Legislative Update: March 25, 2019

House sets budget targets

Earlier today, House DFL Caucus Leadership announced the House budget targets for the next biennium. For higher education, the target in the House is $304.9 million in new funding.

House DFL leaders held a press conference regarding their $47.8 billion budget. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the budget will improve education opportunities. “We are investing in the people of Minnesota because everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed,” Hortman said. The budget invests $900 million in new funding for E-12 education as well as the $304.9 million in new funding for higher education.

Chair of the House Higher Education Finance and Policy committee Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, said the higher education budget proposal makes tuition a priority and funds a tuition freeze at all public institutions in Minnesota.

In regards to the capital budget, Speaker Hortman said House DFLers are proposing a $1.5 billion bonding bill.

Tax Committee Chair, Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said the tax bill will provide needed resources for investments that will improve the quality of life for Minnesotans with an emphasis on tax fairness. When asked about raising taxes, Speaker Hortman said, “We only have enough positive balance to cover inflation in some areas. If we want to make new investments and strengthen education, we need new revenue.”

The details of how the House Higher Education Finance and Policy committee spends the $304 million will be worked out in committee in the next few weeks as members put their bill together to meet the April 12 committee deadline for finance bills.

The Senate higher education committee will also receive a target in the coming days, and will also have until April 12 to pass their finance bill.

The budget targets for all spending areas can be found on the Ways and Means Committee web page.

Hunger Free Campus Act heard in House

The House Higher Education Finance and Policy committee heard HF 2366 last week, a bill that would create a hunger-free campus designation for the community and technical colleges of the Minnesota State system. The bill would appropriate $77,000 each year of the 2020-2021 biennium for grants to schools to focus on hunger issues on campus, with a maximum grant award of $8,000.

Oballa Oballa, a student at Riverland community college and the vice president of LeadMN, the two-year college student organization, testified in support of the bill, and spoke about food insecurity on college campuses. Oballa explained, “Food insecurity is defined as lacking the money or resources necessary to have consistent and dependable access to food. It is something our students are facing every day on our colleges.”

Oballa shared with committee members that to be food insecure as a college student means even though he is working two jobs while going to school full time, he still doesn’t have enough money to pay for food after paying for school and living expenses. He said the issue of food insecurity isn’t isolated to only himself or Riverland Community College, but it is an issue that impacts colleges across the nation.

Oballa cited last year’s Hope Lab national survey of over 43,000 college students, that two in five students reported being food insecure. He said, “Ten of our colleges have participated in the most recent Hope Lab survey and should be receiving results this spring.” He also shared with members that another national survey found that 55 percent of food insecure students could not purchase textbooks, 53 percent missed their courses, and 25 percent dropped courses due to the impact of hunger.

Oballa explained that the “Hunger Free Campus Act” creates a designation for campuses that meet certain criteria, and provides grant funding, with a campus match, for them to achieve this designation and address food insecurity. “We believe that creating this designation will help encourage our colleges to take steps in addressing the challenge of food insecurity on our campuses…and support our campuses that have already taken steps to address the issue of student hunger,” Oballa said.

Also testifying in support of the bill was Brandi Oleson, a student at Ridgewater College and President of the Student Senate at Ridgewater College. She said LeadMN has spent the last year working to address food insecurity on campus. “When we began raising awareness around this issue last fall, we were stunned by how many students have come forward with their own stories and experiences with food insecurity,” Oleson said. Oleson said many campus pantries are struggling to stay afloat due to troubles related to donation sources or staffing.

“I no longer personally deal with food insecurity but I know that others do. I believe that no student should feel the effects of food insecurity, whether it’s the child of a college student or the student themselves,” Oleson said.

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