A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - February 19, 2021
What is happening at the Capitol (via Zoom)?
Governor Tim Walz announced that middle and high school students could join their elementary peers for in-school learning. Students can return to school as early as this Monday, February 22, but the Governor expects all students to be in either hybrid or everyday in-person learning by March 8. Many districts are already in-person or moving in that direction. Hardly any additional requirements around mitigation and safety were added, which is a relief for school districts. Regarding staff safety, twenty-five percent of educators are vaccinated. It is not clear if they received both or one dose. The number of vaccines Minnesota receives is picking up slightly, and 18,000 more teachers will receive a vaccine next week. Walz predicts that most teachers will be fully vaccinated by March 8. MDE updated safe learning plan / Five things to know about Minnesota's new in-person school guidance.
 
The House education finance committee heard Chair Jim Davnie's HF1064, which separates the summer 2021 learning provisions from the Governor's education finance bill. Chair Davnie accurately stated that school districts could not wait for the legislature to pass an education bill in May or beyond to plan their summer school
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programming and staffing. More students than ever need the summer school experience to meet their educational, social, and emotional needs. The unpredictability of knowing if schools will receive additional resources from the state can prevent all students that need or want the summer experience from having access to one. The bill costs $92 million, mostly funded through the FY2021 state budget surplus. The House wants to move the bill now and is in discussions with the Senate to determine interest.   

Also, HF1064 increases declining enrollment aid to 48.5%, up from 28%, of the basic formula amount. Each district would receive $3,185 per pupil to compensate for lost enrollment when students leave school districts due to Covid or other reasons in the 2020-21 school year.  The superintendent from the Menahga Public Schools testified in committee that he prepared for the 1,100 students in his district to return for the current school year. Within five weeks of the Governor's release of the safe school plan that mandated wearing face masks, families withdrew over 200 students from the district. As most school funding is on a per pupil basis, roughly 20% of Menahga's operating budget disappeared.  Families had various reasons to choose other options during the pandemic, including fear of exposure to the virus, wanting a stable full in-person experience, and anger about required mitigation strategies in schools. Many have left.  School budget reserves are dwindling as districts use their reserve dollars to preserve programming and staffing for the future. Unfortunately, districts without a sizable reserve have few options to maintain the quality of their schools.  
 
The Senate education finance and policy committee spent one hour on SF960, SF788, and SF973 - the Governor's education finance, education policy, and summer learning bills. Input and testimony from the stakeholders and the public were minimal within this tight timeframe. See the summarized finance provisions. I'll add policy soon. Here is MDE's presentation on the finance and policy provisions. Most of the policy intends to promote more racial equity and were discussed in previous sessions. The SEE legislative platform's policy position is brief – no new unfunded mandates, particularly in this tumultuous time. The Minnesota Associations of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) laid out their concerns regarding unfunded mandates in the policy bill. An old adage says that Governors usually get much of what they want in negotiations, but that is a little difficult to visualize given the terse relationship between the Republican-controlled Senate and the DFL House and Governor. We shall see.

The Senate education committee heard two bills that direct additional state dollars to private schools. Senator Roger Chamberlain's bill, SF627, adds $1 per pupil to the $36 safe schools levy for school districts and equalizes the levy. However, private schools, public charter, and Tribal schools would now be eligible for safe school revenue through state aid. (FY22 safe school revenue data run / FY23 safe school revenue data run) For decades, private schools already receive significant state dollars, including the cost of providing guidance and counseling services for students in middle and high school, special education services, and transportation. This funding comes directly from the school district where the private school is located. Senator Justin Eichorn's SF925 would expand the guidance and counseling services to elementary students. The legal argument of getting around the separation of church and state relies on narrowly directing the funding only to educational opportunities that public school students receive. Nevertheless, the state has a constitutional duty to fund public schools, not private. Also, private schools can charge tuition to access more funding. Until the state provides Minnesota public schools with the funding necessary to provide a high-quality education to all public-school students, the focus must remain on directing scarce state dollars to Minnesota's public schools.  

As always, check out Brad's Blog for more detailed information.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Deb Griffiths
Schools for Equity in Education
Director of Communications and Community Outreach
612-309-0089
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