A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - February 21,2020
What is happening at the Capitol
Policy bills were put off last year with the expectation 2020 is the policy year. Policy to the Legislature means it has no cost to the state. Yet, we all know that policy for school districts often turns into unfunded mandates. The House education policy committees have started to hear bills this week on issues such as increasing teachers of color , vaping, and the “ Great Start for All Minnesota Children’s Act .” The  2020 SEE bill summary  lists bills introduced and scheduled in committee this year. All the bills introduced in 2019 are technically still active but most legislators are fine-tuning their 2019 bills and reintroducing them for 2020. Bills must be heard before the committee deadlines to continue through the legislative process. 

The Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee held a meeting with educators at high-performing schools that are beating the odds.   The five school districts and one charter school , including two SEE districts - Anoka-Hennepin and Austin - testified on the great work that is happening in their schools and communities. These schools closed the achievement gap between Minnesota white students and student groups that are lagging tragically behind. Their 3 rd -grade students of color and American Indian, students living in poverty, special education students, and English learners are performing at or above 3 rd -grade reading proficiency standards, which is a critical indicator of a student’s success and likelihood to graduate. Common themes ran through all the testimony including RELATIONSHIPS, meeting students where they are at, a laser focus on literacy, using data to guide instruction, active community outreach to involve parents in their children’s education, and meeting the needs of the whole child. The educators at these schools are passionate, extremely hard working and determined not to fail any child. More schools beat the odds. However, these high-performing schools were the ones that bubbled to the top when Chair Carla Nelson directed staff to focus on 3 rd -grade reading outcomes. You can listen to the meeting.  Audio / MP3 Audio
More Capitol News
The lines have been drawn.  The budget surplus battle will be between early childhood and tax cuts .   The Senate leadership announced on Thursday their “ Get Your Billion Back MN ” Plan, which gives the $1.3 billion forecasted budget surplus back to the taxpayers. Only about $250 million of the surplus is on-going. If massive tax cuts were to happen, it would put a significant strain on next year's budget cycle. However, this is more of a political strategy. The Senate Republicans state they will not support new on-going spending. If the surplus is spent, they want tax cuts. Nevertheless, the plan does include $20 million annually for property tax relief for voter-approved referendums in low-property wealth districts through equalization .  Last week, I talked about the House Great Start for All Minnesota Children Act , which spends $500 million on early childhood. The only on-going spending in this plan is $67 million used for 4,000 existing Pre-K spots in schools around the state that serve high populations of disadvantaged children. If the Legislature does not act, this Pre-K funding expires. Ironically, Austin Public Schools funds its “beat the odds” schools with those dollars. We will see how this plays out over the next few months. 

SEE has a equalization bill that Rep. John Huot (DFL-Rosemount) is carrying.  HF3171 spends $40 million annually to provide property tax relief for voter-approved operating referendums. Currently, the bill does not have a companion bill in the Senate. However, Chair Carla Nelson is expected to carry the bill in the Senate. See the Equalization District Data Run , which shows the property tax relief for each district that would qualify

Going into this session, Senate Republicans’ top education priority was opportunity scholarships . At the Senate news conference, they said they would not pursue the scholarships due to strong opposition from Governor Tim Walz. Senate Republicans said they would look for other ways to address Minnesota’s achievement gap. SEE also opposes the opportunity grants, which is a convoluted plan to sidestep the separation of state and religion clause in the U.S. Constitution. Essentially, a non-profit foundation would be established to which the state would award funding. The foundation then would award opportunity grants to low-income families to use for their child’s tuition in private schools, including religious schools. The state should not siphon more education dollars to private schools until Minnesota fully funds its public schools and all public school students receive a high quality education. In this 2017 letter to then-Governor Mark Dayton , three education organizations layout the concerns around the opportunity scholarship plan.
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