Two Days of Humming Hearings (with a Side Order of Heat). The education-related committees have been tackling some bigger items this week and there has been spirited discussion in some cases. On Tuesday morning, the Senate Education Finance Committee took up SF 619, the bill that would strengthen the Teachers of Color Act and increase the number of teachers of color and American Indian teachers in Minnesota. The bill also contains the framework of an ethnic studies curriculum and a grant program to districts to assist school districts in closing the achievement and opportunity gaps that exist in Minnesota by implementing aggressive measures to improve academic outcomes for students of color. Efforts to increase the number of teachers of color have enjoyed bipartisan support over the past few years; efforts to implement an ethnic studies graduation requirement? Not so much. The Governor has also included provisions in his budget and policy recommendations to implement an ethnic studies requirement, so my guess is we will hear a lot of discussion regarding the topic as the session continues. The debate tends to stay polite, but there are instances where the bounds of decorum are stretched and that also will likely remain the case.
On Tuesday afternoon, the House Education Policy Committee heard Representative Edelson’ HF 629, which is a comprehensive approach to promote literacy. Representative Edelson has been tireless in her efforts on this issue since she was elected in 2018 and she has redoubled her efforts with HF 629. There is a mandate in the bill that all districts will have to develop a literacy plan and submit that plan to the state for approval, but there is also a grant mechanism in the bill to assist districts in the process and defray some of the costs related to implementing a comprehensive and effective literacy plan.
Wednesday’s House Education Finance Committee hearing was highlighted by discussion of Representative Matt Norris’ (pictured above on the right) HF 439 that would increase the general education basic formula by 5% in each of the next two years and then tie increases in the basic formula to inflation. Centennial Superintendent (and SEE Legislative Chair) Jeff Holmberg (pictured on the left with Representative Norris) testified in favor of the bill along with a number of other representatives from various education groups. The bill would add $343/PU for the 23-24 school year and an additional $360/PU for the 24-25 school year. There would be increases beyond the basic formula for other general education revenue components that are tied to increases in the basic formula, most notably compensatory education and sparsity revenue. In all, the total cost over the biennium runs more than a billion dollars. It will be interesting to see how the majority parties and the Governor proceed as the session continues. The House has now heard a bill that would dramatically increase the general education basic formula and a bill that would eliminate the special education cross-subsidy. It has also heard a bill that would reduce the English Language cross-subsidy. The Governor balanced these elements in his budget recommendations, but now the ball is in the Legislature’s court and it will be interesting to see which direction they take.
The Senate Education Policy Committee took up the Governor’s policy bill (SF 1311) today. One of the first items of business was to adopt an amendment that excised portions of the bill that would have required parents who homeschool their children to file various reports to the Minnesota Department of Education. As in the case of the discussion in the Senate Education Finance Committee the day before, attention turned to some of the provisions in the bill relating to ethnic studies and the provisions in the bill that concentrate on topics of race and gender. As has been the case all session, those topics seem to create a lot of angst.
The day ended with the House Education Policy Committee tackling several bills. The highest profile bill was Representative Feist’s HF 1547, dealing with changes in how compensatory revenue will be calculated and distributed going forward. The decision to deliver meals free of charge during the pandemic eliminated the need for families to fill out forms to determine eligibility for free-or-reduced price lunch. To remedy the resulting downturn in total compensatory revenue, the state has worked to establish eligibility for Medical Assistance as the new proxy to determine the compensatory revenue calculation. This creates a new problem as eligibility for Medical Assistance does not line up perfectly with eligibility for Free-or-Reduced Price Lunch. Representative Feist has included a set of adjustments in her bill that would work to at least hold districts harmless if the move to the new proxy doesn’t produce the same level of revenue as the previous method of ascertaining eligible student numbers.
House (Wednesday, February 15)