It’s Not Just a Willie Nelson Song. Two days and no blogging? Things got away from me as the Legislature continues at its breakneck pace. If anything, the House and Senate are absolutely not letting time slip away as they push through a number of their high-profile priorities including getting to a net zero-carbon energy grid, women’s reproductive health, the “drivers’ licenses for all” initiative, and Federal tax conformity. Committees are also going full speed ahead. In the education world, it will be interesting to see if any individual bills are sent to the floor or if, as has been the case for the past few decades, almost all of the individual bills will be folded into a single omnibus bill.
Thursday’s education-related committees covered interesting territory. The Senate Education Finance Committee held a joint hearing with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. There were several presentations about how early childhood trauma have an effect on future learning and a presentation of the Governor’s recommendation to create a new Department of Children, Youth, and Families. Many remember a similar effort in the 1990s when a number of state responsibilities were incorporated into the Minnesota Department of Education and the agency was renamed the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning. That framework was adopted, but abandoned a decade later with the various responsibilities being farmed back out to their original agencies and the focus of the Minnesota Department of Education become centered almost exclusively on E-12 programs. This agency appears to be a little different in its proposed framework, but when any state duties and responsibilities are moved to a new or different agency, there will be an adjustment period. I think the point is that there are a set of state programs that aim to address similar issues that probably should be housed under one agency as opposed to being in the different agencies where they currently reside. It will be an interesting discussion.
The House Education Finance Committee heard three bills. The first was HF 456, sponsored by Representative Maria Isa Perez-Vega, which preserves the current 4,000 voluntary pre-kindergarten slots located in a number of Minnesota school districts and proposes expanding the program. The bill is different than what is in the Governor’s budget recommendations, but shares of the goal of expanding early childhood programming. The Governor’s budget recommendations also call for a substantial increase in the Early Childhood Scholarship program, indicating that this issue will receive a lot of attention during the 2023 legislative session. East Central Superintendent Stefanie Youngberg testified in favor of the bill, stressing how this approach has a statewide reach. A second bill, HF 193 sponsored by Representative John Huot, would supply grants to create emergency medical services courses for high school students. There’s a shortage of training EMTs in outstate Minnesota and while this bill wouldn’t necessarily solve that problem, it would reach a number of students and acquaint them with the career opportunities in this and other health-related fields. The last bill before the committee was Representative Frazier’s HF 535 that would allow districts to renew an expiring operating referendum by board authority. This bill is included in SEE’s 2023 legislative platform as a measure that would help districts maintain funding stability. Referendum campaigns can be expensive to run and a vast majority of renewals are successful, which calls into question the need to return to voters for approval every time a levy is slated to expire. There was pushback in committee that allowing board approval would bypass the voters, but it’s always important to remember that school board members are elected and are accountable to the voters. If voters don’t like a board decision, they can vote to remove board members with whom they disagree. Further–and I’m probably the only person who ever points this out–every levy is a discretionary levy and if communities go to Truth in Taxation meetings, they can make a case to have existing levies reduced. That doesn’t happen often and I’m not contending that it should, but there are avenues for communities to have fruitful discussions with their school boards about levy amounts and the purposes those levies serve. Robbinsdale School Board member John Vento and Owatonna Superintendent Dr. Jeff Elstad testified in support of HF 535 and Vento gave a very spirited defense of the bill when some committee members spoke against it. One complaint was that there would be a state cost incurred by allowing board to renew these levies, but with referendum equalization fading from view and lessening every year with increased growth in property wealth, that would not be the case. Always fun to have a little spice in the legislative stew and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more rhetorical fireworks as the session continues.
House–Wednesday, February 1 (Malfunctioning Link Prevented Express Delivery)
House–Thursday, February 2
Senate–Thursday, February 2