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DFLers in the Minnesota House have pitched an education bill that would increase school funding statewide by more than $1 billion annually for the next three years.

The proposal was pitched this week by House DFL leader Melissa Hortman and House Education Finance Committee Chair Rep. Jim Davnie, who want Minnesota to use a portion of the state's projected $9 billion-plus budget surplus to better fund Minnesota's schools.

The $3.3 billion investment over the next three years dwarfs the $30 million in education funding proposed by Senate Republicans, who have argued that the $500 million annual increase to the education funding formula that passed in 2021, combined with temporary pandemic-related funding boosts, should be enough for public schools.

The DFL proposal includes more than $500 million in annual funding over the next three years into special education and English Language Learner services, arguing that there is a massive deficit in the amount it costs for schools to provide these services, and the amount the state pays for them.

A $475 million chunk of the DFL's supplemental education budget would go towards improving mental health support for children in schools, which was one of the major demands of the educators who went on strike in Minneapolis last month.

This spending, the party says, would allow for the hire of more than 1,000 extra counselors, social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, and chemical dependency specialists.

A further $525 million would be earmarked between 2023-25 for a statewide voluntary pre-K program targeting children least likely to have access to pre-K education. And $50 million in funding has also been included to increase the number of teachers who are people of color or Indigenous people via the expansion of the Grow Your Own Teacher Training program.

“For strong and stable schools, we must continue our commitment to getting our Minnesota students and families the resources they need to recover from the pandemic’s fallout,” said Rep. Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis), chair of the House Education Finance Committee. “All our students deserve a world class education and robust emotional support that meets their individualized needs.”

Senate GOP prioritizing tax cuts for surplus spending

Senate Republicans' supplemental education budget would provide $30 million for a literacy initiative that the New York Times reports has had success in boosting attainment in Mississippi, and $700,000 for the hiring of reading coaches.

But the size of the budget prompted criticism from Democrats who argue schools need more support following a turbulent few years. 

Senate Republicans have said their education priorities focus more on preventing COVID-related mandates and future school shutdowns as seen in recent years, albeit which have mostly stopped happening following the vaccine rollout, as well as boosting test scores via the literacy initiative.

Rather than upping funding, the Senate GOP has been recently pitching education bills that would place more requirements on teachers to communicate to parents what's being taught in classrooms, feeding into the wider education culture war being waged by Republicans nationally that in some states seeks to suppress conversations about racism, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues in schools.

The bulk of the Senate GOP's plans for the $9 billion surplus in Minnesota comes in the form of tax cuts that would cost $3.3 billion in 2022-23 and a further $5 billion in 2023-25.

Among the proposals in the tax cut bill is reducing the bottom income tax rate from 5.3% to 2.8%, which it says would save a married couple making a combined $100,000 about $1,000-a-year.

However, the tax cut could would not make any difference to the state's lowest earners who don't qualify for income tax in the first place, with a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finding that 96% of households making more than $134,000 would see a benefit, compared to just 36% making less than $30,000.

The Senate GOP's proposal would also exempt all Social Security income drawn by Minnesota's seniors from state taxes, irrespective of how much money they get from other sources. 

FOX 9 reports that current law exempts Social Security income from tax for those who rely on it as their primary source of income in retirement.

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