WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, May 18, said he would use $75 million in federal COVID-19 aid coming to the state to fund summer school programming for Minnesota students.
With just weeks before the end of the academic year, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor said the state should tee up funding for public school programs set to run through the summer after some students fell behind due to distance and hybrid learning.
The funds, which came from a federal COVID-19 aid package, would be directed to holding instructional periods during the summer months, providing field trip activities and mental health support and to offering free preschool and pre-K programs. The bulk of the dollars would also support getting educational support out into communities.
Outside an elementary school, the governor said teachers and students had weathered the pandemic and were starting to get closer to a pre-COVID-19 feeling of normalcy.
"We would've liked to see it done a little earlier but that's the nature of deliberative government and I think our schools, as you see here, have become incredibly resilient, they've been incredibly adaptable," Walz told reporters over the sound of laughter and chattering from a class behind him hard at work on graham cracker and marshmallow structures.
"You can hear the laughs, you can hear the engagement," Walz continued. "We just want to make sure that every child and every school district has the opportunity to do that and that's what we think this funding does."
Walz earlier this year called for twice as much funding for the summer school options but the request to offset enrollment losses failed to pick up traction in the Minnesota Senate. Instead, legislative leaders agreed to a $75 million plan to benefit public and charter schools around the state.
Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said the funding would go out to schools based on a state formula and district or charter officials could apply for additional grants based on what they hoped to achieve locally. And the dollars could help make up for some of the lost hands-on and experiential opportunities students might've missed while learning from home.
"We know that our ability to engage in this way has been limited over the past 14 months simply because we haven't had the opportunity to have as many students in school," Mueller said.
Summer camps and activities through the White Bear Lake Area School District had already garnered hundreds of applications, Superintendent Dr. Wayne Kazmierczak said. District officials planned for summer programs hoping that the state would help offset the cost.
“What we’re seeing this summer is we’re seeing camps and youth activities returning and very high demand because parents know the value of those programs,” Kazmierczak said.
The Legislature a day earlier adjourned the legislative session without a two-year budget or approved funds for the summer programs. Legislative leaders said they'd signed off on the governor using the federal dollars to get summer school up and running.
Republicans on Tuesday called on Walz to consider ending a requirement for facemasks in school settings.
“Senate Republicans approved his use of the federal funds, and the governor followed through," Senate E-12 Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said in a news release. "I’m glad schools will get the support they need to help students and families recover from disastrous school closures."