House Responds to Governor’s Education Budget
Leaders from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and Health and Human Services (HHS) shared the Governor’s education priorities with House members this week. They began with the startling picture of the status of kids in our fair state that underscored Governor Dayton’s emphasis on early childhood, including the fact that:
• on any given night in Minnesota, some 3,546 children are homeless (along with another 7,000 adults)
• some 78,000 of Minnesota’s 1.27 million kids live in deep poverty, defined as half the Federal poverty rate. (Fed poverty rate for a family of 4 is $24k). Child poverty is increasing, and it exists throughout the entire state.
In addition to the components for schools, the Governor’s budget provides for aspects of kids’ health that affect their learning. Some of these include free breakfast, increases to mental health services for at-risk kids, and better child protection oversight. Leaders voiced their commitment to coordinate these services across agencies. Office of Early Learning Director Melvin Carter acknowledged that the early childhood system will “only be as strong as the weakest link.”
In their response to the budget, both parties seemed pleased with the priority on the state’s most vulnerable kids. It’s clear, however, that the rub will be whether to expand early learning scholarships even more than the Governor’s budget suggests, or implement a universal, school-based pre-K program for 4-year olds. The Governor’s budget attempts to fund both, but in that case neither seems to have enough funding. Concerns about the balance were echoed from both sides of the aisle. Several key Republicans, including Chair of HHS Rep Matt Dean (R-Stillwater) asked how schools will come up with all of the dollars needed to have school-based 4-year old programs. Rep Erin Murphy (D-St. Paul) urged if universal pre-K rolls out, that we not jeopardize the many existing in-home and center based preschool programs.
Quote of the week? Commissioner of Health and Human Services Lucinda Jessen wins the prize. “Anything we do – if it’s not in partnership with families, it’s not going to work.” (Harvard University would agree.)