Update for May 6, 2016: Game On!

At this time in session it’s all about waiting — waiting for conferees to be appointed, waiting for conference committees to be called, and especially waiting for a global agreement so conference committees can actually complete their work! But the game is now on–conferees have been appointed and will meet for the Supplemental Budget Bill on Monday, May 9 at 1pm, breaking for a floor session at 4pm and possibly returning until 11pm.

Education policy and funding are in the Supplemental Budget bills from both bodies, so will need to be resolved alongside other divisions of state government—like Health and Human Services. While conference committees may begin working to resolve the final bill at any time in the next 17 days, they cannot possibly “wrap the bill” until they get the word from leadership about funding.

Along with everyone else, we are patiently—all right not so patiently–waiting to begin this process. As the days tick by, the idea that there may be no resolution to the bigger issue is sounding plausible.

To reiterate, the GOP- controlled House refuses to lay out a bonding bill until transportation and taxes are complete. They believe the surplus was left on the table last year in order to be spent on those two areas.

The DFL-controlled Senate and Governor Dayton have both crafted supplemental budgets using the surplus in a variety of areas including education, transportation and taxes as well as presenting bonding bills higher than the usual $1 billion level. The House says they do not want to spend more than $600 million on bonding, but have yet to say on what.

Bonding bills need to pass with a super-majority, or 3/5ths of the body affirming the vote. Thursday, the Senate sent their $1.5 B bill to a vote that failed by 1 vote. All DFL and 1 Republican voted for passage. The other Republicans voted against it.

Since our March Legislative Kick-off we have known that much of the rhetoric this session would be focused on spending the surplus that has never been a surplus! The passage of a bonding bill is being held by the GOP as a bargaining chip. Read more about that surplus.

Did you catch this?

The number 1 question we are asked about school funding—how did we get here—is clearly illustrated in this chart!

From North Star Policy Institute:

On a statewide basis, real per pupil state operating aid to school districts is down significantly since FY 2003, despite recent aid increases. Despite property tax increases, real per pupil operating revenue is still slightly below the FY 2003 level.

Read this summarye or the entire report from North Star Policy Institute. 

At the Capitol

Conference committees have been appointed for the Supplemental Budget Bill, which includes spending provisions for schools.

The following House members will conference the bill:

Rep. Jim Knoblach (R) Chair Ways and Means Committee

Rep. Jenifer Loon (R) Chair Education Finance Committee

Rep. Pat Garafalo (R) Chair Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee

Rep. Matt Dean (R) Chair Health and Human Services Finance Committee

Rep. Denny McNamara (R) Chair Environment and Natural Resources

The following Senate members will serve:

Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL) Chair Senate Finance Committee

Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL) Chair Education Finance Division

Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL) Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee

Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL) Chair State Departments Budget Division

Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R) Ranking Minority Member of Senate Finance Committee

Please note that the majority of conferees are from the GOP. A word about the power of conference committees: as a bill makes its way through the legislative session amendments are added that can change the meaning of entire provisions. But once a conference committee agrees on a final version of its bill, one that they believe will pass a floor vote, the conference committee report CANNOT be changed in any way, shape or form. This means, the ten conferees will be making all relevant decisions for the 2016 Supplemental Budget Bill. This is a time to pay very close attention.

There’s a limit to what conference committees can accomplish until, as the Star Tribune reports, a potential bonding bill is negotiated.

Caution: Editorial ahead

The GOP controlled House refuses to consider a bonding bill until they have a deal on transportation and taxes. Imagine a Minnesota was a house in poor condition and one co-owner thought it would be smart, at a time of low interest rates, to acquire a small equity loan to fix the house and preserve its value. But the other co-owner said, “No, we need to live within our means!” Would we think living within our means would be smart if it meant the house falls down? Call me crazy, but bonding to fix infrastructure by putting Minnesotans to work seems like a good thing to do. Obviously, you now know which homeowner I would be!

School Climate

This week the Senate re-confirmed three long-time Minnesota educators to the Board of School Administrators: Kimberly Hartung will represent higher education, Denise Kapler will represent teachers, and Mary Mackbee will represent secondary principals. Senators posed the question, “What is the biggest challenge administrators face?” All three had hauntingly similar responses. Principal Mackbee spoke to the “increasingly aggressive climate in schools,” Ms. Kapler shared her sense that “aggressiveness of students has escalated,” and Dr. Hartung identified the “increasingly volatile environment” within schools. They also agreed that budget cuts leading to elimination of ongoing professional development, staff reductions, lack of resources for student enrichment and mental health support, exacerbate an already anxious search for solutions to discipline problems.

Both the Senate and the House education bills suspended in the Supplemental Budget Bill right now contain financial support for P.B.I.S. (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support). P.B.I.S. transforms school climate by focusing on preferred behaviors, such as Osseo schools yoga interventions, which are a great example of how curricular approaches can succeed.

Trust Fund Babies

Minnesota’s School Trust Lands were conserved in 1787 when the spoils of war provided the “Northwest Ordinance.” Since, what was originally 8.1 million acres has been sold down to 2.5 million acres of forest and iron mining lands under the management of the Department of Natural Resources and oversight of the Legislature. The beneficiaries of this trust are not school districts, boards or buildings. In the words of Kimberly Dunn Lewis, staff at MSBA, every Minnesotan student is a “trust fund baby.” Right now, approximately $28 per pupil is earned each year through the trust. Question remains if that money has legitimately been “paid” toward the General Education Fund. This week, the Senate momentously confirmed the appointment of Aaron Vande Linde, the first-ever School Trust Lands Director. His management vision is to make unproductive land productive and to ensure “duty of undivided loyalty,” which means ensuring the protected land is plentiful and its fruits are paid to all 850,000 beneficiaries.

Worth a Second Look

The Minnesota House newsletter, Session Daily, has reported on the debate around the Minnesota Student Survey. This is a perennial discord. Preventive health and well-being services for youth count on this data to ensure the provision of adequate care. Some parents are chagrined that their students are asked personal questions in school. The bill is in the omnibus and at this point, conference committees will make the final call.

In addition, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce recently published findings that Minnesota’s business property taxes rank among the nation’s highest. However, Jeff Van Wychen of the North Star Policy Institute responded with a summary that clearly demonstrates weaknesses in their report involving both geography and exemptions.