On the Road Again (But Not with Willie)
On the Road Again! I hit Byron early last week and bookended the week with a visit to Kasson-Mantorville high school on Friday to attend the annual Southeast Service Cooperative Legislative Breakfast. Steve Sallee and staff always put on a great event that is consistently attended by legislators of both parties. Added bonus is that this year’s emcee was Kasson-Mantorville Superintendent Mark Matuska who did a great job giving legislators to introduce themselves and then moving smoothly through the agenda. The panelists went through the primary issues that are facing all school districts this year–the need for an increase in the general education basic formula, the need to reduce the special education cross-subsidy, the promotion of greater tax fairness through increased equalization for the operating referendum and debt service programs–and they did an excellent job. Special props to Goodhue County Education District Director Cherie Johnson who gave a very comprehensive depicition of the genesis of the cross-subsidy and how it has grown over the past two decades. It was a very compelling case urging legislators to look at all the routes by which the cross-subsidy could be addressed. It was all quite well done.
Free Meals Bill Passes House. On a party-line vote of 70-58, the House passed HF 5 on Thursday night. HF 5 would provide free breakfast and lunch to all Minnesota public school students (and some parochial school student) beginning next year. The total cost of the bill over the coming biennium is an estimated $387 million and the provision was included in the Governor’s budget recommendations for the E-12 system. Proponents argue that meals are a needed component in the system to ensure that those students who aren’t getting sufficient nutrition are afforded that opportunity and that opeing up free meals for all avoids the practice of lunch-shaming or requiring school district staff to chase down students whose parents have delinquent accounts. Opponents argue that a benefit is being provided to parents who can easily, and are currently, paying for their children’s meals and that it would be better to either put this revenue on the basic formula and allow districts to address this as they see fit or target the appropriation to low-and-moderate income parents. That was the gist of an amendment offered by the Republicans on the House floor, but the amendment was defeated. There are multiple ways to look at the issue and, at least to me, this mimics the national approach on the discussion over whether to means-test Social Security. A way to promote broad appeal for a program is to provide everyone access to it. Once you start to slice off eligibility, public support may well dwindle. I’m not saying this is a perfect comparison, but there is no doubt that families that could afford to pay for school meals will now be receiving a benefit from the government, much in the same way that their childcare costs went down with the passage of all-day kindergarten.
Something not talked about a lot in all of this is that it appears that the majority caucus is intent on passing major pieces of legislation separately this session as opposed to folding everything into a set of large (s0metimes gargantuan) omnibus funding bills at the end of the session. We have already seen that with the tax conformity bill, but women’s reproductive health bill, and the carbon-neutral by 2040 energy bill and now we are seeing that with the free school meals bill. The unemployment insurance bill that proposes to extend benefits to “between term” employees like paraprofessionals and bus drivers will also likely travel on its own. One can only spend a dollar once and so the free meals effort will likely make a dent in the education spending targets we will see in early March.
Bill Introductions (They are Slowing Down a Bit)
House (Thursday, February 9)
HF 1502–Creates Ethnic Studies Curriculum Requirement
HF 1547–Modifies In-District Distribution of Compensatory Revenue by Requiring More Revenue Be Tied Directly to Site Where it was Generated
HF 1572–Creates Licensed School Nurse Position at the Minnesota Department of Education
Senate (Thursday, February 9)
SF 1460–Appropriates Money to Grant Program Promoting Executive Functioning
SF 1462–Strikes Obsolete Language from PELSB Board Administration Duties
SF 1468–Requires Mental Health Screenings and Creates Mental Health Supports Revenue
SF 1469–Provides Grant to the ActiveEds Walkabout Program
SF 1473–Removes Barriers to Obtaining Teachers License
SF 1476–Creates Ethnic Studies Curriculum Requirement
SF 1477–Makes Changes to Tiered Licensure System
SF 1495–Prohibits Teaching of Racist or Sexist Concepts