Schools for Equity in Education

– Legislative Update

With the first committee deadline quickly approaching, legislative committees are meeting wall-to-wall trying to get as many bills heard as possible.

It’s a lesson not laid out in the Civics 101 text, but most legislatures require bills to be heard by a certain date if they are to survive throughout the legislative session. In Minnesota in 2023, the first deadline is Friday, March 10, and a policy bill must be clear all the pertinent policy committees in at least one body by that date. Companion bills in the other legislative house for bills that have met the first deadline on the other side of the street can be heard until March 24. That takes care of the policy bills. Funding bills must be out of their funding division by April 4 this year. Don’t worry, this won’t be on the final.
As a result, we are hearing a variety of bills, many of which will make the next step in the process and some of which will cross the finish line in May. It is difficult to determine which initiatives that will make it all the way through and it’s hard to tell how much difference there will be between the Senate and House bills as they take shape. In other words, there are a lot of moving parts.
Even with all of the various high-profile policy proposals surrounding curriculum, school discipline, and a variety of bargaining policies, the focus this session is going to be on funding and the last week featured a couple of bills that will likely be included in both the House and Senate omnibus funding bills albeit likely in different forms. The Senate Education Finance Committee heard Senator Heather Gustafson’s SF448, a bill that would increase the general education basic formula by 5% in each year of the biennium and tie future increases to the rate of inflation. The total cost of that bill in this biennium is $1.1 billion for the coming biennium and an additional $2.0 billion in the following biennium. The House heard the companion to SF448—Representative Matt Norris’ HF 439—earlier in the session. Depending on what other funding priorities exist in each body, I get the feeling that the proposed formula increase will be the centerpiece of this year’s funding bill. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a commitment to other funding streams—most notably special education—but the basic formula may likely be the highest priority.
One bill that has been heard in both Houses and is also in the Governor’s budget is the effort to make the existing 4,000 voluntary pre-Kindergarten slots and increase that number for newly-qualifying districts. East Central superintendent Stefanie Youngberg has testified in two House committees and a Senate committee outlining the importance of the program in the East Central district and how it has made a difference both academically and socially for young learners.
The big news last week was the release of the February budget forecast. The parameters constructed from the estimated revenue available in that report will dictate the magnitude of the budget bills across all spending areas throughout the remainder of the session. The total revenue available did not change much from the November forecast, but there was a bit of a difference in that the one-time money tied to the current biennium increased and the ongoing revenue decreased a bit once inflation is factored into the equation. There’s no question that the amount of revenue available is going to allow the Governor and Legislature to put together ambitious spending packages and also provide tax cuts. I am sounding like a broken record (anyone else here remembers 33 1/3 rpm albums?), but it is really difficult to discern how all of it will fit together.
So say tuned. Policy first and then funding and it’s going to be a wild ride.


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