Despite the cold winters, Minnesotans are known for their willingness to get active outdoors year round. Now kids in Minnesota will have more paths to walk and ride on their way to school.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation on May 20 that included $1 million in bond funding exclusively for SRTS infrastructure programs. In addition, the governor signed legislation that secured $250,000 for SRTS non-infrastructure programs through the budget process.
The funding comes after an extensive advocacy effort by the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition (MHKC). Made up of more than 25 organizations, MHK advocates for policies that promote healthy eating and physical activity among Minnesota’s children.
Over the last several years, MHKC and their partners in the Minnesota Safe Routes to School coalition have advanced both programs and policies to increase physical activity before and after school, including clarifying liability for shared use agreements, creating a state Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program and securing funding from the Department of Transportation.
“This literally and metaphorically paves the way for the health of kids across our state. Our kids deserve more than we will spend this year, but we’re pleased with the progress and the commitment to raise the bar on funding each year,” said Rachel Callanan, a MHKC spokesperson. “Critical coalition partners, some of whom work directly with underserved communities, helped make this funding for safe routes to school a reality, such as the YMCA State Alliance, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, and BLEND--CentraCare Health Foundation.”
The coalition has identified a current unmet need of more than $6 million in requests to ensure adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, signage and other infrastructure is in place to help children walk or bike safely to school each day. With hundreds of schools and communities engaged in planning for SRTS through existing federal grants, the coalition anticipates that the need will continue to grow. These estimates underscore the need to secure additional funding in the future for Safe Routes to School.
The MFHK Coalition succeeded in securing the funding by.working with chairs of both transportation and capital investment committees to make SRTS a priority when the state’s borrowing for capital investment was supplemented with some of the state’s surplus funds.
Additionally, $250,000 in the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill provided an increase to the base funding for non-infrastructure SRTS purposes (e.g., planning and training). This was great news, as advocates already had secured a $250,000 annual base appropriation during the 2013 legislative session.
This means there will be an ongoing line item in the budget through future years totaling $500,000 each year.