ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota House has passed a bill Tuesday that would boost school funding and pay for all-day kindergarten statewide.
Many Republicans joined Democrats in approving the budget, which passed Tuesday on an 83-50 vote.
Lawmakers spent more than six hours debating the measure, which is designed to narrow the achievement gap, increase high school graduation rates and make students more prepared for college or jobs.
"What this bill is really about who we are as a state and where we want to go in the future," Rep. Paul Marquart, the Dilworth Democrat who chairs the education finance committee, told reporters.
"Every single student in this state, no matter who you are, what your income is, where you live, we're going to give you the hopes of being successful into the future."
Currently, 44 percent of the public school kindergartners in Minnesota go to school full days, as opposed to half-day classes. The bill would phase in enough new money over the next two academic years to reach 100 percent.
According to legislative research staff, that would allow roughly 58,000 students who currently don't have access to all-day-K to enroll in those classes. Districts that are tight on space would have some flexibility in how they implement the program.
The House version of the K-12 finance bill would also boost the base budget by $315 over the two-year budget cycle, to increase per funding by $209 for local district.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said that Minnesota has fallen from 10th in the nation in per-pupil spending to 22nd in the nation. And in comes to classroom size, or the number of students per teacher, she said 46 other states are doing a better job.
"I am grateful that my kids got such a great education, and it was such an important foundation for them now that they're preparing to graduate from college," Rep. Murphy said.
"Every kid should get that across the state of Minnesota."
In addition to improving student performance, the new spending is designed to ease some of the burden on local property taxes, which local school boards have increasing turned to in order to fill gaps in day-to-day operations.
The legislation would also dedicate $50 million to early learning scholarships for 8,000 students, to help their families pay for accredited preschool.
Murphy said another major goal of the House bill is to move to a "pay as you go" model for school finance. In the past decade lawmakers used "accounting shifts," which enabled them to pledge money to schools but withhold part of the payments until the next fiscal year.
The bill devotes $850 million to repaying in full the IOUs the state issued to local districts in the past decade as part of efforts to balance the books.
That tab started at $2.4 billion when the 2012-2013 biennium began, but it has shrunk due to a law that funnels the budget reserve to repaying that debt.
In order to retire that debt sooner, the House bill calls for imposing a temporary two-year income tax surcharge on the top one percent of earners, or couples earning more than $400,000 per year.
There's a divide on that issue, even among other Democrats and Gov. Mark Dayton, over whether to do that in the 2014-2015 budget, or wait until 2016-2017.
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