What is happening at the Capitol
All the conference committees finished their bills this week. Governor Mark Dayton and legislative leaders opened budget negotiations on Wednesday. The Governor vows that hundreds of the 609 policy provisions must be removed from the conference committee bills before a final state budget agreement is negotiated. That and the fact that the Legislature and Governor are a billion dollars apart on spending verses tax reduction provisions makes the path to ending the session on time on May 22 a little hazy.
A few of the notable education-related provisions included from the conference committees include:
- 1.5% increases for each of the next two years to the basic formula
- A complete elimination of the Governor's voluntary preK program. Districts currently receiving voluntary preK funding will maintain that funding through an increase to their School Readiness program.
- $32 million dollar increase to debt service equalization, one-time funding for property taxes paid in 2018 for the 2018-19 school year. (In the tax conference committee bill.) This is far more than the Governor and Senate originally proposed, $19 million and 15 million, respectively. Here is the estimated property tax relief for each district. If your district benefits, take the time to contact key legislators to ask them to include this in the final budget negotiation and make it permanent. More information. No referendum equalization was included.
- $19 million increase for early learning scholarships. Expands eligibility for scholarships from birth to 5 rather than just 3 and 4-year old children. Freezes the current Pathway II funding at current levels. Pathway II funding goes to school districts, rather than directly to the parents, so districts can provide preschool opportunities for at-risk children as identified though early learning screening.
- Establishes a tax-credit private school scholarship program where corporations and individuals can receive significant tax breaks for their contributions. (In the tax bill.)
- Ends seniority as the default measure used during reductions in the teacher staff when school districts are forced to make budget cuts.
- Makes deep funding cuts to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).
Overall, the $303 million education budget target in the conference committee is just too low and, in most school districts, will require cuts to valuable programming that schools currently provide. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius comments to the conference committee stressed that the Governor's original budget proposal of $604 million did not contain fluff but reflected the real needs and challenges our schools are facing by providing provisions like 2% increases to the basic formula, $40 million to reduce the unfunded cost of special education, a increase to the voluntary preK program, $68 million to partially offset the increase contribution that school districts must make to the teacher retirement account (TRA), and increased debt service equalization.
As always, check out
for more detailed information on what is happening at the Capitol.