Schools for Equity in Education

– Legislative Update

With the funding bill deadline in the rearview mirror, we will see a lot of activity over the next two weeks as funding bills hit the floor.  Funding bills all have to go through the appropriate over-arching finance committee in each body (Ways and Means in the House, Finance in the Senate), so there will likely be logjams in those two panels later this week and into next week as the mad rush to get the bills to the floor will ensue.  On top of that, policy-related conference committees will likely begin their work this week.

The coming week will be shortened due to the observance of Passover which will delay proceedings until Tuesday afternoon.  In talking to the Chairs of the House and Senate Education Policy Committees, it sounds as though there will be a meeting as early as Wednesday to do a side-by-side comparison of the two omnibus policy bills.  The bills are not widely different as the backbone of each bill consists of the Governor’s 2024 education policy initiatives, which for the most part provide clarity to the policy provisions in last year’s omnibus education finance and policy bill.  Both the House and Senate Education Policy Committees added provisions to the Governor’s proposal and that is where the differences in the two bills lie.  Members of this conference committee were named last week.  On the Senate side, the panel is composed of Senate Education Policy Chair Senator Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie), Senator Erin Maye Quade (DFL-Apple Valley), and Senator Jim Abeler (R-Anoka).  The House conferees are House Education Policy Chair Representative Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka), Representative Josiah Hill (DFL-Stillwater), and Representative Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea).

There was promising news on the education funding front last week as the House and Senate omnibus education funding bills contain language governing the distribution of the $35 million in professional development appropriated for the READ Act last session.  The appropriation will be distributed to districts on a per pupil basis at an amount of $39 per pupil with a district minimum of $2,000 (that’s a mighty small district with a student population below approximately 50 students to qualify for the minimum) instead of going through a grant process.  Both bills contain an extension by one year from 2025 to 2026 to complete training for teachers in the early grades.  There is also language allowing for more flexibility in how Literacy Aid can be used.  Stay tuned for details as negotiations on the final omnibus funding package continue.

The tax bills—which are not governed by as strict guidelines as the other funding divisions—are also being constructed.  There does not appear to be much of anything related to school levies at this point.  When I testified in the Senate on Senator Gustafson’s SF 4184—increase in Local Option Revenue and equalizing factors for Local Option Revenue and the Operating Referendum—I pointed out that school-related levies have soared since the elimination of general education levy in 2001, jumping from under $1.0 billion to over $3.5 billion.  There have been aid/levy programs added to the education funding system since that time—most notably Local Option Revenue and the Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue program—but the inability or unwillingness of the decision-makers to commit to providing ongoing increases in all the aid/levy programs has also shifted a big chunk of the revenue amount from aid to levy.  This has clearly put low-property-wealth districts at a distinct disadvantage as the comparative property tax burden for the same amount of revenue is much heavier in low-property-wealth school districts.  Going forward into the next biennium, this is something that will have to be placed front-and-center before the Legislature by low-property wealth school districts and there must be greater coordination between the tax and education committees to make necessary improvements to the array of equalization factors.

Feel free to contact me at 612-220-7459 or if you have any questions or comments.


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