ST. PAUL — Walz administration officials on Tuesday, May 4, pressed Minnesota Senate Republicans to approve $150 million aimed at making summer school programming available to all students.
After a year of learning losses due to distance learning during the pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz said the state should tee up funding for public school programs set to run through the summer. The funds would be directed to holding instructional periods during the summer months, providing field trip activities and mental health supports and to offering free preschool and pre-K programs.
The programs would be optional and allow students to participate in person or from home. Roughly $25 million would be used to offset school funding declines from attendance decreases during the pandemic.
"We tell our students not to procrastinate on their homework. We are procrastinating on our homework," Walz said as the legislative session entered its final two weeks. "It's now time for us to move the summer learning plan, it's now time to give consistency to our administrators, to our teachers, to our youngest learners and to our taxpayers in Minnesota."
The funding has passed the Minnesota House of Representatives but has so far stalled in the Senate. Senate Republicans, who hold a majority in that chamber, earlier this year sought to tie the summer school funding to a tax relief plan aimed at waiving state income taxes on federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
That effort has yet to gain traction in the House. GOP lawmakers said the summer school funding proposal should focus on in-person learning since remote learning programs spurred some of the academic gaps and they called for more consistent spending rates to each school.
A key committee leader also said the package was unnecessary since the federal government approved more than $2.6 billion for COVID-19 aid to Minnesota, with a sizable chunk set to benefit schools and preschools.
"Minnesota schools received $2.6 billion from the federal government in the last year, which is about 25% of the state's appropriation for E-12 funding," Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said. Chamberlain chairs the Senate E-12 Education Committee. "This money can be used for a variety of needs, including summer schools."
If lawmakers can't reach an agreement on the funding before the session is set to close out, Walz could take over authority for how to spend the federal aid dollars. The governor had previously set an April 15 deadline for the Legislature to advance the funding.
Walz and education officials on Tuesday again asked lawmakers to quickly pass the bill to get funds out to schools and help teachers, parents and administrators get a jump on summer plans.
"We are not going to rest this on our students. It's not their fault," Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said. "We're asking the Senate to please join us in helping and providing these for our students, for recognizing that it's our earliest learners all the way up to our adult learners and every single student in between."