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Walz, Flanagan look to make Minnesota 'best state for kids' in new budget proposal

The $12 billion plan is the first of four packages in the administration's larger "One Minnesota" budget proposal.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan are vowing to "make Minnesota the best state in the country for kids" in their upcoming budget plan.

The $12 billion proposal is the first of four packages in the administration's larger "One Minnesota" budget proposal that's being revealed ahead of the full two-year budget announcement on Jan. 24. The plan includes the "largest investments in public education in state history," according to the administration, as well as proposals to lower child care costs and expand tax credits for lower-income families.

“As a former teacher, coach, and parent, I have made it my mission to make Minnesota the best state in the country for kids to grow up. We have a historic opportunity to take bold action to deliver for Minnesotans, and we’re putting forward a budget that meets the moment,” Gov. Walz said in a statement.

“As a mom of a fourth grader, former school board member, and life-long advocate for children, I am proud that our One Minnesota Budget includes investments and innovation that put children and families at the center of state government. This is the budget I’ve been working towards my entire career,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said.

Some of the elements of the proposal include:

  • Funding for universal school meals
  • Expanding access to special education
  • Tying future school funding to inflation
  • Investing $158 million into mental health needs, including funding to address staffing shortages for school counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and other support professionals
  • Expanding Child and Dependent Care Credit and Child Tax Credit
  • Investing in Minnesota Food Self Program and emergency distribution facilities

Gov. Walz is also calling for the creation of a new state Department of Children, Youth and Families to support key child care and early learning programs, food assistance, and youth opportunities.

How does Minnesota currently stack up?

Before this $12 billion dollar proposal is debated in the legislature, it's helpful to understand how the state compares in a few areas related to childcare, schools and youth mental health.

Minnesota ranks 30th in State Expenditures by Student, Across Schools according to a report by US News and World Report. That puts the state below the national median and trailing neighboring states like North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Nicola Alexander, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education for the University of Minnesota College of Education, says so-called per pupil funding is just one way to compare state investments in education.

"It definitely plays a part, but the other thing you have to look at is what does that buy?" Alexander said. "The cost of living for the Twin Cities area tends to be about 18 to 21 percent higher than many of the districts in greater Minnesota, and one of the things the state has not necessarily fully done is this notion of geographic cost of living differences."

In terms of childcare, providers argue that the state's standing has an even bigger discrepancy to overcome.

"Right now, Minnesota tends to fall at the bottom for financial support in childcare funding, and we tend to land at the top for cost," said Amanda Schillinger, Director of Pumpkin Patch Childcare and Learning Centers in Burnsville. "So it costs a lot but there's not a lot of funding coming in."

Schillnger says the governor's proposed increase in the childcare assistance program would go a long way to addressing that, but she says support will need to go beyond dollars.

A report by the National Women's Law Center, found Minnesota was one of just thirteen states had a waiting list for childcare assistance in 2021, and it was the only state that saw it's waiting list grow longer from the previous year.

"If nothing changes, you're going to continue to see childcare centers close, you're going to see people leaving this workforce," Schillinger said. "We can't do it on our own. It's not a system that can sustain the need that's out there." 

Skepticism and sticker shock

Republican lawmakers called the governor's education plan "a public relations stunt" that lacked accountability or clear explanations of their financial impact.

“Providing free lunches for every student ignores the already available funding for families who need financial assistance. Neither Senate Democrats nor Governor Walz explain the impact eliminating these programs will have on other funding that is tied to free and reduced meals," said Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), the GOP lead on the Education Finance Committee. “Secondly, tying education funding to inflation removes all accountability from the state’s leaders to demand better of our education systems. Reading scores continues to drop, and the achievement gap persists. Automatically increasing the funding for every school and every student eliminates our ability to target funding to the students that need it the most – it certainly guarantees a future tax hike to maintain this exploding funding in the future."

Rarick also called the governor's Department of Children, Youth and Families proposal "another guaranteed explosion in spending that we don't need."

Republicans in the Minnesota House were similarly concerned about adding a new agency, saying the state is "micromanaging" decisions better left on the local level.

“House Republicans want to empower parents to make the best decisions for their family, whereas Governor Walz’s proposal today proves that Democrats are more focused on expanding government bureaucracy in education than helping children," said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring).

However, leaders of the state's largest teacher's union praised the governor's plan.

“This is a bold education budget that recognizes the scale of the multi-billion-dollar challenges we’re facing in Minnesota’s classrooms, from staffing, to mental health, to the rising costs of educating students in poverty and with special needs," said Education Minnesota president Denise Specht in a statement. "We’re looking forward to working with the governor, lieutenant governor and legislators to pass an education budget that gives every student and educator, in every ZIP code, the tools they need to succeed.”

This will be the first time the Walz-Flanagan administration has presented a budget to a DFL-majority legislature, after the two chambers were previously split between the two parties in Gov. Walz's first term in office.

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