ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Minnesota's youngest students would get more attention in the education budget released by House Democrats on Tuesday, with more money for all-day kindergarten and early education scholarships.
Their bill would extend funding for all-day schooling to an estimated 59,000 kindergarteners starting in 2014, with $50 million put toward early education scholarships for about 8,000 3- and 4-year-olds
It also adds about $209 per pupil to the bedrock funding formula over the next two years, tries to establish more funding parity between rural and urban school districts and pays back $850 million in IOUs to schools that the state used to balance previous budget deficits.
Rep. Paul Marquart, the Dilworth Democrat who has led education funding negotiations, said those proposals "get kids to the starting line early on," which he said is key to tackling a growing achievement gap among Minnesota students.
Marquart's ultimate goal is a lofty one: 100 percent early reading rates, and 100 percent graduation rates.
"Is every school going to hit that goal? It's going to be tough," Marquart said, before adding, "You just can't give up on anyone."
All told, it's a $550 million increase in education spending from the last two-year budget, passed when Republicans controlled the Legislature. House Speaker Paul Thissen said that increase illustrates his caucus' investment in education.
Senate Democrats are expected to unveil their education budget on Thursday.
Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, said he and other Republicans support adding to the funding formula, issuing early education scholarships and paying back the school shift. But he said he'd rather put more money into the general formula than "funding bureaucracy."
The House budget would establish regional offices to help schools set educational goals, and tighten purse strings if they falter several years in a row.
"We already have a system in place to do that," Woodard said.
Woodard also questioned the need to "dip into Minnesotans' pockets" to support the funding increases. The Democrats in the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton are mulling different tax increase proposals — on cigarettes, alcohol and income taxes for the top earners in Minnesota.
"We're not shying away from the fact that we're going to have to raise revenues to do that," Thissen said.