Senate passes education bill, still short of Dayton's goal

The state Senate passed an education bill to increase funding, but it still falls short of Governor Mark Dayton’s plan.

That means there's still a lot of room to negotiate, especially on pre-k public school funding, which Dayton has been advocating for.

Currently, 74 school districts have volunteered to offer pre-k.

Dayton wants to pay for more.

But the legislature has different ideas.

The Senate education bill keeps voluntary pre-k funding at current levels, which is in stark contrast from the House bill that zeroes out all of the voluntary pre-k funding.

Overall, education spending rises in all three plans.

The House bill passed last week calls for $257 million more in funding, the Senate bill asked for a $300 million increase, and the governor wants an increase of $713 million.

"We're $400 million less than what the governor has recommended,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm. “I believe we can do better."

But in the end, senators passed their funding package without adding any more money, for now.

“Three hundred million is inadequate,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger, D-Maplewood. “We need to substantially increase it. The governor with two and two on the formula is what we need to do at a minimum."

That two and two is a two percent increase each year in the school district funding formula, which is what the governor wants.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a one-and-a-half percent increase.

The House passed one-and-a-quarter percent increase.

But the Senate chair agrees the goal should be raising it to two.

"That is essential,” said Sen. Carla Nelson, Education Finance Chair. “That is the type of funding that our school districts need. That is the type of funding that allows them to be the most flexible and it's the most fair funding as well."  

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka says there may be some budget room to do that in conference committee after a transportation bill is hammered out.

It will make for a lively conference when that likely gets underway after the Easter and Passover break.