$20M higher education compromise awaits vote in Minnesota Senate
In addition to spending, the higher education bill also includes a provision that would require all higher education institutions to include an affirmative consent standard as part of their sexual conduct policies.
ST. PAUL — A higher education bill awaiting a vote of the Minnesota Senate provides $20 million for state colleges and universities and would require schools to set affirmative consent standards in their sexual conduct policy.
Funding in the bill would go toward reducing tuition costs for students, expanding higher education opportunities for underrepresented groups, and providing scholarships for nursing assistant training programs in an effort to address staffing shortages.
“All Minnesota families deserve a quality education and the opportunity to thrive and succeed, no matter where they’re born, where they live in our state, or what they look like,” said House Higher Education Committee Chair Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, ahead of a Friday vote.
Under the proposal, which is a compromise between the House and Senate, around 65,000 Minnesota students would receive an increase in grants for tuition, Bernardy said. Other provisions include grants for students with intellectual disabilities, $750,000 for a program supporting parent students, and $3 million in funding for the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth tribal colleges.
The proposal also provides $2 million in additional funding for the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute. An increase would result in 240 more students receiving scholarships at UMD in the next decade, House Democrats said in a statement.
In addition to spending, the higher education bill also includes a provision that would require all higher education institutions to include an affirmative consent standard as part of their sexual conduct policies. Affirmative consent means both parties engaged in sexual activity must clearly express consent to the activity, either by words or clear physical cues.
State law already requires post-secondary institutions to have a written policy on sexual harassment and violence, though the current statute does not specifically mention affirmative consent. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota already include affirmative consent as part of their sexual harassment and assault policies.
The House and Senate reached an agreement on higher education policy and spending in a conference committee, and the House passed the package 68-63 Friday afternoon. The Senate had originally expected to pass its version of the compromise on Saturday, but lawmakers placed the issue on the backburner as they struggled to reach compromise on other major proposals such as K-12 education and public safety.
The Legislature has until midnight Sunday to pass any bills. With lawmakers unable to reach agreement on much, the governor could call a special session to give more time for negotiations on key issues. The state has a projected historic $9.25 billion budget surplus, and it's still unclear how the Legislature will use the extra funds.
Minnesota’s higher education faculty union, the Inter Faculty Organization, said it was disappointed with the outcome of the higher education bill and in a statement urged lawmakers to reject the compromise.
“The target that was agreed to is insulting to the great work of our institutions,” the organization said in a Twitter post. “It is wholly inadequate and needs to be fixed.”