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House Passes K-12 Bill
By Martin Kaste
April 27, 1998
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The Minnesota House has approved a bill to spend $7.8 billion on K-12 schools over the next two years. The bill is $90 million more than Governor Ventura budgeted, and spends almost $1 billion more than in the previous two-year period. Still, many Democrats say the legislation doesn't spend enough on all school districts.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS HAVE PRESENTED THEMSELVES as budget-cutters - or at least budget-restrainers - on most areas of state spending. The exception is public schools. The Republican-sponsored bill that passed the House last night slightly raises the state's average share of the cost of public education from the current 69.9 percent to 70.2 percent. " This is a good solid education bill. In reality, it has the love of a parent, the heart of a teacher in it, and it looks to the future," said Harry Mares, the chairman of the House Education Policy Committee.

The hallmark of the bill is that it puts most of the money into the formula that sends school districts money based on how many pupils they have. In recent years, DFL-sponsored bills have sought to put increases into special funds for schools in underprivileged neighborhoods, or for specific educational purposes. Republicans have long argued that this penalizes suburban schools that have fewer special needs, but have the most growth in their student bodies. With this bill, they aim to correct that perceived imbalance.

During seven hours of debate, many Democrats sought unsuccessfully to tip back the balance of funding. David Tomassoni, a DFLer from Chisholm, tried to amend the bill to put more money in the system for schools that are losing students, and which would get less of the state money based on the per-pupil formula.

The House bill puts $106 million toward reducing the size of classes in grades K-3, only two-thirds what Governor Ventura was hoping for. It follows the Governor's recommendation on special education, putting $90 million in new money into a dedicated special education fund.

The House rejected a DFL amendment to spend about $3 million to help schools develop safety plans in the event of violent incidents like the recent shootings in Littleton, Colorado. Republican legislators resisted the amendment, calling it demagogic, and saying most schools already have safety plans in place.

Another amendment, restricting sexual education, did become part of the final bill. DFLer Mary Ellen Otremba sponsored the provision, which requires classes on sexually transmitted diseases to teach abstinence as the only form of disease prevention. Jeremy Hanson, the public policy coordinator of the Minnesota AIDS Project, calls the abstinence-only provision a setback.

The Senate K-12 Committee has not yet finished its school-funding bill, but it's expected to spend about $100 million more than the House, and to put a greater proportion of the money into specific, strings-attached spending.