Senate approves 2 huge budget bills on education, health

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After a long day of debate, the Minnesota Senate on Thursday approved two key budget bills that would account for more than two-thirds of the state budget, the Pioneer Press reports.

Senate lawmakers voted 35-28 in approving a $15.6 billion education bill that would pay for statewide all-day kindergarten and boost the state's general education funding formula, the newspaper reports. Plunging ahead late into the night, senators then debated and ultimately approved a bill on a 36-28 vote that includes $11.2 billion for state health and human service programs.

The bills cover two years of spending beginning in July, and the two measures differ from the House versions, the Pioneer Press notes. Now Senate-House negotiators must work out the differences as they also tussle over disagreements in creating major tax changes for the state.

The House this week approved a bill that would raise $2.6 billion in new taxes, but the Senate is expected next week to debate a measure that would raise $1.8 billion in new taxes.

The Senate education bill also creates a controversial transition to a new testing system that focuses on career and college goals, the Star Tribune reports. It's advocates say the new tests provide earlier and better help to students who fall behind, but critics say scrapping a strict graduation test requirement means the state is lessening the value of a high school diploma, the newspaper reports.

Meanwhile Thursday, the House on an 86-44 vote approved a higher education financing package designed to boost higher education funding by $150 million and freeze undergraduate tuition at public colleges for two years, the Associated Press reported.

There are just a handful of budget bills left to be debated and voted on on House and Senate floors, the AP notes. Lawmakers hope to wrap up their work for the session next month.

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