One of the complicating factors this year is that the Legislature has tackled a lot of issues and passed a number of very weighty bills—free school meals, legalization of recreational marijuana, reproductive right—that have consumed a lot of time on the floor. That won’t change tomorrow as the Senate is planning to take up the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill that was passed by the House last week.
The omnibus Education Finance and Policy bill will be meeting again this morning (Monday) at 8:30 AM and it will be interesting to see how much work they have gotten done over the weekend. As reported last week, the conference committee got the ball rolling by adopting the provisions in both bills that are identical and do not have funding implications. The next step up will be to look at provisions that have the same intent but also have language differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill that need to be worked through. Sometimes these language differences are stylistic, but they can also contain differences in degree of how the policy will be applied or administered and those provisions have to be negotiated.
After the policy items have been worked out, attention will turn to funding and this is where things always become more complicated. Even though both sides have the same budget target of $2.2 billion and have largely funded the same initiatives at a level, there are different priorities within the bills as to where the money will be spent and balancing these interests is always challenging and they will be again this year even with the historic budget target.
I should also mention that the unemployment insurance provision that requires districts to provide unemployment insurance for between-term workers is in the bill and, as currently constructed, school district contributions would come out of the general fund dollars schools will be receiving as a result of the bill. As a refresher, the Governor’s budget recommendations paid for districts’ unemployment insurance contributions with a separate line-item while both legislative versions of the bill have rolled that line-item into other purposes. Districts would still have revenue to cover the required contributions for the expanded access to Unemployment Insurance, but the legislative method is less transparent than the Governor’s approach. It is still crucial for districts to voice their concerns on this issue with their local legislators. The issue remains complicated and having a dedicated funding stream would be extremely helpful.
Another bill that districts must weigh in on is the public employee labor relations law that will be going into conference committee by midweek. There were several changes made in the Senate that are not in the House bill that would limit the scope of teacher negotiations. The House bill would allow bargaining over class-size, e-learning days, and the inherent managerial rights of school boards. Please contact your local legislators and tell them to support the Senate position. I will provide you with the names of the conferees when they become available.
Check the blog this week for updates. There may be more than one per day and I will announce new blog entries through my Twitter feed @Lundellleg
Combined Legislative Meetings held this week at the Capitol.