MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday urged Minnesota lawmakers to immediately pass legislation to fund a $150 million summer education package in the Democratic governor's budget proposal that would attempt to remedy disruptions to students' learning during the pandemic.
The proposed summer learning plan would feature funding for summer learning programs and field trips, as well as mental health support programs, summer preschool and college courses for graduating seniors. Walz asked state lawmakers to fund the program by April 15 to allow schools time to plan ahead and determine budgets for programs, staffing, and health and safety measures amid the pandemic.
“There's absolutely no excuse right now not to be working on this plan,” Walz said during a news conference on Thursday. “It's too late at the end of May to pass something for summer — the planning needs to happen right now.”
The Democratic governor in late January announced his $52 billion two-year budget proposal, which would raise taxes by about $1.8 billion on the wealthiest Minnesotans and large companies. The education portion of the proposal includes $745 million in new spending on primary schools, in addition to federal aid of $649 million to help schools recover from the pandemic.
The Minnesota Legislature, which is the only one in the nation that has two chamber controlled by different parties, is required by law to come to terms on a budget before the end of the legislative session in May.
Senate Republicans maintain that they won't agree to raising taxes, citing the passage of a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package that would send nearly $5 billion to Minnesota, and a new budget forecast announced by state economists last month that shifted from a near $1.3 billion deficit to an almost $1.6 billion surplus.
“We started this session committed to balancing the budget without raising taxes. With every week that passes, it’s easier to stick to that commitment,” Gazelka said in a statement Wednesday. “There is absolutely no reason to raise taxes on Minnesotans and the Governor should drop all his proposed increases.”
The Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would provide tax relief to individuals who received unemployment insurance and to struggling businesses that received emergency loans via the federal Paycheck Protection Program last year to keep employees on their payroll. The bill passed on a 55-12 vote, though its future is unclear in the Democratic House.
Walz said Thursday he wants lawmakers to include the summer learning funding in the tax relief legislation before it makes it to his desk to sign. Several House Democrats, including Speaker Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, released a statement Thursday in support of the governor's summer education package.
“If you're going to move a tax cut bill before talking about our children, you've got a lot of folks in this room listening to that,” told reporters during the news conference at Armstrong High School in Plymouth. “Why don't you put these things into a package, why don't we move them together and why don't we try to get them there because that gets the buy-in from everybody and it seems to makes more sense.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.