Schools for Equity in Education

– Legislative Update

Another week is in the books for the 2023 Legislative Session and a pattern or two is being established.

Bill introductions are slowing a bit, but committees are still moving along at a rapid pace with full agendas almost every time they convene. The first pattern appears to be the willingness on the part of the majority to pass major pieces of legislation early and pass them as stand-alone bills instead of folding them into larger multi-purpose omnibus bills.

The latest of these bills is HF 5, the bill that would provide free breakfasts and lunches to all public school students in both traditional and charter settings and a number of students in parochial schools. The bill passed the full House of Representatives on a party-line vote of 70-58 after an amendment that would have increased the income eligibility guidelines for free-or-reduced price lunch was defeated. The push for expanded school meals policy has been building over the past decade, first as concentration on stopping the practice of lunch-shaming for students whose food service accounts are delinquent and slowly building to the policy that the House passed last Thursday evening. The cost of the program will be almost $400 million over the biennium and the measure was included in the Governor’s budget recommendations. There will likely be a dent in the E-12 target going forward as—consistent with the saying “you can only spend a dollar once”—but, as stated above, the Legislature seems to be following a different path this year and passing pieces of major legislation individually.

Next in line for this approach will likely be HF 20, the bill that would make “between-term” education employees (typically bus drivers and paraprofessionals) eligible for unemployment during their down time between school years. Like the school meals initiative, HF 20 is contained in the Governor’s budget, although it is not in the Governor’s E-12 budget recommendations.

One of the more interesting bills heard this past week would provide $7.5 million to the Building Assets, Achieving Results (BARR) program to be spread over the next four years to implement the program in 30 additional schools. The program has been successful in creating vibrant and effective instructional settings that have produced higher levels of academic achievement. The Governor also has money in his budget recommendations to expand the number of schools using the BARR model, but it is not as extensive as SF 494/HF 806. The bill was heard in both the House and Senate this past week and the witnesses were very effective in stating their case regarding the value of the program.

The Senate Education Finance Committee also heard SF 502, which would provide paid training for paraprofessionals. As in earlier versions of the bill, the policy is paid for with a state appropriation that would cover the cost. In my informal canvassing of districts, there is little concern about the policy if it is paid for seeing that most districts are currently providing the type of training outlined in the bill. There is some concern about having to file a report that guarantees the training has been provided.

There is good news on the equalization front this week, as both the operating levy and debt service levy equalization bills were introduced. The operating referendum equalization bill is HF 1271 authored by Representative Youakim and the debt service equalization bill is HF 1396 authored by Representative Hemmingsen-Jaeger. It’s a first step and I am relatively sure we will be given hearings on the bill. The challenge will be how to fit these policies—that have a combined cost in the neighborhood of $150 million per year–into legislative targets seeing that they were not included in the Governor’s budget recommendations. It is a little disappointing that the Governor did not include them, seeing that he did recommend a lesser, but still substantial, amount for equalization of the local option revenue, operating referendum, and debt service program in his 2021 budget. In a year when the state budget situation looks very robust, bringing greater property tax fairness to the education funding system would be welcome.

A busy week is in the offing and I have been working to keep the blog up-to-date and providing reports on bill introductions and committee hearings. I hope you find the entries helpful. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have.


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