ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Details surfaced Friday about the budget plans Minnesota lawmakers will vote on during an upcoming special session, including how $525 million in new school money will be parceled out.
The education plan negotiated in private but posted publicly ahead of an afternoon committee hearing shows schools are in line for a sizable increase in per-pupil allowances. Basic aid will rise from $5,831 per student now to $5,948 next school year and $6,067 the year after. That represents back-to-back 2 percent increases.
Early childhood education programs will receive about $95 million more in total over the next two years, with added preschool scholarships accounting for half.
The bill still requires legislative approval and a signature by Gov. Mark Dayton. The Democratic governor has yet to call a special session, but lawmakers face a July 1 deadline for action to avoid state service disruptions and the layoff of thousands of state workers.
A Saturday special session sought by House Speaker Kurt Daudt didn’t materialize because of disagreement over how to deal with a new law altering powers of the state auditor, a change Dayton wants rolled back or at least delayed for a year to 2017. That law, signed by Dayton in late May, gives counties new ability to hire private firms for financial audits now done by the state auditor. Democratic Auditor Rebecca Otto contends it would weaken oversight of taxpayer dollars, but backers say it will save counties money and get them results quicker.
“I don’t expect House Republicans to like this compromise any more than I do,” Dayton said in a written statement. “I ask them to agree to it, while not agreeing with it, to conclude the people’s business.”
Daudt brushed off Dayton’s offer for a one-year delay as not serious and stressed that lawmakers already have time to study the issue and reconsider next year.
“If the governor doesn’t choose to set that to the side … 9,400 Minnesotans are going to have uncertainty about their jobs and they may lose them on July 1,” the speaker said.
The relatively small item is one of few remaining disputes holding up bigger legislation, such as the $17.2 billion education bill.
Besides money, the measure gives school districts a chance to start this fall’s academic years sooner. It would let districts to resume classes on Sept. 1 for the coming year only. Current law requires most public schools to wait until after Labor Day to get started. But Labor Day is late this year, Sept. 7.
The school start debate is always a lively one in the Legislature because lawmakers from resort areas argue an earlier start depresses late-summer vacations. Supporters say waiting too long means a school year that stretches into June.
The bill also says that school districts with four-day academic weeks would have permission to keep that calendar through the 2019-20 school year.
A separate plan for spending tax dollars earmarked for arts and environmental initiatives has a big emphasis on water quality, including critical funding to implement stricter buffer strips between crop land and public waterways.
As crews renovate the Capitol, the bill also includes $3.25 million to restore a collection of massive murals worth nearly $1 billion.
Lawmakers also must vote on budgets for agricultural and environment programs as well as one for economic development and energy areas.
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