Seeking to ‘fully fund’ education, Gov. Tim Walz and DFL lawmakers propose billions in new spending – Star Tribune
Minnesota Democrats who vowed on the campaign trail to “fully fund” public education are now revealing what that looks like: billions of dollars in new spending for schools to keep up with inflation and pay for costly special education and English learner services.
Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic legislators are seeking to use their newfound control of state government to make the state’s largest-ever investment in public schools. They have a $17.6 billion budget surplus to tap and no Republican majorities standing in their way.
“My messages to families, to students, to teachers, to support staff is, ‘This is the budget for many of us who taught for decades, this is the budget we’re waiting for. This is the transformational moment that can happen,'” Walz said last week at a St. Paul Spanish immersion school.
Walz is proposing a more than $700 million general funding boost for public schools over the next two years and to permanently tie annual increases to inflation. The governor’s office estimates that the inflationary increases would amount to a nearly $1.5 billion funding hike over fiscal years 2026-2027.
His plan would spend another $722 million over the next two years to help school districts pay for special education services, and about $200 million a year for schools to offer free meals to all students.
The governor’s priorities largely align with those of the DFL-controlled House and Senate, which are pitching similar proposals — although some legislators have said they want to spend more than Walz proposed for special education.
Republican state lawmakers are already criticizing the cost and scope of Democrats’ spending plans.
“Automatically increasing the funding for every school and every student eliminates our ability to target funding to the students that need it the most. It certainly guarantees a future tax hike to maintain this exploding funding in the future,” state Sen. Jason Rarick, the GOP lead on the Senate Education Finance Committee, said in a statement.
Rarick added that the free school meals proposal “ignores the already available funding for families who need financial assistance.”
Some school leaders say the proposed spending increases are a step in the right direction, even if they don’t fully make up for years of smaller state funding bumps that largely failed to keep up with inflation.
“Let’s at least recapture some of the ground we’ve lost to inflation,” said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.
The additional funding is necessary to offer competitive wages for teachers, school leaders said. Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said increasing the state’s ranks of educators helps keep class sizes manageable, offering more individual attention for students and improving academic achievement.
“We’re not doing students any good when we don’t have educators to teach them, to support them,” Specht said.
School administrators also are embracing Walz’s special education funding proposal, …….