A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - March 19, 2021
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What is happening at the Capitol (via Zoom)?
The Senate announced its budget targets this week. The Senate target set for E-12 education is a $152 million increase over the next two years. Comparatively, 2% increases over two years to the basic formula costs $400 million. In contrast, Governor Tim Walz's budget proposal spent $745 million for schools, including a 1½% increase to the basic formula next year and a 2½% the following year. The Senate spending priorities are closing racial and financial disparities through literacy, increasing teachers of color, improving student mental health, and expanding student and parent choice through Education Scholarship Accounts (ESA), a form of vouchers. The Senate education committee does not plan to meet again until the week of April 5, when the Senate education finance and policy bill will be introduced.

Previously, the Senate education committee heard SF1441. The bill provides flexibility in instructional hours (seat time), converts e-learning into unlimited distance learning days, and establishes broader provisions for innovation zones. Although distance learning was difficult for many students, other students thrived. School districts want to continue to offer distance learning for students who are looking for that option. A path exists through MDE for districts to provide online instruction. Still, the requirements
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are arduous. Rep. Heather Edelson, who carried the companion bill to SF1441, worked with various stakeholders that want to ensure all distance learning plans are high quality. HF1644, with the language changed to reflect the compromise, allows all school districts to offer distance learning for one more year. The bill establishes a working group to study distance learning instruction and make recommendations to the legislature for ongoing plans. Bill Language / Bill Summary

The consensus seems to be building to allow school boards to renew existing operating referendums. This week the Senate heard SF1804 that gives local school boards this authority. In the past, the resistance came from Republicans and the business community. Their concerns included taking away taxpayer rights and eliminating this form of communication between the school district and its voters. However, of the 104 referendum renewals during the past seven years, voters approved them all, often with overwhelming support. School board members are the only elected officials who have to get voter approval when making budgetary decisions. Also, the thousands of dollars and hours spent on a renewal effort would be better spent improving the educational experience for students. These arguments are resonating. The business community testimony was very subdued. And the bill's author, freshman Senator Zach Duckworth (R-Lakeville), summed it up by saying this bill was common sense and made government more efficient. It doesn't hurt either that Chair Senator Roger Chamberlain is a co-author on the bill. 

Student mental health is a top priority in both chambers. I expect additional grant funding for Kognito suicide prevention training for teachers and school staff in the final education bill. This week the House education finance committee heard HF1083, which establishes a school mental health service lead person at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Numerous departments across MDE and the Minnesota Department of Health work on mental health issues. A new lead person would coordinate with all the departments and be the point person for school districts looking for assistance in supporting their students' mental health needs. The number of students struggling with mental health issues has been growing before, during, and likely after Covid. When asked what is causing the growth, Executive Director Sue Abderholden of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota (NAMI) explained there isn't an easy answer. She said the main factors include the negative impacts of social media and around-the-clock bullying. Before the arrival of social media, when students went home after school, they could leave it behind. Isolated from the outside world, students had time to heal some overnight, social media changed all that. Chair Jim Davnie noted a 15% drop in the suicide rate over the past year during covid. Ms. Abderholden said to think of students in two groups. Kids who were doing fine in the school environment now experience the isolation that can lead to anxiety and depression. However, kids who were struggling before Covid appear to feel safer at home than at school. Although they still wrestle with their mental health, they are doing better.

The Senate heard SF1443 that attempts to flatten out some of the disparity in the federal Covid relief and stimulus bills. Indeed, school districts with more at-risk students must have more resources to meet their students' needs. It makes sense to distribute a substantial portion of federal aid through the Title-1 formula based on the concentration of poverty. However, 90% of the total federal funding goes out through the Title-1 formula. Looking at the total of Round 1 and Round 2 ESSER federal funding, Minneapolis receives approximately $3,000 per student while a SEE district like Byron gets roughly $100 per student. See the federal funding by district.

To support the American Rescue plan, the Biden administration released a detailed explanation of the cost to reopen schools safely for the Round 3 federal aid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created the list, and It includes the following.
  • Avoid staff lay-offs
  • Addition of physical barriers
  • Additional custodial staff
  • Additional transportation aid for social distancing on buses
  • Provide PPE for staff and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and back-up for other students
  • Increase instructional staff by 10% to reduce class sizes
  • You can see the rest of the list here

The list represents costs that all districts incur while following the federal guidelines. 
Round 3 funding is over twice as much as Round 1 and 2 combined.  Unfortunately, all the district funding goes through the Title-1 formula and does not contain a per student component.  

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
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