes important investments, but leaves more to do to support all Minnesota students

Clark Goldenrod
Jul 03, 2019

The final E-12 education and higher education budgets for FY 2020-21 make important strides toward ensuring that more students across the state can get the education they need to succeed in today's economy. But unfortunately, the final deal failed to incorporate proposals aimed at dismantling barriers faced particularly by Minnesota's black, brown, and indigenous students.

E-12 education

In the FY 2020-21 budget, policymakers allocated $556 million in net additional funding to E-12 education. The largest piece is a 2.0 percent annual increase in funding for school districts through the basic student formula. That's an increase of $126 per student in the first year and another $129 the second year. While that's important, that's not enough to even keep up with inflation. In their original budget proposals, both Governor Tim Walz and the House included a larger increase of 3.0 percent in the first year.

Policymakers also agreed to maintain the number of slots available for voluntary pre-kindergarten. Without the increase of $41 million included in the budget, the number of pre-schoolers who can participate in FY 2020 and beyond would have been cut by more than half.

Unfortunately, while Walz, the House, and the Senate all identified school safety strategies in their budget proposals, the final E-12 education budget only allocates contingent funding. If the state's general fund closing balance for FY 2019 exceeds projections by at least $63 million, then up to $30 million of that will go toward safe schools supplemental aid. We are disappointed that policymakers took the unusual approach of contingent funding, rather than finding a sustainable way to fund something they agreed was a priority.

The final budget also includes some targeted strategies to promote racial and geographic equity in educational opportunities, like additional funding for tribal schools and levy equalization to better fund schools in communities with low tax bases. The final education bill also includes $1.5 million in FY 2020-21 for grants to support teachers of color, but this is much less than the $4 million that the governor proposed and the $3 million proposed by the House. A third of public school students are people of color or indigenous, yet in over 80 percent of Minnesota schools, less than 10 percent of the teachers are people of color or indigenous.

Higher education 

In higher education, policymakers allocated $150 million in additional funding for FY 2020-21, including several measures to try to hold down the cost of college. Much of this is done through the State Grant Program, which provides financial aid for students. The bill:

  • Increases the annual living allowance for students to 106 percent of the federal poverty line, which will increase grants for full-time students by as much as $465; and
  • Reduces the required family contribution in order to make college more affordable for lower-income families.

Unfortunately, policymakers missed an opportunity to adjust the State Grant amount for students who aren’t eligible for federal aid. Minnesota Dreamers – young people who came to the country as children and do not have legal status – are ineligible to receive federal Pell Grants. However, the State Grant formula currently calculates financial aid assuming that students receive this federal grant, meaning that Dreamers receive much less state financial aid than their peers. This policy change, found in the governor's and House's proposals, would have increased the grant award for these students, making college education more in reach for all of Minnesota’s young people.

The final budget also includes funding increases that go directly to public colleges and universities to improve higher education for students. Over the FY 2020-21 biennium, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State will receive $44 million and $65 million respectively. In return, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State are expected to minimize tuition increases for the next two school years.

Policymakers made important investments in education this year, but there's still more to do to ensure a quality education is available to everyone, including Minnesotans of color and immigrant students.