Update for May 22, 2015: So Now What?

What a debacle! The end of session brought a series of bills passed by sleep-deprived legislators asked to cast votes on bills they had yet to read. When this has happened in the past it has always resulted in errors. It is disheartening that it comes down to this when lawmakers had five months to do their work.

The 2015 legislative session is the session with the fewest bills passed since Minnesota became a state. No kidding. Just 80 bills were presented to the Governor. Check out this great chart from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library to see the history.

Let’s take a look at what happened in the final days

Last Thursday, the Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker announced a global agreement that had NOT been agreed to by the Governor. The two leaders decided to keep $1 billion “on the bottom line” to use in the future for the Senate’s priority (a transportation bill) and the House’s priority (tax cuts). The Governor did not agree and maintained that those dollars would be better spent invested in education.

Because of this, in multiple press conferences over the weekend, Governor Dayton clearly stated that he would veto an education bill that spent only $400 million while $1 billion was still available.

Unfortunately, politics, known for simplifying complex issues into a fast sound bite, quickly translated the Governor’s stance into “Pre K or bust!” Many are saying the Governor would not budge on his universal pre K and that’s why we are where we are.

Let’s look a bit deeper and examine what is emerging from under the “cone of silence” imposed during the last days of the session (Reminder: the original education targets were House, $157 million; Senate, $350 million). The Governor’s spending target was $700 million and included:

  • Elimination of Head Start waiting list for 2,000 kids
  • Free breakfast for Pre-K through grade 1
  • Increased ELL funding (not specific)
  • Increased Special education (not specific)
  • Funding for Northside Achievement Zone and St. Paul Promise neighborhood
  • Bureau of Indian Education Schools and American Indian students

The Governor’s offers over the weekend:

1. Offer 1: Split the difference between his $700 million and their $400 million – so $550 million and include $175 million for Pre K.

  • Rejected in the form of the Conference committee report passed.

2. Offer 2: $550 million and the Governor drops any objections to anything in HF844 for $171 million for half day Pre K.

  • Rejected

3. Offer 3: $550 million – drop universal Pre K in exchange for a 2% increase on the formula each of the next two years, and fund the Promise Neighborhoods, Bureau of Indian Education, Head Start waiting list and an increase in School Readiness funds.

  • Rejected

4. Offer 4: $525 million and drop universal Pre-K.

  • Rejected

Speaker Daudt contended that the Governor should have come down another $25 million. In his May 19 press conference, Governor Dayton explained the negotiation process from his view (see minute 3 to minute 7).

The E12 omnibus bill passed the House 71-59 and the Senate 52-14.The E12 Omnibus bill (HF844) was officially presented to the governor May 21. His objection letter accompanies a formal veto.

Now what?

A balanced budget must be in place by June 30 or the state shuts down. With the education bill vetoed, the budget will not be in balance.

Only the Governor can call a special session. The agenda is agreed to prior to the special session and past special sessions have tended to be one-day affairs.

Since the Governor has made clear that his end-of-session offers were a way for legislators to avoid a special session, the education bill is back to square one.

A few groups who succeeded in landing provisions in this bill are fearful of losing those provisions. Some are saying that if the bill is reopened schools will lose money. It’s hard to foresee that since the Governor was holding out for a higher target, but that still needs to be determined. What is true is that school districts may not know until late July what funds they have to expend.

We will continue to keep you updated on what is happening.

Components of the E12 Conference Committee Report

For a more complete listing, please read more from our friends at Schools for Equity in Education.

Funding Provisions:

  • 1.5% more money for every student each year in 2015-16, 2% more in 2016-17.
  • Increases early learning scholarships for 4-yr olds in poverty from 9,000 kids served to 12,000 kids served.
  • Increased funding for school readiness programs.
  • $3.2 million in Indian education formula aid.
  • Increases Qcomp funding and allows usage to compensate teachers in hard-to-fill areas or settings.
  • $31 million for school facilities.

Policy Provisions:

  • Adds a MCA writing test in high school.
  • Limits number of hours districts can administer locally selected tests (e.g. MAP, NWEA).
  • Schools must offer and pay once for a college normed test, but it’s optional for students.
  • Eliminates Explore/Plan/Compass tests (vendor eliminating these tests anyway).
  • If there are testing disruptions, districts can decide not to submit testing data for purposes of teacher evaluation and accountability.
  • Variety of provisions to streamline teacher licensing for hard to fill areas, settings or subjects, including for out-of-state candidates.
  • Nonprofits who partner with universities allowed to provide teacher preparation programs, and Board of Teaching must license those participants.
  • Requires Board of Teaching to collect and report data on teacher prep programs and outcomes for teachings, including their student performance data.
  • May not place a student two years in a row with least effective teacher unless there is no other option.
  • Expansion of concurrent enrollment for 9th and 10th graders; requires MNSCU schools to give college credit for PSEO courses.
  • Districts may opt to have Ag science courses fulfill science electives; computer science courses may fulfill math credit.
  • Allows pre-Labor Day start of September 1 for 2015-16 school year.
  • Allows districts who currently have a 4-day week to continue until 2020; any district thereafter may apply to do so, contingent on meeting performance goals.
  • Charter schools allowed to provide fee-based preschool programs.
  • Many provisions that require districts and MDE to collect and report data:
    • Requires districts to ask parents when child’s last comprehensive vision screening by an ophthalmologist or optometrist; must report to MDE.
    • Requires MDE to determine costs of remedial course taking in MN state universities and colleges, and record which high schools these students graduate from.
    • Requires MDE to collect data on student homelessness and high mobility rates in required statewide reports on student performance.
    • MDE submit list of school districts not making World’s Best Workforce goals to legislature.

Our view of the bill

It’s hard to get excited about this bill. Of course there are good provisions (e.g. PSEO, facilities funding, flexibility around teacher licensure) but some are simply “feel good” provisions – they sound good, but will be difficult to implement and actually frustrate parents. Several increase expectations but curtail the funding necessary to complete the task.

As expected, those who succeeded in getting their provisions into the bill are hard at work trying to keep those provisions in any future bill. Some have taken to social media to expound on the wonders of the bill to keep it intact. But considering the entirety of the bill, and what was possible, this bill is a disappointment.

There were so many wonderful student opportunities presented to committees throughout this session that died for lack of a decent spending target. It is saddening and maddening that wonderful innovations that increased expectations for all of our students and attempted to rebalance the education funding stream were simply repealed.

Throughout the decades of deficit, it has been a struggle to adequately fund schools. With a surplus and legislation passed last session to refill all coffers stripped during deficit years, it is difficult to believe this is “the best we can do” – a phrase we often hear. It is the bill of missed opportunities.

We believe Minnesota can do better. We believe Minnesota needs to do better. That being said, we’ll watch for the second attempt and keep you in the loop.

Worth a Second Look