Leadership reached a global agreement in the last hours of the regular session. It was decided that a special session would begin at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday morning and end 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning to give time for the budget bills to be drafted, passed on the House and Senate floors, and sent to the Governor for signature. It is now Thursday and legislature is still plugging along, hoping to get things wrapped up soon. On the education side, the tax omnibus bill, which contains education provisions, has passed in the House and Senate. The education omnibus has passed in the House but not the Senate yet. As the global agreement was negotiated by both Democrat and Republican leaders, I will assume these bills will become law and I will review then below. Therefore, this will be the last legislative update from SEE until the next Legislative Session, which begins on February 20, 2018. However, if it all falls apart, I will send out updates until a final resolution is reached.
The global budget agreement included $660 million in tax cuts and $300 million for transportation (up until now, user fees like the gas tax and license fees were used for transportation funding with a very small reliance on the general revenue fund). Taxes and transportation took up almost a billion of the $1.5 billion surplus, leaving relatively little for the other areas of government, including education, which received a relatively low increase in funding of $483 million.
Here's a review of some of the good, the bad and the ugly education-related provision included in the education and tax omnibus bills.
- The basic formula will be increased by 2% in each of the next two years. This consumes 76% of the new money for education.
- Apparently, the pension omnibus bill does not include the 2% contribution increase for school districts to pay into the Teacher Retirement Account (TRA). The committee declined to take this recommendation from TRA unless funding was provided from the state. However, this only compounds the future insolvency of the pension plan.
- Another 15% ($73 million) of the new funding was directed to early learning programming. Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) will receive an additional $3 million and early learning scholarships are increased by $20 million. A new School Readiness Plus grant program, which is a hybrid of the existing School Readiness preschool program and voluntary pre-K, will receive $50 million. The funding will be targeted to low-income children and must be used for children not currently attending state, local or federal preschool activities. This look like an interesting mixed delivery system to provide early learning programs that will prepare Minnesota's most at-risk students for kindergarten and, hopefully, reduce the achievement gap. Voluntary pre-K and Pathway 2 early learning scholarships are capped at current funding levels.
- The 40% ag credit was in the tax omnibus to help farmers pay property taxes for debt service on building bonds. Debt service equalization to help homeowners and small business owners pay for building bonds did not make the cut into the final tax omnibus bill. Referendum equalization never got any traction this session.
- The education opportunity tax credit that would provide generous tax breaks for corporation and individuals donating to a new scholarship program so children from low- and middle-income families can attend private secular or religious schools was deleted from the tax omnibus bill.
- Teacher seniority, otherwise known as last in-first out (LIFO), is eliminated as the default factor in teacher layoffs. The school district and the local teachers union must negotiate a layoff plan.
- The new teacher licensure law that was previously vetoed by the Governor is in the education omnibus bill. It creates a new Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board with complete responsibility for teacher licensure and a 4-tier system with clearly defined qualifications and credentials needed to get a teaching license at each tier.
- Numerous small grant programs are included to recruit and retain teachers to try to address the teacher shortage.
As always, check out
for more detailed information on what is happening at the Capitol.