House scrutinizes governor’s school budget bill

/ 19 February 2013 / eunice

Sarah Lemagie, Session Daily, February 19, 2013 – Legislators got a look Tuesday at Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to fund Minnesota schools during a hearing on the House bill that would adopt his plan.

HF630 lays out the details of Dayton’s E-12 education budget, which would increase school spending by $344 million over the next two years. The plan has met with pushback as well as praise from legislators in both parties, including Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), who chairs the House Education Finance Committee and is carrying the bill in the House.

“Does the author agree with all provisions in this bill? No,” Marquart said. However, “Gov. Dayton’s bill certainly moves the state in the right direction,” he said, calling the proposal “a great start.”

Marquart had warm words for the governor’s plans to increase spending on the basic school funding formula, boost aid for special education and create more regional “centers of excellence,” which are designed to help schools adopt research-based strategies for raising student achievement.  He particularly praised Dayton’s proposed investments in early childhood education and all-day kindergarten, saying that they align well with the committee’s goals of raising student achievement and closing gaps between white and minority students. “Those types of programs garner results,” he said.

But legislators have a number of bones to pick with the governor’s proposal. House members on both sides of the aisle have said that repaying “shifted” aid that state lawmakers have borrowed from schools is a priority for them this session. Dayton’s plan wouldn’t accelerate those payments until 2016-2017.

Some lawmakers, particularly those from rural Minnesota, are upset that the governor’s budget doesn’t do more to address funding disparities between individual school districts.

“I would say that, overall, this budget package does not create any huge changes in terms of distribution of dollars targeted to low-revenue districts,” said Tom Melcher, the Education Department’s school finance director.

Marquart and others have voiced concern about the future of what the state calls extended time revenue, which supports summer school and other programs in which students spend extra time in school. The governor’s budget would roll that revenue into a different school funding formula. State officials say the move would give local school boards more flexibility with the money, but some lawmakers are worried that valuable programs will end up getting cut as a result.

The committee’s minority lead, Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine), asked how closely state education officials have analyzed the impacts of sequestration – the across-the-board federal budget cuts that will go into effect March 1 if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement to avert them.

State officials haven’t studied that question specifically, but they could, Melcher said.

“It’s something we need to look at,” Woodard said.

The committee plans to continue discussion of HF630 on Thursday. A companion bill, SF453, is sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood). It has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.