With the first policy committee deadline just three weeks away (March 25), the number of bills being heard at the Legislature in the various education-related committees is increasing with a number of prominent bills receivng attention. The tax committee deadine is April 8, giving that committee (along with the Ways and Means and Capital Investment Committees) extra time to construct their bills. With the increased projected (had to put that in bold), there is going to be a lot of discussion around both temporary and permanent tax cuts, so the tax bill will be the focus of a lot of discussion (some of it likely intense). SEE is urging legislators in both the House and Senate to use the tax bill to promote greater equalization of education tax levies and, along with AMSD and MREA, we are having success in promoting that approach.
Speaking of the comprehensive equalization bill (HF 3224/SF 3554), the bill has now been introduced in the Senate with Seantor Jason Rarick as cheif author. The bill will be heard in the House Education Finance Committee on Thursday, March 10 (see schedule bar at right-hand margin on committee page). The hearing is virtual so you can tune in online and catch the discussion. I urge everyone to contact their legislators and encourage them to support this crucially-important piece of legislation for low-property wealth school districts throughout the state. The bill as currently constructed would constitute the largest commitment to school levy equalization since the referendum and debt service programs were implemented in 1991 and the local option revenue funding category was created in 2013. There have been significant steps in levy equalization over the past three decades, but the provisions of HF 3224/SF 3554 would expand on those improvements and preserve them by indexing the equalization factors to statewide growth in property values. Currently, given the fact that the equalizing factors are a constant value, state aid decreases as property value grows. Indexing the equalizing factor will maintain aid/levy ratios for districts and provide greater transparency in discussions between districts and taxpayers.
In other legislative news, the Senate heard SF 3380 (Chamberlain) on Wednesday, March 2. At this juncture in the 2020 session, it appears likely that in the same vein as last session, the Governor’s and House’s education budget proposals will be larger than the Senate’s. But, even with rhetoric from some quarters that there will be no spending coming from the Senate beyond what was passed in 2021, I believe there a number of areas where the Senate will propose spending increases. A bill promoting an additional $30 million for the LETRS literacy professional development program have been heard in the Senate and has considerable traction. I think that SF 3380, that adds $8 per pupil unit to school districts’ safe schools revenue, an additional $3 per pupil unit for intermediate districts and cooperatives, and provides safe schools revenue for private schools is also a measure that may emerge in the Senate buget package. Lastly, there does seem to be some positive sentiment in both legislsative houses and the Governor to provide some relief on the special education cross-subsidy. Both the Governor and the House committed significant dollars to that project in 2021, but the final omnibus bill directed revenue toward the general education basic amount instead. There’s always a balance and there are distributional issues when weighing the general education basic formula against the special education cross-subsidy, but there is no denying that the special education cr0ss-subsidy has been a major funding challenge for districts over the past few decades and it moves considerable revenue from districts’ general funds to pay for costs not covered by the special education formula. So, as the case with everything else at this point during the 2022 legislative session, it’s a work in progress.
The Senate did pass two bills off the floor on Thursday relating to the majority caucus’ collection of bills they are promoting as a parent’s bill of rights. SF 2725 chief-authored by Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka would require school districts to inform parents of the district’s curriculum review process without cost to the parent and would require the district’s policy to be published in the district handbook. It passed on a 37-30 vote. Senator Roger Chamberlain’s SF 2729, which would prohibit districts from requiring individuals testifying at school board meetings from providing their exact street address as part of their testimony on a vote of 67-0. These measures will probably not be enacted by the House, but they will probably surface in the discussion of the House’s omnibus education policy bill and perhaps offered as amendments that will likely be rejected.
Event Honoring Senator David Tomassoni, Lastly, I wanted to mention the event honoring retiring State Senator David Tomassoni that was held on Tuesday night. As many of you know, Senator Tomassoni has been stricken with ALS and the disease has led to his decision to not seek re-election. It was great–and heartening–to see a bipartisan event to enthusiastically honor Senator Tomassoni,who has been a stalwart legislator for his district and the state throughout his career and I wanted to link the web page for Never Surrender and urge you to donate to this worthy cause. There are also two bills that have been introduced HF 3603 (Lislegard)/SF 3372 (Tomassoni) and HF 3604 (Lislegard)/SF 3310 (Tomassoni) that will provide funding for research and ALS care. Watch these bills and please support ALS research.