A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - February 14. 2020
What is happening at the Capitol
The 2020 Legislative Session began on Tuesday. So I am back to writing these weekly legislative updates. Welcome!

The state runs on a two-year cycle. Last year the budget was set. This year, the focus is on a bonding bill.  However, the November forecast projected a $1.3 billion surplus, so spending, tax cuts and saving are back on the menu. The top three state leaders – Democrat Governor Tim Walz, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Baxter) are all cautioning that the surplus dollars are one-time only and will not support continuing needs. Still, the House and Senate each are prioritizing expensive goals. The House has a $500 million early childhood plan to assist families with the high cost of childcare and expand preschool opportunities. Speaker Hortman said the one-time funding doesn’t mean that they can’t help the youngest learners today and acknowledges that she hopes the next legislature continues the funding. Last session, both parties reached bipartisan agreement to provide tax relief by eliminating state taxes on social security income for lower- and middle-class seniors citizens. The Senate’s top priority for this session is to completely eliminate the state social security tax, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars as well.  The Governor seems focused on his $2 billion bonding proposal.  He convened a School Finance Working Group to design a school funding system that works for all students. Facilitated by Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker at the Minnesota Department of Education, the Working Group began meeting last September and plans to release recommendations in the fall. The Governor may want to do the bonding bill and resist additional spending so he would be in a position to implement the School Finance Working Group recommendations in next year’s budget session. 

The education leaders in the legislature who chair the education committees in the House and Senate express the same priorities for this session – mental health, early learning, career and technical education, and the achievement gap. However, they differ in which strategies to pursue.  Read more . The first thing they should do is make the on-time safe school aid permanent so schools can hire the desperately needed support staff for students struggling with mental health issues. 

We will see how this all plays out over the next few months. . . 

Constitutional Amendment for Education
Minnesota has an alarming achievement gap between our white students and students of color. Minnesota's achievement gap is the largest in the nation. With a declining workforce, the state's economy will depend on all students becoming productive citizens. Also, all students deserve a high-quality education that prepares them for participation in the economy, which, in turn, allows them to build strong families and successful lives. Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari have collaborated and are advocating for a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that establishes that quality public education is a fundamental right for all students. The amendment intends to shift the overall responsibility from the legislature to the state. It relies on student outcomes rather than prescribed inputs to the education system. Empowers families to have more say in their children’s education. The Constitutional amendment needs to go before Minnesota voters, and the advocates would like to see it on the ballot this fall. Right now, there doesn't seem to be much legislative support for the amendment. Legislative leaders are concerned that the amendment would likely spur litigation and shift too much power to the courts. Yet, influential business leaders are joining the effort and plan a massive public information campaign to garner support across the state for the amendment. Read more .

SEE welcomes the conversation around all students having a fundamental right to quality public education and what measures the state needs to take to get there. The status quo is not working. However, a careful examination of the pros and cons should be fully vetted as this process moves along. 
SEE’s Executive Director Brad Lundell on the Constitutional amendment.
·         Brad’s Blog 1/8/20
·         Brad’s Blog 1/20/20

Jerry VonKorff is an St. Cloud attorney and former St. Cloud school board member. He takes a deep dive into analyzing the proposal.  
·         JvonKorff on Education 1/13/20
·         JvonKorff on Education 1/16/20
As always, if you have any question or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me.



Deb Griffiths
Schools for Equity in Education (SEE)
Director of Communications and Community Outreach