A $15.7 billion education package that will "make life easier" for working parents, according to the bill's supporters, now awaits Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's signature as work begins to wrap up on the 2013 Legislative Session.
The omnibus bill, which means one version of the bill was introduced in each chamber, was approved with small support from Republicans over the weekend, picking up five GOP votes in the state house and four more in the senate.
Sen. Ann Rest of New Hope was the lone "no" vote from the DFL (Democrat) side of the aisle in the senate, creating the 41-26 margin.
The bill raises the state's method of funding local schools by $156 per pupil for a total of nearly $235 million in new money over the next two years.
The bulk of that is spent on a new all-day, everyday kindergarten program funded at the state, with $134 million appropriated to a program that "will provide funding for districts that want or need it."
"Currently, 17 percent of Minnesota kindergartners attend all-day programs that are fee-based," said Sen. Greg Clausen, a democrat from Apple Valley. "Traditionally, that cost has been $300 to $400 per month. This creates inequity in our schools, giving only some who can afford the cost the opportunity for all-day, everyday kindergarten."
Richfield already offers all-day kindergarten programs at no cost.
"Our all day kindergarten program has always been free since it was established after the passage of our referendum in November 2005," Michael Schwartz, the district's business manager, told Patch. "Part of that referendum was to have all day kindergarten in our schools for Richfield residents."
The new state funding will likely allow the district to shift that funding to other areas in the district. Richfield has been struggling with tough budget cuts the last few years. In addition, its technology referendum is up for renewal this November.
Read: Another School Referendum to Go Before Voters in 2013
In the House, the bill passed on a 78-56 vote.
“Education is the best investment we can make in a child’s future," Richfield House Rep. Linda Slocum said in a release. "I’m glad we passed legislation that makes measurable progress to close the achievement gap and prepare our kids for the good jobs of tomorrow. ... Richfield and Bloomington public schools both can expect significant new resources from the State of Minnesota.”
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Over the past decade, the state has slipped from 10th in the nation in education funding to 22nd. Class sizes, according to state DFL numbers, are 47th in the nation in teacher-to-student ratio.
Funding for the education bill is also tied to the Omnibus Tax Bill, which also passed through the House over the weekend on a party line vote.