2009 End-of-Session Update

2009 End-of-Session Update

2009 End-of-Session Update — From Mary Cecconi, Executive Director

In This Issue
At the Capitol
What we worked on
Our perspective
End-of-session web resources

“These are all our children and
we will profit by or pay for
whatever they become.”

— James Baldwin

 

What is Happening at the Capitol?
This was an extraordinary session for so many reasons and it appears that we will be tracking the outcome for several more weeks — so stay tuned! There are a variety of provisions in this Omnibus bill that will affect our schools in the next two years. Instead of simply listing them here, we will take the next few updates throughout the summer months to share more information and analysis about their impact on our schools. An official bill summary is available, but if you have questions about specific provisions that you have been tracking, please email me.

 

Three provisions we specifically worked on in the 2009 session:

  1. We are grateful that flat funding was provided for our schools yet flat funding, especially in conjunction with deep school payment shifts, DOES NOT hold schools harmless no matter what the rhetoric is. In the last days of the session the House and Senate held to the provision that shifts were not to be used to balance the budget. However, it appears that payment shifts WILL OCCUR under the current un-allotment scenario. We will need to hold legislators’ feet to the fire when and if they buy back those shifts to remind them that the “buy-back” is a repayment of debt, NOT new funding.

    We also need to make people fully aware that the current lack of funding for our schools DID NOT begin with this economic downturn. It is the direct result of policy decisions made at the state level over the past several years. Funding schools on the backs of other needed services for our children and families is wrong headed and will have grave and adverse effects on our state.

  2. We are very supportive of Chair Carlos Mariani’s provision to reinvigorate the Office of Education Accountability (OEA). When formulating policy and spending priorities, the legislative and executive branches could then draw on the expertise of a non-partisan OEA that is best qualified to assess educational programs and reforms. Such a resource would instill in the public a renewed confidence that our elected leaders and other decision makers are basing their education policy decisions upon sound research and data rather than political ideology.

  3. We are very pleased to see included in the E12 Omnibus bill the Frazee-Vergas provision. If you have been following our updates, you know the story. After five attempts at an operating levy, Frazee-Vergas met success in November 2007. Immediately after, using a provision in current law, opponents of the levy began a petition drive to revoke or rescind the levy. Current law required the question to be placed on the ballot if a petition was signed by 15% of the voters, fewer than 700 people in Frazee-Vergas.

    To remedy this situation, Frazee-Vergas took their concerns to the Capitol where their legislators authored a bill to increase the signator threshold to 30 percent. During the Senate education committee hearing, after the compelling testimony by Frazee-Vergas superintendent Deron Stender, Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) suggested that instead of simply increasing the threshold, they should remove the provision, thereby removing the opportunity for a group to revoke a levy. That is the provision that prevailed and has now been signed into law by the governor.

    Until we are less reliant on levies to fund our schools, this provides protection for all of us who work so hard to pass local levies. In current law we can now be assured that a successful levy will not be pulled out from under us.

In this issue

 

Our perspective of the 2009 Session:
First, all three parties — the Governor, the House and the Senate — saw the need for new revenue as well as cuts to balance the state budget. The House and Senate passed bills to raise taxes to provide ongoing revenue. But it was the Governor who first suggested raising revenue by selling $1 billion in appropriation bonds to balance the budget. This point seems to have been lost in much of the rhetoric being heard today.

Next, early in the session, the House and Senate passed the bill, signed into law by the Governor, requiring a balanced budget for two bienniums. The intent was to look beyond using one-time federal stimulus money to “fix the budget” and provide more stability for the state’s economic future. This didn’t happen. For schools, it is difficult to plan with no idea what resources will be. The per pupil funding formula, the lion’s share of funding for our schools, DOES NOT have any inflation built into the appropriation. The stability of the state’s budget needs to be a priority since legislative action in 2001 made schools more dependent on the state budget for survival.

Third, this session has put a laser focus on education funding as a priority in Minnesota. KSTP commissioned a survey showing 54% of Minnesotan’s say school funding should be increased.

Although we are profoundly disappointed that the New Minnesota Miracle did not survive into law, its chief author and champion, Chair Mindy Greiling, created an enormous amount of heat and light around the concept. In the halls of the Capitol people would say, “Will she ever give up?” She didn’t.

You may hear that there was not enough reform in the formula. The irony is that the funding formula WAS the reform — a reform that provided the resources for all of the new mandates that state and federal legislators have put into play since 1971 when we had the first Minnesota Miracle. One might say the miracle was that the state would fund what it mandated.

Countless times, this new funding formula was debated in committee hearings, editorials, hearings around the state and Capitol events, and it was not until the bitter end that the New Minnesota Miracle was taken out of the final bill. Rumor has it that late one night, toward the end of session, the governor’s Pay for Progress and Qcomp expansion were rolled into the Miracle. The first Minnesota Miracle was first presented in 1967 and did not pass into law until 1971 — after two elections, including one gubernatorial election. It will be back.

Another great disappointment is the rhetoric that surrounds the state budget and, by extension, our children. The pitting of our children against our seniors and all the other vulnerable community members in Minnesota is beyond harmful. In Wednesday’s (May 20) Pioneer Press, Sarah Janacek, referred to as “a Republican” and “publisher of Politics in Minnesota,” was quoted as saying she “thinks that most voters will applaud Pawlenty for making a big bold move” and “to be crass, a lot of these cuts are going to disproportionately impact DFL voters.” Is this going to be the tenor as we move forward? Are the powerful simply going to “cut off” the powerless? It is not naïve to hold our elected officials to a higher standard; indeed one could argue that it is our duty to do so.

In this issue

 

For a flavor of how the session ended, these resources pretty much cover the gambit:

In this issue

 

What Can I Do?
Stay tuned as we continue to analyze provisions of the 2009 E-12 Omnibus bill over the next several months!

Check out all the News and Hot Topics at our website!

In this issue

Childhood has no rewind: Our children cannot go back to grade school and
get another education when times are better and we all have more to give.
When the playground is empty and the children are gone,
either we will have sacrificed for them, or we won’t.”
                                                                           
—from a Parents United poster

Please join Parents United in our efforts to build the political will and community consensus necessary to provide a world class education for all Minnesota students.
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Thank you! You are a valued partner in our work.

We welcome your feedback on this update and our work. Please take a few minutes to let us know what’s helpful to you.

Questions? Email Mary Cecconi

Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Avenue N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391
www.parentsunited.org