Walz sends $75 million in federal aid to summer school

Gov. Walz plans to send $75 million in federal aid to summer schools.

Gov. Tim Walz is putting $75 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding into summer school programs in his first move after the 2021 legislative session ended.

Walz can act on his own because the governor and lawmakers agreed Monday to a deal that gives Walz control of $500 million in federal aid. The governor said he had earmarked about 40 percent of the funding so far, leaving the rest uncommitted.

The summer school money is meant to catch students up after the pandemic shuttered schools across the state for months. School districts will find out their allocations this week, said Heather Mueller, the state education commissioner.

"We know how important this is, and we really want to be as responsive as possible so schools know exactly what is available to them and they can have their process to engage in that," Mueller told reporters Tuesday.

The summer school funding includes:

  • $34 million for community-based learning for students who can't attend in-person summer classes, field trips, and other experiential learning
  • $20 million for preschool programming
  • $10 million for adult education
  • $6 million for student and staff mental health grants
  • $3.25 million for tutoring
  • $1.1 million for college prep

Walz said he did not include any additional relief for school districts that lost enrollment to home schooling or private schools during the pandemic. The governor said he would return to that issue, which he had pushed earlier in the year.

The governor said he was spending additional federal COVID relief on the Minnesota Zoo, coronavirus vaccinations, and COVID testing. Between $300 million and $320 million will remain uncommitted, he said.

"Not all of that money is budgeted, and there’s an agreement that if that money is not spent it will roll back into the legislative pot come July 1, 2022," the governor said during a visit to Otter Lake Elementary in White Bear Lake, where he was highlighting the summer school spending.

The Legislature retained control of $2.4 billion of federal COVID aid in the partial budget deal between Walz, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.

Senate Republicans said they were proud of the deal, but House GOP members ripped the agreement for giving too much power to the governor.

"Who from the legislative branch would ever agree to let the governor spend $500 million on whatever he wanted should turn in their election certificates and find a new job," said House GOP Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

Walz has near total control over his $500 million pot of money. He must submit expenditures to a 10-member legislative review panel, but it would require at least one Democrat to side with Republicans to block any spending.

The federal money was a key part of Monday's partial budget deal. The agreement also directs more money into K-12 education over the next two years and commits to tax breaks for businesses and workers who were laid off last year.  

It's a handshake deal at this point; lawmakers were unable to pass a single budget bill before adjourning Monday afternoon. They must come back for a June special session and pass bills by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown.