Six weeks to go – Update for April 5, 2013

On the calendar in April

  • Vote for a Minnesota teacher: We hear a lot about “innovation in the classroom,” but Edison High School teacher Chris Pennington is doing it in spades. He is one of two finalists in the National Great American Teach Off and stands to win $10,000 for his program. Have a little fun – cast your vote by April 7!
  • Meetings with Mark: These meetings with Governor Dayton continue around the state and are a great opportunity to have your questions answered “from the top”! Mankato – April 9Virginia – April 16
  • Minnesota PTA Convention: Register for MNPTA’s 90th Annual Leadership Training and Convention on April 27. PTA members and non-members welcome!

At the Capitol – Funding provisions in the limelight

Both the House and Senate are pulling together their education finance omnibus bills and will have them ready for review on Tuesday, April 9. Next week will be full of debate, testimony and amendments.

I’ll draw your attention to a few bills in this update. First, Parents United strongly supports a bill, HF234, that allows school districts the authority to renew expiring referendum through school board action. Several additional requirements are necessary for a board to utilize this process, but a renewal would not have to return to the voter.

Almost 100% of renewal levies pass and yet the unbelievable costs, both monetary and personal, were attested to through testimony by several superintendents and a Sauk Rapids parent who, like many of us, has been in the position of running one of these campaigns. An excellent overview of the need for this bill was presented in testimony by St Cloud school board member Jerry Von Korff.

Opposition in the legislature centers on the idea that this bill strips voters of their rights. But remember that only referendum renewals already passed by voters qualify under this bill. AND I’d like to add a bit of institutional memory into the mix:

  • The Minnesota Miracle passed in 1971 and was a mechanism to provide education funding NOT dependent on the property wealth of a district. The deal was for the state to provide for a basic education and if a district wanted “extras” they were allowed to run an operating levy to provide those extras. A voter-approved levy would grant a school board authority to tax for a certain amount and the dollars would stay within the school district.
  • The local voter-approved levy was known as an “excess levy” and prior to the mid 1990s, the passage of such a levy granted this authority ad infinitum. At that time many state laws concerning local levies were passed. One required levies be held only on general election days, another required all existing levies passed before the mid-90s to expire, and a third placed a maximum length of 10 years on any new levy.
  • Prior to 1990, fewer than half of the school districts in the state had local operating levies; today over 90% of our schools exist on these local levies.

One could argue that in 1995 state legislators ignored voter wishes when they required the expiration of existing levies, in place ad infinitum, to sunset. Passage of HF234 respects the voters’ decision to elect local school board members AND to grant those officials the authority to be fiscally prudent in the governing of their schools. Not a new idea; in fact, a return to the original plan.

MinneMinds bill heard

Campaigns to help our earliest learners be ready for Kindergarten have been formally in operation throughout Minnesota for over 11 years – Ready4K, Start Early, Child Care Works and MinneMinds have focused on this issue. Since its inception Parents United has advocated for an “E-16” (early childhood through college) system that helps children along the education continuum. This week the most recent coalition, MinneMinds, presented HF1058, a bill that vastly expands early childhood scholarship programs placed in statute several years ago. Scholarships are given to low income families and may be used at “highly rated” pre-school programs. Ratings are based on a Parent Aware rating system that incentivizes learning readiness.

Most everyone is supportive of early learning opportunities but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details – and  there are details in this bill that drew criticism. Some see the scholarships as vouchers and a first step toward using vouchers for K12, others are concerned that Parent Aware may not work for private or individual child care settings, some believe that the emphasis should be on developing public pre-schools, and some worry about the price tag.

A wonderfully talented group of testifiers aptly debated all of these concerns and more. The future for this bill, like so many others, is yet unknown. There are six weeks left in session – in “legislative years” that is a lifetime!

General education levy

SF 1142 is a small step toward reinstating a minimum general education levy, but could be used in conjunction with other bills to create a semblance of the recommendations of the Education Finance Working Group. Shawn Springob, parent advocate from Cambridge-Isanti, did a terrific job speaking for the plight of students reliant on local levies and the opportunity disparities that exist because of funding.

What is that general education levy again?

The mechanism used from 1950 on to fund schools, the uniform general education levy, was repealed in 2001. One billion dollars of school funding vanished in each of the next five biennium. A proposal to expand sales tax as a method to offset the lost revenue didn’t make it through the legislative body.

This action tied school funding directly to the health of the state budget and Minnesota has had deficits nine of the last 10 years. If legislators and the governor were unwilling to raise state revenue for schools, schools could either cut budgets or ask voters for local levies.

For the last decade, the appetite at the state level to raise taxes has been less than robust, so it is no surprise that today over 92% of school districts are reliant on local levies to meet the expenses the state hasn’t been paying, including special education costs.

The result of this abhorrence to increasing state level taxes for schools is clear: in 2013 Minnesota schools have the buying power they had in 2003. It was a mistake to do away with a uniform general education levy without another source for those funds.

The recommendation of the Education Finance Working Group, most education associations and several bills introduced this session endorse some type of general education levy. Reinstating a uniform general education levy, using the mechanism agreed to by the working group, would reduce property taxes in over 200 school districts and create an annual property tax increase in 120 districts, averaging $8-$11 per $100,000 of value.

For our older students – the Dream Act is re-visited

From Week in Review: “Bipartisan legislation to change the standards for determining whether a student can pay a resident tuition rate and receive certain grants and scholarships for public colleges and universities is moving through the legislative process. It would extend resident tuition rates to students without lawful immigration status if they:

  • Have gone to a Minnesota high school for three years;
  • Receive their diploma or equivalent;
  • File an affidavit with the respective college/university saying they will apply to change their immigration status as soon as they are able.

“Currently, if undocumented students receive admittance into a postsecondary school, they pay out-of-state tuition. Some schools deny undocumented students entrance completely. Out-of-state tuition can add a significant cost to a student’s education. High tuition can also be a large, often insurmountable, barrier for students to earn a college degree. Undocumented students are also ineligible for federal student aid, and their family income is often low.

“In the Higher Education Committee, Meredith Fergus, the state grant analyst at Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education, told legislators that the State Grant program can afford to take in the estimated 330 or so students who would qualify for state financial aid; the estimated cost will be $539,000, according to the consolidated fiscal note.

“If the Prosperity Act becomes a reality this year, Minnesota will be at the forefront of developing ways for immigrant students to gain access to college and become better educated citizens of our state.”

From the Pioneer Press – Give students a chance to step out of the shadows

A Look Ahead

Education finance omnibus bills from both the House and Senate are expected to be ready for review on Tuesday, April 9. We’ll keep you posted.

If you would like to plan a Capitol visit and need a little help—call us!!! It is always a good idea to check the House/Senate schedule the morning of your visit. Hearings and agendas are often changed.

Ideas legislators are thinking about….

It is interesting to see the education bills that have been introduced and may be called up later for hearings; we keep a running list on our website. Senate Introductions House Introductions

Bills scheduled to be heard this week

House Education Finance
HF1151 (Mariani) Early childhood through grade 12 and adult education policies modified including student accountability, educators, school programs and operations, charter schools, special education, and early childhood education; rulemaking authorized; reports required; and money appropriated.
HF1385 (Selcer) Parent-child home program funding provided, and money appropriated.
HF1643 (Bernardy) School district teacher evaluation activities funding formula created and money appropriated.
HF234 (Newton) School district expiring referendum renewal by school board action authorized.
HF1058 (Winkler) Early learning scholarship program established, access to quality early learning and care expanded, and money appropriated.

Senate E12 Division
S.F. 711 Torres Ray Achievement and integration for Minnesota program to close the achievement and opportunity gap establishment.
S.F. 1142 Stumpf General education levies elimination; general education rate and levy establishment; alternative compensation programs modification; appropriation.
S.F. 609 Jensen Postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO) program replacement revenue, levy, and aid authority to offset payments or pupil weight reductions.
S.F. 673 Wiger Harambee community school transfer from joint powers district #6067, east metro integration district to independent school district #623, Roseville clarification.
S.F. 1477 Clausen Teacher evaluation aid funding establishment and appropriations.
S.F. 965 Eken Independent school district #2527, Norman County West; elevator repair levy authorization.
S.F. 720 Cohen Development screening aid increase; pupil transportation options modification; students over 21 alternative program continuation authorization; St. Paul independent school district #625 bonding authority extension.
S.F. 1330 Housley Independent school district #831, Forest Lake; alternative facilities revenue program eligibility.
S.F. 1130 Torres Ray School district facility lease to charter school authorization clarification.

________________

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