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Walz proposes expanded summer programs, mental health initiatives in education budget

Gov. Tim Walz outlined his budget priorities Tuesday, with an emphasis on education.

ST PAUL, Minn. — One day after he released his “Due North” education plan without offering a price tag, Gov. Tim Walz unveiled his broader budget proposal on Tuesday with $745 million in new education spending.   

The governor’s plan, which he calls “a responsible budget that leaves this state in good shape for future generations,” includes $57.5 million for expanded summer programs, $6 million in mental health grants, and $25 million to help districts recover lost revenue from a drop in public school enrollment during COVID-19. 

The summer programs have received some of the most prominent attention, since they’re designed to target kids who may have fallen behind due to the challenges of the pandemic. 

“Thousands of students have not experienced in-person learning since March 2020 due to the COVID -19 pandemic. Even with the best efforts of our schools, students who experienced opportunity gaps prior to distance learning face exacerbated ones now,” the budget proposal states. “Allowing schools and districts to establish in-person summer programs that are open to all students irrespective of academic need will ensure that all students are able to continue their academic and social emotional growth.” 

Gov. Walz will need to find common ground with the Senate GOP on these types of proposals, since Republicans control that chamber and will play a big part in the final budget process. The Republicans generally oppose new spending and higher taxes, but some have said they believe expanded summer programs could have a benefit if local districts want to implement them. 

Mauri Friestleben, the principal of North High School in Minneapolis, offered advice to the governor’s team for the “Due North” plan. She said she likes some of the building blocks in Walz’s proposal, including summer programs, but she also said it doesn’t go far enough for educators. 

“I wanted him to go big. I wanted it to be radical. I wanted to see standards completely revised,” Friestleben said. “I was really excited about an opportunity to think outside our typical lines, even things like testing, taking some of the pressure off children and teachers.”

Friestleben also said she would have liked to see more on racial equity, beyond just the proposed investment in ethnic studies.  

From a mental health standpoint, she said staff and parents need more help, though it should be noted that the governor is allocating about $1 million of the mental health grants specifically for staff. 

“I would just say the educators themselves need to be in a really good spot,” Friestleben said. “You’re going to have to make sure that the adults that we have taking care of our children, are OK.” 

RELATED NEWS: Gov. Walz unveils budget plan for 2022-23 biennium

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