Update for April 15, 2016: The Bills Have Landed!

Many of you have already read and responded to our earlier email announcing that Parents United will be closing as of June 30, 2016.

We are so proud of the work we have done for Minnesota families, and rather than sadness, we are excited that the legacy of Parents United lives on in the thousands of Minnesotans who’ve sought and gained insights from our organization and who will continue to live out this mission to support public schools. The story of Parents United is a great story of parents coming together to assure excellence in their schools.

For the next two months, we will continue to monitor the legislative session, provide the Updates that you’ve come to expect and respond to education and advocacy questions as needed.

On Saturday, June 4th, we will host our final Legislative Wrap Up at the Roseville Library Community Room–another return to our “roots.” It will be a time to wrap-up the session and Parents United as well. More information will be coming over the next few weeks. We hope that you will make plans to join us.

At the Capitol

The Money Story

It’s been a long time coming, but we finally know how much each body is willing to spend on schools. The Governor began the session by asking to expend from the surplus $60 M on K-12 –$25 M of it to be spent on voluntary public Pre-K.

Of the surplus, the House expends $0 and the Senate a bit north of $48 million on K-12 education. Additionally, both bodies use $52 million dollars from an early repayment program for districts who borrowed from the state. The districts save the interest they would have needed to pay, reducing the tax burden on local property owners in those districts. Furthermore, the House cancels several appropriations to arrive at a $55 Million target. Final spending ~ House $55 M Senate $101 M.

With this information, both House and Senate produced education omnibus bills. The House rolled policy and funding pieces into one education omnibus bill, while the Senate sent its policy bill to the floor on its own and then generated an education finance bill that will become part of a larger Senate supplemental budget bill. This difference will become apparent as the bills go through the conference committee process.

If the provisions in these bills seem disjointed, it’s because they are! Legislators have come to realize that issues of poverty and family need to be addressed. However, these bills address issues by sprinkling few dollars on a variety of programs, initiatives, pilots, local requests and appropriations to nonprofits. The total dollars being spent on Prek-12 are…$55 (House), $60 (Governor) and $101 (Senate). Remember these.

A Closer look at the Bills

Some provisions in both House and Senate education funding bills:

  • Working Groups on
    • Teacher Licensure
    • Student Discipline
  • Improved early childhood screening (Help Me Grow)
  • Equitable distribution of effective, experienced teachers to children with greatest needs
  • Homeless children qualify for early learning scholarships
  • Further disaggregation of data by home language, poverty rate, broader racial categories…
  • PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and supports)
  • Mental health grants
  • Stipends for student teachers in hard-to-fill areas
  • Pathways to licensure including Grow Your Own and Collaborative Urban Educators
  • Charter school provisions to improve oversight
  • MDE language re: gifted and talented identification
  • Physical education standards
  • Allows a student to be exempt from Physical education
  • Tuition reimbursement for concurrent enrollment teachers to comply with new national requirements
  • Full Service Community Schools 4 pilots
  • Several appropriations to non-profits, including Rock n’ Read, and MN Reading Corps

Some provisions only in the Senate Education Finance bill:

  • Funds for voluntary school-based PreK
  • Competitive matching grants for support staff for student mental health
  • Teacher Development and Evaluation appropriation
  • Paraprofessional pathway to teacher licensure
  • Personal learning plans for 3rd graders not reading at grade level
  • Student user data privacy provisions (prohibits targeted advertising and student profiles)
  • Literacy/Dyslexia specialist at MDE and in one Regional Center
  • Testing transparency
  • Standard published “Opt-out” form
  • Site-based teams advising districts use of additional standardized tests

Interestingly, the Senate minority argued that rather than piecemeal spending, the Senate ought to put .7 of 1% more funding on the per pupil formula, as schools have, in the words of Senator Pratt (R Prior Lake), “been underfunded for the last 25 years.” We so appreciate his recognition of what we’ve been saying for the last 14 years, and we ask how this was allowed to happen.

Some provisions only in the House Education Omnibus bill:

  • Parents’ rights and responsibilities codified
  • Teacher of record granted the general control and government of the school and classroom.
  • Cap on school-based Pre-K scholarships in 2020
  • Teacher work place protections with specific provisions such as the autonomy to remove students from their classrooms
  • Additional parent participation in the Student Discipline Work Group
  • Funding to Department of Human Services for children’s school-linked mental health grants
  • Commissioner and Minnesota School Safety Center support for creating school crisis response teams in regions where there are none
  • Commissioner develops plan for student data privacy
  • A PreK pilot for English Language Learners in St. Cloud
  • Funding for GED test fees for adults
  • Broadband grants (WIFI in school buses where broadband is limited and bus routes are long)
  • MDE prohibited from coordination or participation with the administration of the Minnesota Student Survey
  • Further appropriation for Parent Aware
  • A variety of mechanisms to address teacher shortage
  • English Language extension for pupils up to 21 years old
  • Perpich Center for Arts Education required to reorganize their governance
  • A civics test required for all students, however, diplomas cannot be withheld if a student does not pass
  • Several appropriations to nonprofits, including:

In order to fund provisions over the original $52 Million target, the House canceled $1.7 million in MDE appropriations, sunsets funding to Regional Centers of Excellence and terminated the Principal’s academy, all which provide continuous quality improvement in schools.

A Look Ahead

At this point, the bills will continue to work their way through relevant committees—Finance and Taxes– then onto the floor for a full vote. A conference committee will be appointed to reconcile two very different bills into one acceptable to a majority of their colleagues and onto the governor’s desk. The truth is, in the second year of the legislative biennium, without a budget needing to be balanced, nothing has to happen. That’s right, since these are surplus dollars, our legislators can walk out the door without passing a single spending bill.

Traditionally, the second legislative year focuses on bonding, but the bonding discussion has been quiet this year. The House is insistent on using surplus dollars for tax credits and transportation, the Senate saves $111 M and wants $300 M for taxes, $400 M on broadband, HHS, environment/natural resources, equity, vets, state agencies, judiciary and public safety as well as transportation. And the governor wants to save north of $500 M. Before anything can be done a global agreement will need to be reached on the spending issue.

Worth a Second Look

From Solvejg Wastvedt at MPR News…”A group of parents backed by a national nonprofit say Minnesota’s teacher tenure laws perpetuate the state’s academic achievement gap between white students and students of color.”

It is with great pride for what we have accomplished that we announce, after 14 years, Parents United for Public Schools will be closing our doors and leaving a legacy of parent activism in your capable hands.