The 2019 legislative session is finally over. On Monday, May 20, the 2019 regular legislative session officially came to an end, and then the Governor called for a 22-hour special session on Friday, May 24th that lasted until 7 a.m. Saturday, May 25th, to pass the state’s final budget.
During a press conference on Sunday, May 19, Governor Walz, Speaker Hortman, and Senate Majority Leader Gazelka announced their agreed upon budget targets. The final agreement included (among other things) an Education K–12 per pupil formula increase of 2% per year, federal tax conformity with a 0.25% tax cut in the second-tier income tax bracket, no gas tax increase, and the removal of the sunset in the health care provider tax with a reduction from 2% to 1.8%.
The Education budget included $540 million for the next biennium with the per-pupil formula increase, school safety funding, additional special education funding and $46 million for a continuation of 4,000 slots for Voluntary Pre-K, among other things.
The final Health and Human Services budget was reduced by $358 million for the next biennium, but included increases in funding for mental health and other programs that positively impact children and families.
News on early childhood was largely disappointing as over 32,000 children in Minnesota will still not have access to high-quality early childhood care and education. After the final budget agreement, little was left for early childhood.
Having allocated early childhood scholarship increases earlier this session in both the House and Senate Education Finance bills, the final Education Conference Committee budget included $146 million allocated to early learning scholarships for the 2020-2021 biennium. This included $4.5 million in early learning scholarships that were not used in 2019 that will be allocated for 2020. This is a step in the right direction because under the previous policy, this money would have gone unspent, but now approximately 600 more children will have access to scholarships.
Another important change in early learning scholarships is the transfer of scholarship appropriation into a special revenue fund to ensure more early learning scholarships are awarded. This fund would allow unused dollars to be returned and given to those on the waitlist. Currently, funds may go unused if a family’s eligibility changes during the year; this fund would reduce the 1,700 child waitlist. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) estimates that this will allow about 1,000 more children to be served every year.
The agreement also included $562 thousand in funding for kindergarten readiness assessments and $3.5 million for Parent Aware for the 2020-2021 biennium. Funding for the evidence-based home visiting bill was included at $33 million for the 2020-2021 biennium, which was put into the base in 2017. However, the policy language for home visiting we were supporting was not adopted. This means the policy language remains the same as adopted in 2017.
There were other significant early childhood legislative outcomes not directly tied to the MinneMinds agenda but would impact young children and their families. One of which includes a net increase to the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). Families who use this program will earn $100 more per month—the first increase to the program in 33 years. Another significant legislative outcome was that the Community Solutions Grant Program was given $4 million in funding for over 4 years.
It is disappointing that legislators and the Governor did not use a $1 billion dollar budget surplus as an opportunity to adequately invest in an area of wide support and great need: early childhood care and education. Unfortunately, 2019 was a lost opportunity for major progress for early childhood care and education. Over the next few weeks, we will work with our partners to find what steps must be taken to make sure our most vulnerable children and families receive the support they need.
The 2019 legislative session was frustrating for early education advocates, but we know how important this issue is for our children and families. We must keep moving forward and build momentum heading into 2020.
This summer is an opportunity for MinneMinds to work with partners in the legislature, state agencies, and with other partners to develop an agenda that builds on successes, makes improvements that better reach children and families, and doesn’t jeopardize the progress we have made.
We must continue to keep early childhood care and education as a top legislative issue at the capitol. Few issues have broad, bipartisan support like investing in our youngest learners.