Governor touts education funding, pandemic recovery

District 191 photo

Gov. Tim Walz visited with students during a stop at Vista View Elementary in Burnsville July 14. Walz has been touring schools around the state, observing expanded summer activities and touting his new two-year education budget.

Visits Burnsville’s Vista View on school tour

Gov. Tim Walz brought his education tour to Vista View Elementary in Burnsville, where he visited with kindergarteners, thanked educators for their rapid response to COVID-19 and touted the robust school funding package passed by the 2021 Legislature.

The July 14 visit was one of several to schools around the state after lawmakers in special session approved $1.2 billion in new school funding, a centerpiece of what Walz labeled Minnesota’s “COVID-19 Recovery Budget.”

The two-year, $52 billion budget is “one of the most robust budgets we’ve seen in a couple decades,” with the biggest hike in basic school funding in 15 years, the DFL governor said.

Per-pupil basic funding will rise by 2.45% in 2022 and 2% in 2023.

The new funding also includes $200 million for summertime school enhancements, said Walz, who visited Vista View teacher Julia Ulrich’s summer school kindergarten class. Walz allocated $75 million from the state’s share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan approved by Congress for school enrichment and mental health support, the governor’s office said.

Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191 Superintendent Theresa Battle described how some of the money — including the district’s own $16.1 million ARP allocation — is to be spent.

“With the American Rescue Plan funds, the governor’s allocation, and the Minnesota Legislature allocation, we’re able to address what we know happened during the pandemic,” Battle said. “Learning was disrupted. Social connections were disrupted. And so we’re using our funds in that way to address academic, social, emotional and health and wellness needs.”

Extra funding has allowed the district to expand summer school from its usual 1,400 students to 1,900, Battle said. Another section of Kindergarten JumpStart has been added. Battle said a Vista View mom told her how excited her son is to attend gymnastics camp this summer — with the district paying the fees through ARP funds.

And when the school year opens with in-person learning, extra teachers will be deployed to reduce class sizes in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade, Battle said.

“We are also adding extra tutoring and social-emotional supports,” she said.

Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, told District 191 educators “We’ve got your back.”

“Obviously, we met a great need that was really laid bare with COVID,” said Port, a first-term lawmaker representing Senate District 56. “But it’s important to remember that as we start recovering out of COVID, that need doesn’t go away. And it’s important that we continue to put this emphasis on the need for education funding, the need to have that base access but also to provide those extra opportunities and close those opportunity gaps. This is not a one-session budget and done.”

“I’m a young mom — I have a 17-year-old and a 9-year-old,” said first-term House District 56A Rep. Jess Hanson, DFL-Burnsville. “And so at two ends of the spectrum I see the different needs that my kids have. And this budget gives us an opportunity to meet those needs all the way from the cradle to college. And I’m looking forward to continuing that. ... This is the beginning of a much longer conversation that we need to continue having.”

Students, even the youngest, learned resiliency and new skills during the pandemic, and teachers demonstrated by their versatility that bold changes in education are possible, Walz said.

“What seems to be a slow-moving structure wasn’t slow-moving at all,” state Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said. “Our educators are quick, they are resilient, and they are brilliant in their abilities to be able to be thoughtful and innovative, build relationships and still maintain high quality and content.”

A reporter asked Battle about district masking requirements when school resumes in September. The district now requires mask-wearing in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, she said. Guidance from the state education and health departments will inform district rules at that time, she said.

“We led with the science throughout our response to the pandemic,” Battle said.

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