New House higher ed chair looks to advocate for UMN in upcoming session

Rep. Connie Bernardy said her priorities include college affordability and stopping tuition increases.

Connie Bernardy speaks about investing in colleges and creating access for affordable education at the State Office Building on Friday, Nov. 29.

Jasmin Kemp

Connie Bernardy speaks about investing in colleges and creating access for affordable education at the State Office Building on Friday, Nov. 29.

Isabella Murray

Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, will look to use her experience in education funding to lead the newly DFL-controlled House higher education committee.   

Bernardy ran for the state House of Representatives after advocating for state K-12 funding in the early 2000s. Now, Bernardy says she’s ready to bring the same kind of vigor for education to raise funds in her new role as committee chair. 

“I don’t want to be shrinking the opportunities that students have in Minnesota. We need to look to the future and make sure we invest in our higher education,” Bernardy said.

The University of Minnesota alumna, entering her seventh non-consecutive term, has served on the higher education committee since her return to the Capitol in 2012. Bernardy continues to work in public works and parks and recreation outside the Legislature.  

Bernardy said her priorities for the upcoming session lie in stopping tuition increases while furthering affordability efforts and support for universities. 

“We have a statute that says the state of Minnesota is committed to paying two thirds of a student’s education, and one third is paid for by the students,” Bernardy said. “We have to get back to the state’s commitment.”

This session, Bernardy said she expects the University of Minnesota will fare well with new DFL leadership in the House. 

“[Higher education] will be an important part of our budget, because it is a core value,” Bernardy said. “You create budgets around what you value, and I’m confident in the DFL we value education.”

The Legislature provided $54.62 million of the University’s $147.2 million request during the 2017 legislative session — the last time the University’s budget was allocated. Republicans controlled both the House and Senate at the time.

This year, the University requested $87 million. The House higher education committee, along with the Republican-controlled Senate, will put forward higher education funding proposals before they are taken up by the Legislature. 

Former House Higher education chair Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls said he doesn’t anticipate significant changes to the committee with Bernardy’s impending leadership. 

“It will be the same issues that we’ve dealt with primarily in the past. Funding higher [education] as much as we can, and I assume that will be what mainly is discussed,” Nornes said. 

Bernardy said she’s committed to securing the most funding she can for the University, the Minnesota State system and the Minnesota State Grant program.  She said the state’s total budget needs to allot enough higher education funding to support all three programs. 

“We’re all in this together. And there’s different needs for the different systems … that’s my goal … to get the pie as big as possible. And that takes public support,” she said.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who served as the higher education committee chair the last time the house was DFL-controlled, said the the upcoming session will be influenced not only by party control but by individual members. 

Committee assignments are still pending along with Senate higher education leadership and committee members.

Nornes said the landscape of higher education is changing, forcing policy makers to focus less on funding amounts and more on how to effectively use state money.

“Higher education is under a lot of pressure to be more creative, nimble, efficient, and it’s very competitive. It requires people to be smarter and more adaptable and open to new ideas. I think that’s what we’re going to hear from the committee,” Nornes said. “It’s a time for opportunity.”