The biggest problem right now is how to pay for the costs associated with the Unemployment Insurance contributions districts will have to pay starting this summer for “between-term” employees. The Governor included money in his supplemental budget as a separate line-item in his budget recommendations, but both the Senate and House have incorporated those dollars—approximately $130 million—into other purposes in their bill. The money is still there, whether it’s in the basic formula or proposed reductions in the special education and English learner cross-subsidies, or other programs, but it is not handled as transparently as it is with the Governor’s approach. Use of the unemployment levy to pay for these costs is prohibited in both bills. Allowing that would likely result in a levy increase of over $100 million statewide and there is no appetite at the Legislature for a property tax increase of any magnitude and certainly not one as significant as that.
Funding aside, the immediate issue is that the program would be begin this summer, not next summer as originally proposed in the budget recommendations the Governor released in January. The decision to accelerate implementation causes a problem beyond funding. No one knows whether paraprofessionals and bus drivers slated to work this summer will opt for unemployment instead. That could disrupt summer programs, which is especially important in extended-year and programs for students with IEPs. It would be helpful to delay this a year to give districts a better idea of how to implement summer school given the proposed changes to Unemployment Insurance.
The other big unknown for school districts is an item that is traveling outside the education budget and that is the issue of Paid Family and Medical Leave. There are a number of smaller mandates that are being proposed, but efforts have been made on the part of the education committees to provide line-item funding for those asks. Neither the Unemployment Insurance or Paid Family and Medical Leave have that same direct funding line against which districts can account for costs, which will eat into the historic—and they will be historic—increases in funding that will be coming school districts’ way.
Another bill that is moving outside of the education realm is the public bargaining bill and in it, there have been proposals that would allow bargaining on a wide range of school issues—particularly class-size—that would prove troublesome for school districts. An amendment was offered—and passed—in the Senate to remove language that would have expanded negotiations to include terms and conditions of employment, which is very welcome. The language remains in the House bill and it important for the school community to work on maintaining the Senate position as the public employment negotiations bill continues through the process.
It is important now to contact both your local legislators and the members of the conference committee with your concerns. Here are some of the items to stress:
- Thank the legislators for making an historic investment in public education.
- Mention the challenges that will be faced with the implementation of the changes to the Unemployment Insurance program and how it may disrupt your summer school program. Further, stress the need to give districts a long-term solution for funding the program so that the resources necessary to maintain this program do not come out of the classroom.
- Urge legislators to resist efforts to bring policy items into school district employee negotiations.
I urge everyone to be firm, yet polite, when making your concerns known. This is going to be an historic year in terms of education funding, but that doesn’t mean the final bill will be free of challenges.
Here are the Senate and House conferees on the omnibus education funding bill:
Senator Mary Kunesh
Senator Steve Cwodzinski
Senator Erin Maye Quade
Senator Heather Gustafson
Senator Zach Duckworth
Representative Cheryl Youakim
Representative Laurie Pryor
Representative Mary Francis Clardy
Representative Josiah Hill
Representative Ron Kresha
Let me know if you have any questions or comments at 612-220-7459 or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Combined Legislative Meetings held this week at the Capitol.