Keep ’em coming – Update for April 26, 2013

Mark your calendar

Keep those letters and calls coming!

This week, House and Senate E-12 Omnibus bills passed off their respective floors, with little alteration. Although many floor amendments were attempted, few prevailed and both bills came through the process in much the same shape as they went in.

Most attempted amendments concerned a hard cut score on a final test as a requirement for high school graduation. The most used talking point was meant to engender fear that Minnesota would be “dumbing down its high school diploma.” A compelling question by Sen. Dahle, asked of those repeatedly using that phrase, was if they thought nothing of their own high school diplomas, granted without the use of a single cut score on a high stakes test?

The House bill passed with bipartisan support on an 80-53 vote and the Senate bill passed along party lines 35-28, with four minority members not voting.

The next step will be conference committee. Conferees will be appointed from both bodies and negotiate one final resolved bill. Expect these conferees to be appointed soon. Conference committee is the last stop in shaping the final education bill and a time when we really need to pay attention. Once the conference committee has agreed on its report, the bill cannot be amended. So watch carefully and keep those letters and calls coming in!

Parents in Action

This session several parent legislative action committees have been watching closely and working diligently on very specific provisions they wanted to see pass. They spent time building the necessary relationships with legislators and made their views known to the right people at the right time. They were consistent and persistent and now their work has paid off.

Several LACs were dogged in making sure that integration funding was not cut. This funding is crucial for over 100 districts and at this point it appears both aid and levy will be preserved. So thank you and kudos to parents in action!

How we help: Parents United is hosting conference calls the last four Mondays of the legislative session to share “intel” flying around and network those involved in this work. Join us at 12:30 each Monday until the very end. Technology limits how many folks we can have on the call at any one time – so join early!

Conference Call Instructions for Participants:

  • Call 952-230-4464
  • Enter conference ID number: 200060#
  • Select Option 2
  • There will be silence until others join.
  • To minimize background noise, once a meeting begins please mute your phone (see below). (Just remember to un-mute when you have something to say.)
  • To mute your part of the call, press *, then press 1; to un-mute, repeat.

Speaking of gratitude…

…it is time for “thank-you’s.” Many legislators are split on how they feel about certain provisions in these bills and will continue to work on them until the very end. This is how it should be.

The tax bills passed out of both bodies increase state taxes for the first time in over a decade specifically for the purpose of investing in our schools. And regardless of how we may feel about certain provisions it is definitely a time for gratitude. After so many years, take the time to jot a note, send an email or make a call and thank every one of our elected officials who have gone out of their way to make schools a priority.

Sharing a sample letter:

Dear Senator Skoe,

We thank Senate Tax Committee members for adopting the amendment to include Integration levy funds in the Tax Omnibus bill yesterday. The continuation of these levy dollars will allow our schools to maintain intervention and achievement specialists to support students in reaching their highest academic potential.

Thank you for your good work and continuing public service!

Warmest Regards,

Cheryl Polzin, School Board Representative, Wayzata Public Schools Legislative Action Committee
Sarah Johansen, Chair, Wayzata Public Schools Legislative Action Committee
Katie Rodriguez, Associate Chair, Wayzata Public Schools Legislative Action Committee

A provision with serious implication

There has always been an integrated relationship between the Education and Tax Omnibus bills, but this year the nexus is even more direct, especially in Senate bills.

Using both E12 and Tax bills, the Senate increases the equalizing factor, pays off $300 of existing levies, decreases the levy cap by said $300, reinstates a semblance of the general education levy and several other interesting components of a reformed tax structure. Part of the idea is to increase school funding, decrease property taxes, and begin to decrease disparities between school districts. For years, the hope has been for widespread tax reform and this is a way to make progress toward that end.

In a kind of trade, the Senate makes very clear it doesn’t want schools going out the first year asking for local levies – so with the exception of a renewal levy, the provision requires a one-year operating levy freeze. If passed, your district may be affected by this.

Senate Tax Omnibus bill: “Notwithstanding Minnesota Statutes, section 126C.17, subdivision 9, a school district may not authorize an increase to its operating referendum in fiscal year 2015. A school
district may reauthorize an operating referendum that is expiring in fiscal year 2015. If a school district asks the voters to reauthorize operating referendum authority that is expiring in fiscal year 2015, it may request a reauthorization of that expiring authority minus $300.”

An example: If your district has a $1,000 levy up for renewal, the Senate provision has the state “buy down” $300 of it, providing property tax relief for your district residents. In November 2013 (for fiscal 2014) you can place a levy question on your ballot for $700 of renewal. During this one-year freeze, you cannot ask for more than the renewal.

I have already heard of an amendment that will be offered on the floor to pull this provision out of the Tax bill. The bill is slated to be up on the Senate floor possibly as early as next Monday.

A look ahead

Things happen at a very quick and many times unscheduled clip at this time of session. Conference committee meetings and floor sessions are often at the “call of the chair” and their timing is a bit in flux. If you want to follow all the happenings in a timely fashion, check our Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, or text me at 651-214-6565. It really is the best way to see what’s happening!

Parents United’s 11th Annual Parent Leadership Summit

This annual event has never failed to bring a great group of people together and this year, we’re looking forward to a lively, interactive and interesting conversation about what our school system should look like in order to provide for 100% of our students!

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing some thought-provoking articles to help our thinking about this issue. For those of you who are over-achievers, call it a Summit Reading list!  If you have articles that you would like to share, please forward them and don’t forget to register and join us on May 23!

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Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391; mary@parentsunited.org