A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - January 22, 2021
What is happening at the Capitol (via Zoom)?
The House Industrial Education and Economic Development Committee heard HF14 (Eklund-DFL)/SF22(Bakk-I), a bill containing $60 million a year for the next two years to expand broadband across the state. The expansion is a significant equity issue for Greater Minnesota, impacting every aspect of life from economic to education. The legislature needs to support this level of investment. SEE Testimony /  Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition Update. 

Governor Tim Walz will release his two-year budget proposal on Tuesday, January 26. To fund his top priorities, he will likely propose raising additional revenue through some tax or fee increases. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), who is considering running against Governor Walz in 2022, reconfirmed his commitment to not raising any taxes, whether income, sales, or gas taxes. He claims the $1.3 billion surplus can be erased by each state agency making "modest" reductions, in combination with using the state's budget reserve.

When adding bills to the SEE Bill Summary, I always look for the bills that the chairs of the education committees' author. Most likely, those bills end up in the House or Senate education omnibus bills. Senate Education Finance and Policy Chair Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) authored SF244,
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which provides $1 million in grants to train teachers in the LETRS literacy program. I understand that several proven literacy programs exist, but they are expensive. The Senate favors LETRS. Most of the cost associated with literacy programs is the professional training for elementary teachers and relevant administrators. Reading proficiency is vital to a student's success, and Minnesota does not do a good job teaching our children of color how to read. Over 80% of students who cannot read by third grade drop out of school. Focusing on literacy is key to eliminating the achievement gap. I'll talk more about the bill when it is heard in committee.

Senator Chamberlain also introduced SF260, which establishes the Opportunity Scholarship Grants program, a controversial way of getting dollars to private schools, including religious schools. Individuals and corporations can donate to the program and get 70 cents on the dollar back. In SF260, the maximum amount that a family can contribute is $30,000, but the state will give them $21,000 back in tax credits, and the maximum for a corporate donation is a $150,000 of which it would get $105,000 back from the taxpayers. The bills caps the program at $26.5 million per year. I will also discuss this more when the bill is heard in committee.

Although the Opportunity Scholarships are targeted at the most at-risk students, SEE opposes SF260. The best way to eliminate the opportunity gap is to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education. Because private schools can choose not to accept individual students, a quality public option must be available. All public elementary teachers must be masters at teaching children to read. All public schools must meet their students' academic, social and emotional needs so students are prepared to prosper in this world. When schools have enough resources for this to be true, then let's talk about further funding for private schools. Perhaps, if $26.5 million is found in the Senate education or tax budget, it would better serve Minnesota students by shifting it into highly-effective, data-driven literacy programs.

On Monday, the state surprised Minnesotans and school districts when it launched a pilot program to expand eligibility for Covid vaccines. A minuscule number of doses are available. It sounds like the pilot program will vaccinate 6,000 people over 65 and 6,000 teachers, school staff, and childcare providers each week for three weeks, and then make sure this group receives the required second doses on time. The state does not plan to continue the pilot program beyond this timeline until Minnesota begins receiving more vaccines from the federal government. School districts identify the staff that is offered the vaccine based on guidelines provided by MDE and MDH. When offered, the person goes online to decline the vaccine or set up an appointment to get vaccinated. No one is required to get the vaccine, and school districts do not know who declines or accepts the vaccine. School districts were allocated anywhere from 2 to nearly 90 doses, depending on the district's size. Read more.  MDE and MDH provided a brief outline of the pilot program's school portion in this presentation, beginning on page 30. The number of vaccines ranges from 2 to about 90 per school district, depending on its size. 

Leadership asked legislators to minimize the number of bills they introduce as processing bills is more difficult when staff is working from home. MinnPost has a good article on the politics of bill introductions and managing expectations.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me.


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