Schools for Equity in Education

– Legislative Update

Hectic Pace Continues.

Hectic Pace Continues.  As I’ve been writing on the blog, the pace of this session is unlike any other I have seen during my tenure working around the Legislature.  Part of that is due to the massive budget surplus and another contributor is the fact that one party controls both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s office.  Divided government often—but not always—limits the breadth of what can be accomplished during a legislative session.  That has become even more apparent in times of political polarization when it becomes even more difficult to forge meaningful compromises from widely divergent views.  With one party in control of all the levers of government, pent up demand for a number of programs that have been unable to find traction or navigate a way to compromise between the House, Senate, and Governor’s Office has surfaced and that’s one of the reasons the House has surpassed 1,000 bill introductions and the Senate will surpass the 1 K mark this week.

Things will not be slowing down any time soon.  Seemingly every committee has a full agenda for each of its meetings and companion bills are moving simultaneously in their respective House and Senate committees.  We may see individual funding and policy bills hitting the floors of the House and Senate as opposed to seeing caucus leadership rolling almost all bills into omnibus funding and policy bills.  It all remains to be seen, but it certainly has been an interesting start to this session.

Looking Back at the Week That Was.  As stated above, this year has seen more companion bills moving at relatively the same pace in each body with more regularity than what has been common in my experience.  Of course, having single-party control makes priorities and coordination of the bills that advance those priorities much easier.  Last week, we witnessed hearings on non-exclusionary discipline that aims to reduce suspensions and other disciplinary measures that have been seen as being used preponderantly against students of color and students with disabilities in both the House and Senate Education Policy Committees and I fully expect much of SF 183/HF 271 to be part of the omnibus education policy bill that will be constructed as the session continues.  HF 5/SF 123—which calls for universal free school meals—was also heard in both the House and Senate Education Finance Committees and that policy—also in the Governor’s budget—will likely be a part of the omnibus Education Finance Bill.  Senator Matt Kleins’s SF 100, which would provide an increase in referendum equalization for the South St. Paul school district was also heard.  I was disappointed to see that the Governor did not include any equalization in his budget recommendations (more on that later), but Senator Klein’s bill produced healthy discussion of the issue by the committee so it may serve as a springboard to pushing things forward.

As stated above, the Governor released his budget on Tuesday and it is a massive document that addresses a wide range of education priorities.  The highlights are:

·        A 4% increase in the basic formula next year and a 2% increase the year after with the formula tied to inflation after that point.

·        A 50% reduction in the special education cross-subsidy on an on-going basis.

·        An increase in the English Language formula.

·        Universal free meals for students.

·        Increased Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue (all aid).

·        Unemployment Insurance for “Between-Term” Workers Funded by the State.

·        Maintenance of current Voluntary pre-Kindergarten programs and expansion with mixed delivery model.

·        Increased early childhood scholarships.

·        Increased funding for literacy with BOLD literacy framework proposed last session.

·        Funding for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support.

·        Creation of new agency with jurisdiction over early childhood and family education and assistance programs.

That’s more than a taste of what is in the Governor’s budget and I am sure there will be other policy items that will be introduced along with the financial items in the package.  Language related to these provisions has not been released yet and it will be interesting to see how it all fits together.  Here is a link to the document used by the Minnesota Department of Education in its presentation to the House Education Finance Committee last Thursday:  One Minnesota Budget for Education

Looking Ahead.  It’s going to be another full week of hearings and bill introductions.  One bill of interest to SEE is SF 613 (Cwodzinski)/HF 535 (Frazier) that would allows school boards to renew operating levies by board vote.  The student support personnel aid (also in the Governor’s budget at a lower amount) will also be heard in the House Education Finance Committee after being heard last week in the Senate Education Finance Committee.  The House Education Finance Committee will also be hearing Representative Maria Isa Perez-Vega’s HF 456 that preserves the current voluntary pre-Kindergarten programs in the state and expands them further.  As you can see, while it’s not lock-step with the Governor’s priorities or approaches to those priorities, the Legislature and the Administration are looking in the same direction on a variety of issues.

A Bill to Watch.  While it may be too early to dismiss any chance of progress with referendum and debt service equalization this session, it is important to look at other avenues for tax fairness and revenue generation with this increased tax fairness.  Take a look at SF 866 (Westlin)/HF 879 (Youakim).  This bill would increase the equalization factor on the entirety of the local option revenue stream to the $880,000/PU of referendum market value that currently is applied to only the first $300/PU of that program.  The property tax savings from the increase in the equalization factor would then be converted into an increase of $116/PU from the current $724/PU to $840/PU.  In some instances, a district could see a revenue increase and  a property tax reduction.  As drafted, the bill would take effect next year with the increase in local option revenue being all aid for one year (as levies for the 2023-2024 school year have already been set).  While the bill wouldn’t solve the disparity gap both in terms of revenue per pupil unit and the tax effort needed to generate revenue through the operating and debt service levies, it would provide revenue that would be helpful, especially to those districts that have difficulty passing operating levies.


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