This Week at the Capitol – February 27-March 2, 2012
On Wednesday the state’s February budget forecast, a $323 million surplus, was announced. The state’s last forecast, in November, showed an $800+ million surplus that by law had to refill the state’s reserves, which had been depleted to balance the state budget. Five million dollars of this week’s forecast must do the same thing, but the remainder must be used to begin paying back schools. So, instead of a 60/40 shift, schools will now be paid on a 64.3/35.7 shift (the percentage of what is paid to schools in the current school year and what is delayed a year). While this is good news, in the next budget cycle we will once again be dealing with a budget deficit of $1.1 billion, with another $2.4 billion in IOUs to schools. Whoever is elected in November will need to balance this next biennium’s budget along with Governor Dayton.
Integration Aid Resolution in limbo
After years of fighting over the use and purpose of integration aid, a program begun in the mid-1990s, a coup occurred: a bi-partisan final report was produced. As required by law, the Integration Aid Task Force provided this Final Report on February 15 (MPR Report).
Yet, the fate of integration aid is now in limbo.
It appears that legislators are waiting for the Minnesota Department of Education to craft a legislative proposal for the aid. While the co-chair of the task force has yet to be asked to testify on the recommendations of the Task Force, the Senate Education committee heard testimony from one dissenting member of the Task Force, Katherine Kersten, expressing her own opinions on integration (Audio).
The Perennial Voucher Bill
Every year that I can remember a bill has been introduced supporting vouchers. This year’s version, HF273 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine), adds substantial tax breaks for corporations that want to donate up to $20 million to private and religious schools, as well as increasing a family credit program for tuition.
The Minnesota State Constitution clearly states:
Article 13, Sec. 2. PROHIBITION AS TO AIDING SECTARIAN SCHOOL. In no case shall any public money or property be appropriated or used for the support of schools wherein the distinctive doctrines, creeds or tenets of any particular Christian or other religious sect are promulgated or taught.
However, the Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional dollars going to parents allowing them to make the choice of their child’s education. Dr. Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas, detailed his research on the advantages of vouchers.
The public policy question before this legislature is state support for private schools – schools that may have religious affiliation, the ability to selectively admit and dismiss students, and no requirement to comply with multiple state statutes. Proponents make the case that we have scholarship programs for early childhood and college students – why would this be different?
One testifier opposing vouchers made an interesting observation. He said for all the years voucher proposals have come forward, the main argument of proponents has been that voucher students attending private schools did better than their counterparts in public schools. Multiple studies have called that into question and the argument has shifted. Now the reason “vouchers are good” is that it increases parent empowerment and also that vouchers will create “better public schools because of competition.” He then went on to list the myriad school choice opportunities Minnesota offers. Additional Testimony from St. Paul Public Schools.
Kudos to Chair Erickson
In last week’s update, we referenced a bill that passed through Education Finance so quickly it caused objection from DFL lead Rep. Greiling. On the House floor this week, the author asked that it be recalled and re-referred to the Education Reform committee; many questions remained as to cost, implementation and intent of the bill. Chair Erickson then heard it in committee, admitting that the bill had flown out of Education Finance and that several DFL members had not had their questions answered. Rep. Erickson made it clear that they wanted a good bill. Now that minority members could continue questioning the cost of this bill, it became apparent that further fiscal discussion was needed; kudos to Chair Erickson for calling the vote to re-refer HF2127 to Education Finance. While this may seem convoluted, it is a good thing to allow the process to play out and now the bill has the opportunity to be re-heard in Chair Garofalo’s committee.
What’s happening with LIFO?
The “Last in-First Out” bill, HF1870, has passed through both the Senate and the House but in the process has been amended. It appears to be heading for a conference committee.
Bills to watch
- Students at low-performing schools enrollment options established, HF273 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine)
- Online learning parameters modified, graduation requirements modified, and digital learning provided, HF2127 (Myhra-R-Burnsville)
- School district prone restraint usage extension and data collection and reporting requirements, SF1917 (Wolf-R-Spring lake Park); There are very differing opinions about this bill. Many parents believe that prone restraint is dangerous. Proponents believe that it is necessary to keep students and teachers safe.
More Bills to Watch
- Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee, HF2244 (O’Driscoll-R-Sartell) This legislation is very interesting and proponents make a strong case that changing the system of managing Minnesota’s school trust lands can significantly increase potential funding for schools.
- School district operating referenda required to be held at the general election in even-numbered years, HF1858 (Quam-R-Byron) Sitting at the will of the Chair, K-12 Education Finance.
- Public school employees prohibited from using public funds and resources to advocate to pass, elect, or defeat a political candidate, ballot question, or pending legislation, HF329 (Bills-R-Rosemount) In its current form, this bill simply codifies a long-standing Attorney General’s opinion that has been used as a filter for these activities. If it stays in this form, this bill does not appear to impact local parent legislative action committees, but it will be one to closely watch.
- Teacher contract qualified economic offer provided, HF269 (Downey-R-Edina) If a local school district offers a contract proposal that is in line with what the state has added to the per pupil formula, teachers are precluded from striking. This is another provision that was in the vetoed 2011 K12 Omnibus bill. Called the QEO, or Qualified Economic Offer, the idea was first presented in the late 1990s by former Rep. Phil Krinkie. It was law in Wisconsin beginning in 1993 and has since been repealed. As a point of fact, nothing in current law precludes school boards from making these offers. Testifying in favor of the bill were the Minnesota Business Partnership (MBP) and the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA). The MBP stated they wanted “keeping jobs to be the priority.” MSBA said they wanted to “rebalance the bargaining table.”
- Federal adequate yearly progress measurements specified, and lowest performing elementary and high schools required to submit to a turnaround strategy, HF2180 (Garofalo-R-Farmington) This bill is in response to Chair Garofalo’s disagreement with the Minnesota Department of Education’s wavier application, which was developed in the fall, negotiated and accepted by the United States Department of Education. I’m not sure how passage of this law would impact that process already in place. This bill currently has no Senate companion.
Click here for a complete list of education bills heard so far this session.
As part of our ongoing information sharing about states that have adopted supermajority amendments, Minnesota Budget Project draws attention to a new report by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Six Reasons Why Supermajority Requirements to Raise Taxes Are a Bad Idea. The report found that “there was no evidence that supermajority states had lower taxes or better tax policy than states without supermajority requirements.”
Major findings of the report:
There’s no evidence that supermajority requirements improve a state’s economy. In fact, the report finds that “states with supermajority restrictions have suffered more in this recession than other states.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that from the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through November 2011:
- The seven states with broad, constitutional supermajority restrictions have lost 6.7 percent of their jobs, while states with no supermajority restrictions have lost 3.4 percent.
- Six of the seven states with strict supermajority requirements have experienced above-average job declines.
- The two states with the deepest job losses — Arizona and Nevada — both have broad, constitutional supermajority restrictions. Nevada has lost 13 percent of its jobs since the recession started and Arizona has lost nearly 10 percent. — Minnesota Budget Project
A Look Ahead
On Monday afternoon Senate Education will revisit SF388, “Low-performing school students enrollment options; nonpublic school eligibility requirements.” With deadlines fast approaching, Chair Erickson told her Education Reform Committee to expect evening meetings and perhaps Friday meetings. It appears that many meetings, especially in House Education Finance and House Education Reform, are scheduled late in the day Fridays. So keep checking our home page to preview what’s up!
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What Can I Do?
It is always good to check At the Capitol often to see what’s on the agenda and check to make sure the meeting is still scheduled.
If you are interested in attending a committee meeting and would like to meet with me at the same time, just email me at email@example.com to arrange it.
What can I say to or ask of my legislator?
Question/Comment of the Week
What are your thoughts on vouchers for private schools?
New @ the Website
What’s “in the news?” See what using tags to aggregate issues can do for you!
Are you interested in…
- The juncture between the February forecast and paying back the school aid shift?
- More on LIFO and teacher evaluation? (Where you can find articles such as this St. Cloud Times Editorial: Drop tenure but detail new system.)
- Or maybe you’re concerned about the bevy of constitutional amendments and what impacts they might have on our schools (such as this proposal to use Legacy funds for K12 arts education, Pioneer Press).
Here in the update we can still tell you about emerging topics that have gotten little press:
- Q-Comp might extend to principals – Districts in Minnesota have the choice to sign up for the alternative compensation pay program, or Q-Comp, that financially rewards teachers based on merit. That pay option may extend to principals, too, Session Daily, March 1, 2012.
|Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools
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