Sep 2, 2022 - Politics

Jensen pitches scholarships for private school. Here's what it would mean for public funding

Illustration of a red apple with a hundred dollar bill for a leaf. 
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A campaign trail clash over "school choice" could have implications for public education funding in Minnesota.

State of play: Scott Jensen, the GOP's nominee for governor, unveiled this week an education policy framework that calls for giving Minnesota families public funds to offset the cost of going to private schools.

The catch: Minnesota pays for its public schools based on enrollment. That means districts could see their state dollars decline as students seek education elsewhere.

  • A recent nonpartisan fiscal analysis for a similar "educational scholarships" proposal backed by Senate Republicans estimated that the change would shift $178 million from public schools over two years.

What they're saying: Jensen and running-mate Matt Birk argued the change would give students more options tailored to their academic needs and that competition would motivate public schools to improve their offerings.

  • Democrats, including incumbent Gov. Tim Walz, generally oppose such plans and argue they would "decimate" public schools.

Zoom in: Jensen hasn't released funding details or a dollar figure for his plan. But he's questioned whether it makes sense to keep sending more cash to schools without seeing student outcomes improve.

Zoom out: Jensen's plan also calls for giving parents more access to curriculum and school materials, cracking down on truancy and possibly converting low-performing public schools to private or charter institutions.

  • The former school board member said that while he wouldn't sign a so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill similar to the one that passed in Florida, he would look to ban certain topics, including sexually-explicit content and some race-related teachings, from classrooms.

The intrigue: Jensen has previously floated eliminating personal income taxes, which make up a $15 billion chunk of the state's budget.

  • It wasn't immediately clear how the education proposals would be paid for if that happened.

The bottom line: Pandemic learning losses, along with debate over what topics should be taught in classrooms, have catapulted school issues to the forefront of campaigns in Minnesota and beyond.

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