INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday proposed spending $5.1 billion over the next three years for child care, teacher recruitment, mental health access in schools and a paid family and medical leave policy with funds from a record state surplus that will shape the debate at the capitol this year.

He called it an “incredible opportunity” to invest in children and families as the pandemic continues to impact schooling and work, with students forced to quarantine and parents having to navigate distance learning and child care while being employed full time.

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“This is about Minnesota families not only recovering from COVID but building towards the future,” Walz said.

Among the policies Walz is asking the legislature to consider are funding more than 6,000 new public pre-K seats; an additional 2% increase on current education spending; and increasing child care assistance payments providers, which Walz says will make child care more affordable for 15,000 more families, impacting 30,000 children. He’s been rolling out his supplemental budget proposal in pieces over the last week.

It also targets adding more teachers into the profession, especially people of color, by establishing training programs, covering the costs for licenses and retention bonuses.

There’s also efforts to hire more school counselors and psychologists and funding to offer mental health screenings statewide.

“Minnesota students are asking us to prioritize mental health,” said Heather Mueller, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education. “It’s the one thing our students have said consistently.”

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These proposals are far from final and are likely to change in scope, but the governor’s ideas offer a glimpse of what to expect as the legislative session begins next week. A centerpiece of the debate will be how to spend more than $7.7 billion in an estimated budget surplus and additional federal COVID relief dollars to be allocated.

Republicans, Democrats and stakeholders alike will jockey for their priorities to get a slice of those funds. The GOP, which controls the Senate and whose buy-in Walz and the DFL-controlled House need to pass policy, already condemned the governor’s plan on Thursday afternoon.

“Last year Senate Republicans passed record funding for schools; a 2.5% increase this year, a 2% increase next year, and Minnesota schools received $3 billion from Congress. We also stopped additional mandates and worked to keep kids in classrooms, said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, who is chair of the education committee. “Throwing more money into schools without addressing literacy and allowing kids and educators to catch up is the wrong direction.”

Paid Family & Medical Leave, Sick Time Proposal

Walz also proposes a 12-week paid family and medical leave program that the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner previously said would look like the state unemployment trust fund, which a payroll tax would fund. The plan would also require workers to accrue up to 48 hours of paid sick time.

The governor said paid leave is the only proposal that would require tax increase in ongoing years, most of the other policy pitches are with one-time funds that will need to be renegotiated.

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A previous analysis of a similar program introduced in the legislature said it would require $1.2 billion in new tax revenue.

Caroline Cummings