High Noon – Update for March 28, 2014

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Now that we know how much the Governor, the House and the Senate choose to target toward education AND what they are choosing to spend it on, it is High Noon at the Okay Corral. While everyone attempts to improve education, they take different approaches. What will happen? Which approach will prevail?

Appropriations from the Education Finance bills

Last week’s Update provided a comparison [pdf] of the completed education policy omnibus bills, and this week the focus is on education funding. Most technical provisions from the MDE (Minnesota Department of Education) are in both bills, so we’ll concentrate on the fund disbursements.

Basically, with a $75 million target, the House used two-thirds of that to put 1% on the per pupil formula; Senate Education used three-quarters of their $41 million target for early learning. Now, if we could only roll both bills together, we would have a plan for E-12! To make that happen, we can sit back and wait….or we can call and talk with our legislators!!

  • Our side-by-side comparison of the Senate and House education funding provisions [pdf].
  • For a very complete, “in the weeds” comparison of these bills, check out this chart [pdf] from the Association of Metropolitan School Districts – it’s good to have really smart friends!

The House Omnibus K12 School Funding and Technical Bill HF3171 made it through Taxes and is scheduled in Ways and Means this coming Monday.

The Senate Education committee passed Senate Counsel (SC9812-3), amended it onto SF767 Friday in Senate Finance, sent it to Senate Taxes to be heard this coming Monday. Then it’s back to Senate Finance by the end of next week where it will be rolled into one large Senate Supplemental Budget bill!  Whew……that’s a lot of journeying in a short time! Just thought I would show you how these bills DO travel on their way to becoming law.

Doughnut Hole Filled!!!! Tax bill makes an enormous impact on education funding

Earlier in session the House passed their tax bill, but it was only on Friday, March 21, that the Senate brought the bill to the floor for passage. The bill conforms Minnesota income tax law with recently passed federal law. Governor Dayton was impatient for the bill to be completed before the April 15 tax deadline so Minnesotans could benefit from changes with the least amount of hassle. For that reason, Governor Dayton signed the bill into law within hours of Senate action.

Interestingly enough, that tax bill contains serious impact for school funding. Any explanation I could provide would be topped by that of Brad Lundell, our good friend at Schools for Equity in Education. Seriously, check out Brad’s Blog any day of the week for great insight! From his March 21 blog:

           In the process, this:   becomes this: 

All kidding aside, in a rather Bismarckian move (I guess I can’t stop kidding), the “doughnut hole” in school funding has been filled and what was formerly known as Location Equity Revenue (now known as Local Option Revenue) will be extended to all districts in the state regardless of their size or geographic location. In addition to the $300/PU highly-equalized board-approved referendum, districts will now get to approve up to $424/PU by board vote. In most instances, this will simply be a transfer from the district’s referendum to the new local options revenue category, but for districts with referendum revenue per pupil unit less than $724/PU, the opportunity exists for new revenue.

Thanks go out to Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), Chair of the Senate Tax Committee, and bill chief authors Senator Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) and Joe Radinovich (DFL-Crosby) for their work on this measure.

This provision takes effect for property taxes payable in 2015 for the 2015-2016 school year with state aid costs not taking effect until next biennium.  The total revenue cost will be about $50 million per year, with a bit more aid then levy. This will leave the entire K-12 budget target for this year intact and we will see in the coming week what the House and Senate will commit to K-12 education during this session. There are a lot of areas for possible investment, including paying for costs related to the anti-bullying bill that is expected to pass, facilities needs, and teacher evaluation costs.

What to expect in the coming weeks

Check the Legislative calendar  for meeting times and agendas for House Ways and Means, Senate Taxes and Senate Finance. It is expected that all of these bills will be processed by the end of next week. When these bills move to the floor of both bodies, they will be articles in Omnibus Supplemental Budget bills that will then need to be conferenced.

It may seem chaotic, but the process allows for many eyes to review these potential changes to law. This is the time to make your voice heard: you know what is in each bill, now you explain to your legislator what you like, or not. Remember, “If you’re not at the table, you are on the menu!” Make sure you are at the table.

If you want to see what COULD be on the docket, check out the House and Senate bill introductions; these are kind of the “at bat” holding zone for potential bills.

Caution: Correcting a misperception or, my very own response to a “cheap shot”

The newly signed school lunch bill provides hot meals for any child qualifying for free OR reduced lunch. Beyond begin the right thing to do, it is good public policy. On a very tangible level the policy provides an incentive for families to sign necessary required paperwork for their children to receive free lunch. But that paperwork also provides schools the documentation they need to attain additional federal and state dollars to help the very same child receive other needed services for which they qualify.

As Senate Education was processing their Education Finance bill an amendment was offered to expand lunch assurance to any child. Since school lunch programs are self-sufficient, what dollars they take in is what they can spend – on staff, equipment, food, you get the idea – so a heated debate began on the cost of implementing the amendment and whether it would curtail the very incentive outlined above!

The chair asked the author to change the amendment from a mandate to encouraging language – asking districts to find ways to NOT turn away children. The author graciously accepted the compromise.

However, in the turmoil, a spokesperson from Legal Aid thanked those in support of the amendment, saying that they were the only ones at the table speaking for children. This was her way to marginalize all who spoke against the amendment. That’s a cheap shot.

She was referring to the many education lobbyists who had come forward concerned that this well-intentioned amendment would be a terribly costly unfunded mandate that would affect schools’ ability to provide OTHER needed services for children.

For 11 years, I have watched day after day as these folks work so our schools will have the resources to provide books, buses, buildings, teachers, transportation and, yes, lunches. To say they are not speaking for children is a distortion of the truth and at best must be chalked up to the testifier’s naiveté or ignorance of their work.

Other important bills to watch

Anti-bullying
HF 826 is still waiting to be voted on by the full Senate. Check out Parents United’s front page for a variety of perspectives on this bill.

Employee Health Insurance (HITA)
SF1835/HF2180 – The Health Insurance Transparency Act is on its way to Senate Finance and to Ways and Means in the House

25 Years of Declining State Support for Public Colleges

We often speak of the high cost of college for our students, but it is critical that we connect the dots. As state support declines for public colleges, tuition hikes are rising – those are the two dots that we need to connect.

There are those, including Minnesota’s former Governor Jesse Ventura, who say, “If you are smart enough to get to college, you should be smart enough to figure a way to pay for it.” However, we should be aware that at least some of the increased expense for our college students is directly related to state-level decisions.

Worth a second look

Most days on our website, Parents United provides links to our Daily News Picks! These are education articles that catch our eye. A few of those articles are worth a second look either because they are so compelling or because they provide context for an issue currently being debated at the Capitol:

What is Parents United’s agenda? It’s simple: we don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the law-making process so parents can speak for themselves. Truth be told, Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications, as well as a navigator for a legislative process often oblique to the public.


Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools

mary@parentsunited.org
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391; www.parentsunited.org