At the Capitol
Everyone is back from spring break and the education finance omnibus bills will be out next week–but there is work to be done right NOW.
It’s time for us at Parents United to urge you as friends who care about education to contact your legislators immediately if you want to avoid cuts at your public schools. If you disagree with us, feel free to call or email us to discuss or lambast. If you agree, please feel free to copy what you want and create your own message to send to your friends, or share this Update.
For the last 15 years, very few dollars have been added to the per pupil formula, the base amount the state pays per student and the engine that provides the majority of the dollars schools can spend. Inflation (~3.1%) has outstripped any funding increases (~1.3% per year) such that we are spending on schools about what we did in 2007, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Most of us have had to raise property taxes to try to keep up, and some districts can’t pass levies.
Meanwhile, the number of students requiring special services and those living in poverty are increasing at alarming rates. For the first time in history, more than 50% — half — of children in the US qualify for free/reduced lunch. In Minnesota, some 78,000 of our 1.27 million students live in deep poverty. These are issues across Minnesota and all school districts have suffered.
For the first time in many years, Minnesota finally has a budget surplus — $1.9 billion. (For perspective, the whole general budget revenue is forecast at about $43 billion). This is the result of a growing economy and increased employment and earnings, and lower spending — not from “over taxing.”
In the legislature, the Republican majority in the House and the Democrats in the Senate have defined budget targets. These targets represent how much each body will spend on areas of the state budget. The Governor has also expressed his desired spending targets. Huge disparities can be seen between their education targets:
- Governor – $679 million (much of it committed to early childhood)
- Senate – $350 million
- House – $157 million
If we added 3% on the per-pupil formula in 2016 and 3% again in 2017, it would cost about $530 million. 3% and 3% would catch us up to 2012’s costs. It might keep us at current levels and avoid cuts.
Additionally, there have been so many interesting and compelling bills for school spending during the session – grants for boosting STEM learning; desperately needed dollars to bring our career and tech classrooms into the 21st century; money to fix our school facilities; increases to dual credit programs including tech areas; teacher-powered schools; more school counselors; community schools with wrap-around services; more early childhood scholarships; funding to mentor and evaluate teaching staff…there are so many ideas and needs to consider for our schools, but…how does this happen unless we are willing to raise targets?
It surprises many that the per pupil formula, the engine that funds our schools, is not linked to inflation, causing education stakeholders to return to the legislature year after year begging for money (and parents selling everything from wrapping paper to school levies!) For the first time ever, at the beginning of the session we heard from both parties that schools had been underfunded for years. Yet weeks later, when they put dollar figures to what they are willing to spend, it seems a different story.
Most districts suggest that at the very least, a 3% increase on the per-pupil formula is needed to keep operating, with no new programs, and without cutting. A 1% increase would likely demand referenda, or districts “asking” voters to approve increases in property taxes to pay for their local schools. And, even if a district passes a referendum, it likely still means cutting teachers and programs and delaying improvements to buildings across the state.
New programs and innovative projects are great, but superintendents across the state are desperately trying to protect the basics. As South Washington County Schools Superintendent Keith Jacobus so deftly summarized in testimony this week, “We need shoes and we’re given eye glasses. The next year, we need shoes and we’re given a hat.”
What Can I do? You do not need to know a lot to do this!
1. Call your legislators or write them a letter. Simply acknowledge that there are more dreams for the surplus than there are dollars, but that you are tired of cuts in your schools. (You can mention whatever those cuts look like — e.g. “half” a nurse, not enough counselors, class sizes of x, PTO’s holding silent auctions to pay for books and white boards, running levy campaigns to try to make up the difference, staff cuts…) Ask for larger targets in the House and Senate, and at least 3% on the formula. Even if your legislators are not on Education committees, and even if they agree with you, they can use your call.
Ask them to make the case for increasing education targets in their caucus and with their colleagues across the aisle however they need to. Ask them whom else you should contact.
2. Call or write the Governor and thank him for a more realistic spending target for education than the House or Senate. But, please tell him that while you laud his priority on early childhood (it is visionary and laudable, totally based on research and a growing pre-K population that needs us), there are not enough dollars to achieve all these dreams. We need to balance early childhood with needs of kids already in school and what we owe them. (He wants 1% on the formula each year, which will mean cuts to your school, period.)
3. Call or write Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Minority Leader Hann and tell them you want to use reserves they are holding back to bump up his $350 million target for education. Bakk is from Cook/Iron Range and Hann is from Eden Prairie–if you have friends in those areas, urge them to call too!
4. Call or write House Speaker Daudt and House Minority Leader Thissen and tell them you want them to use reserves they are holding back to bump up their $157 million target for education. Speaker Daudt is from Crown, near St. Francis, MN. Rep. Thissen is from Minneapolis – if you have friends in those areas, urge them to call too!
5. Call or write Senate Education Chair Chuck Wiger (DFL, North St. Paul/Mahtomedi/White Bear), House Policy Chair Sondra Erickson (R, Princeton) and House Ed Finance Chair Jenifer Loon (R, Eden Prairie).
Governor’s Supplemental Budget Recommendations
This week, the Governor’s supplemental education recommendations Delete-All Amendment (HF844 DE) made minimal changes but continues to reach higher in spending than both the Senate and the House targets for education funding. Here are some highlights.
The Governor further committed to early learners in his supplement by funding prekindergarten pupils in free all-day, every day, voluntary, pre-K programs. This provides for all-day pre-K and some year-round preschool.
The supplement also creates 4 interesting programs to address teacher shortages. These include:
- Loan forgiveness for teacher candidates who agree to work in high needs schools or high needs areas (subject areas, such as math, not geographic areas).
- Grants for paraprofessionals when they enroll in a MN program leading to teacher licensure AND agree to work in a high needs school/area.
- Increases in funding toward the Minnesota Indian Teacher Training program.
- A new program entitled CAPS: Certificate of Advanced Professional Study. CAPS is the brainchild of a workgroup organized by the Board of Teaching to help licensed teachers expand their licensure to new teaching subject areas, with emphasis on high needs and emerging disciplines.
HH 844 DE also increases funding for special education annually, increases the eligible uses for Regional Library Telecommunications Aid–especially good news in rural districts–and allows state approved Alternative Programs to serve students in credit recovery programs during the school day. Finally, the supplement increases funding for Regional Centers of Excellence.
The entirety of Senator Saxhaug’s SF2027, on behalf of American Indian students, is contained within the Governor’s supplemental. It replaces what was once a grant process (Success for the Future) with an education aid program for schools that serve American Indian students.
Indian Education Director for Bemidji Area Schools, Vince Beyl, eloquently spoke in Ojibwe and then in English on the promises of a now permanent and more adequate source of funding for these schools and students. When this provision of the Governor’s supplemental was discussed in the House, Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL Hermantown) did express concern for the lack of federal accountability for American Indian education, questioning, “What amount of this funding is a state subsidy making up for the federal shortfall?”
Worth a Second Look
NPR recently published these findings on the “Revolving Door of Teaching.” We found it especially interesting in light of Minnesota’s growing teacher shortage.
Diversification of the teacher workforce is needed in other communities, too – not just the Metro Area: St. Cloud Times.
Obama and a pledge for STEM Education
MN is very unique because we try to equalize property taxes: In the US, we spend more on wealthier students
A Look Ahead
Next week we will see both the Senate and House Omnibus Finance bills. They will roll out on Tuesday, with walk-throughs and testimony in Ed Finance committees on Wednesday, and members will offer amendments on Thursday.
The omnibus finance bills can shed light upon the strategies of each party, and in particular, of the leadership of those parties. This is when we continue to say, “more money on the formula, please.” If you are concerned about the targets and also want to see more money spent per public school student, free to join us at the Capitol!
What is Parents United’s agenda? Our agenda is 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 fora legislative process often oblique to the public.