Update for April 17, 2015: Now it’s Up to Us!

In a departure from our usual approach, we are being right up front and asking you to act. You know us. We’re not prone to hyperbole and we don’t take positions lightly, but these underfunding proposals are just unacceptable and we need to stop them! It really is that important.

Please read this update and forward it to those who do not want to see further cuts in their schools. It is as simple and critical as that. 

The message to our elected officials is clear……1% on the formula is too low and .6% is even worse! Call, email, write, FB, tweet…do it all! And do it NOW.

 Ask one simple question, “Is this really all your party wants to spend on education?”

 If you want more background check out last week’s update!

 

This week at the Capitol

The two Education Funding bills are complete. The Senate is proposing 1% on the formula; the House .6%. Both bills passed out of their respective committees on strict party line votes.

The bills will travel through Finance and Taxes in the Senate and through Taxes and Ways and Means in the House. Expect floor debate and full chamber votes late next week or early the week of April 27th.

In plain language, this means next year, the House wants each student to have $33 more and the Senate believes $58 more dollars is sufficient.

Know this:

  • The majority of money schools can use comes from the per pupil formula.
  • The per pupil formula is an amount set by the legislature.
  • The per pupil formula is the same for each child across the state.
  • Over the last 20 years the formula has increased on average less than HALF of inflation.

In their Education Funding bills, both House and Senate propose to increase the per pupil formula less than inflation…once again. Even with a depressed inflation rate over the last several years, inflation has run around 2% each year. AND, perhaps most importantly, this is happening at a time when we have an historic state budget surplus.

We believe this Testimony by Jerry Von Korff expresses a common reality that we are all facing.

Let me make this clear –either proposal means cuts to schools. An addition of 1% on the per pupil formula means major cuts to schools, .6% on the formula means even deeper cuts to the opportunities that our kids have.

 

More on The Details

In the House

Read Session Daily

If 1% means cuts, you can imagine what half of that means. House Speaker Daudt provided the House Education Finance committee $157 million of the surplus to spend.

Comments made by Chair Loon (R-Eden Prairie), when pushed about items unfunded or not funded, lamented her small spending target of $157 million. It was apparent that she felt the target was too small.

And Vice Chair Kresha (R-Little Falls) surprised us when, after talking about all the good in the bill, he said, “We have great superintendents here and they know how to get through this.” Again, it appears to be an admission of low funding. Do our superintendents really have to “get through this” in a time of budget surplus?

A low target is one reason the formula is so poorly funded, but a few added priorities were funded by gutting existing programs and these were driven purely by philosophy. These gutted programs were reforms put in place over the last several years — Regional Centers of Excellence, Achievement and Integration Aid, and the opportunity for all students to take the ACT…a ticket to their future. In this proposal, each of these were decimated.

And that ACT opportunity? GONE

This action by the House may have the greatest impact on the future of Minnesota. Last year, in a bold, courageous move, the state of Minnesota decided that every student in the state should have a ticket to higher education, whether they used it in the short term, or relied on it later. This was an extraordinary move. Minnesota said, we expect all of our students to be career and college ready, and we are putting our money where our mouths are.

Minnesota has always been in competition with the rest of the country to bring in the highest ACT average….and with over 70% of our students participating, we usually win. But current legislation doubles down on that and says, we want 100% of our students to participate on this college normed test and we want to know how they do!

In both their policy and funding bills, the House did away with that opportunity.

Rep Mariani “We either have high expectations or we don’t. We need to drive a culture of high expectations for all students. Will some struggle? Yes, they will. But will there be some who rise? Currently it’s a small benefit to Minnesota families, but it’s a benefit to Minnesota families. I don’t know why we would take it away.” The amendment he offered to keep ACT for all failed on a straight party line vote. 

 

The amazing story of the demise of Achievement and Integration Aid

Trying to amend the Achievement and Integration Aid back into law, Rep Mariani was a passionate spokesperson. This defunding was never discussed by the committee. Chair Loon admitted that she had such a low target that she needed to get money from somewhere and she selected this program.

The Achievement and Integration Aid currently in law was based on recommendations from a statewide bi-partisan task force of public and elected members. Rep Mariani spoke to that point. “It is unseemly for us as a body to take this action at this point and time because we’ve had absolutely no conversation about these statutes throughout the entire session. Not having time to interact with school districts, people across the state. This language has the state of Minnesota walk away from our commitment to racial integration in Minnesota. This was language your party put into policy under previous leadership.”

The achievement gap is about race. It’s about race. We have a long history of miserable outcomes with black, Latino, some Asian and American Indian students. MN has an intelligent way that came through a painful process for how to do this better. It was tough work. For us to dismiss those recommendations on a less than 24 hour notice to the public…It’s a lost opportunity…typical of what we tend to do. We should always debate in a way that’s inclusive and transparent. We don’t have that right now.”—Rep Carlos Mariani.

Adding his two cents was Rep Anzelc (DFL—Balsam Township), “What’s in the bill is unnecessary and divisive. I can say with confidence that the people in my very, very rural community would support Rep. Mariani’s words about this amendment.”

When Rep Erickson spoke in support of Chair Loon’s decision, her words spurred Rep Mariani, “This is precisely the kind of discussion we should have had; the individuals Rep Erickson recalls supported this work, in the end; we should have had them back in a deeper conversation.”

Rep Mariani’s had proposed a two-part amendment. While one provision preserved the intent of the Achievement and Integration Aid, the other dealt with funding. When Chair Loon ruled the amendment out of order, because it would exceed their spending target, Rep Mariani split the amendment and asked for a vote just on preserving the intent. Even that divided amendment failed on a strict party line vote.

 

Now onto the Senate 

Senate Majority Leader Bakk is responsible for defining what the Senate Education committee can spend on education. The committee chose to use part of the money to add $58 to the formula which touches every child in the state and spread the other half out in small disbursements. BTW—all of the programs are worthy causes, but the only constitutional mandate in the state of Minnesota defines the duty of the legislature “to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.” — Minnesota Constitution, Article 13, Section 1

Sen. Pratt (R–Prior Lake) expressed his frustration when he asked, “How can we spend almost $400 million and only provide 1% on the formula?” You may remember the Senate Republicans held a press conference early in the session calling for 3% on the per pupil formula. That is the number that all of the education stakeholder groups have identified as making it possible for schools to remain viable.

 

Some of the programs funded in the Senate funding bill (most are small one-year appropriations)

Early Childhood Literacy Programs (Reading Corps)
Concurrent Enrollment/College in the Schools
Student Support Services Personnel Grants
Collaborative Urban Educator
MN Foundation for Student Organizations
Museum and Education Center Grants
STEM Grants
Full Service Community Schools
Agricultural Educator Grants
Indian Teacher Preparation Grants
Excellence in Teaching Grants
Civic Education Grants
Experiential Learning Pilot Program
Video Resource Grants
Minnesota Council on Economic Education Grant
Principals’ Academy
Wilderness Inquiry
Race 2 Reduce Water Conservation Grants
Network for the Development of Children of African Descent
Minnesota Learning Resource Center
“We Win” Planning Grant
Northwestern Online College in the High School

Special Education
Seclusion and Restraint Reduction Training

Facilities and Technology
Long-Term Maintenance Equalization Aid
Debt Services Equalization Aid
Alternative Facilities Bonding Aid
Telecommunications Access
Deferred Maintenance Equalization Aid
Innovative Technology Cooperatives
Northwest Mobile Manufacturing Lab
Anoka Fabrication Lab

Nutritional Programs
School Breakfast Aid

Early Education
School Readiness
Early Learning Scholarships
Early Childhood Family Education Aid (linked to Formula)
Parent-Child Grant

Community Support Services
Community Education
Promise Neighborhood-Northside Achievement Zone
Promise Neighborhood-St. Paul
After School Community Learning Grants
Greater MN Educations Partnership Pilots

 

The Amendment process

On Thursday, Senators presented amendments; 8 passed without debate and the other 17 were more controversial. Amendments authorized the following:

  • lowering the number of required summer hours for public pre-K
  • lowering the new appropriation of school readiness aid by 80% for districts which do not offer pre-K
  • authorizing the Board of Teaching to adopt rules for the new advanced professional study certificates
  • lowering “equalization aid” per American Indian pupil, but increases the cap for aid to the Bureau of Indian Education
  • allowing public pre-K programs until school year 2019-2020 to have their teachers earn licensure or “special permission” from the Board of Teaching
  • extending $20,000 to MDE for research on whether or not the MAP tests, which are diagnostic, largely favored by parents and teachers, and used in 70% of districts, could be used in place of the MCA’s

Senators Sean Nienow (R–Cambridge) and Branden Peterson (R–Andover) offered amendments that raised the same philosophical debate: given the scenario that the target remains as low as it is (yes, they too appeared frustrated with the target), can we allow districts the flexibility to spend school readiness dollars on what the school board decides are the highest priorities in their districts, as if these dollars were on the formula?

Sen Peterson (R–Andover) whose district contains the largest school district in the state–Anoka-Hennepin– spoke to the current bill and its potential impact–teacher lay-offs, and tightening of the already-tight belt on the compensatory funds, which help offset the costs of serving many, many students in poverty.

Although many Senators agreed with both of them philosophically, they did not vote with them, stating it is still their hope the target will increase and they will not yet vote for compromises to the intent of the omnibus bill.

 

A look ahead

As these bills pass out of committee we expect long debate on the floor of the chambers by next week.

Worth a Second Look

How the Senate and House Education Finance Bills Compare

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.