A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - April 17, 2020
Check out Brad's Blog and Twitter for more details on what is happening at the Capitol!
What is happening?
This week the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee met remotely to discuss the Senate's version of the education coronavirus relief bill. Last week, the House moved its version. Soon after the coronavirus outbreak, the legislative leaders agreed that before any bill would go to the House or Senate floor, it must have to have bipartisan support.  Both chairs of the education committees honored that commitment by producing lean bills that are light on divisiveness. 

The Senate bill does not include the more controversial requirement that school districts pay their hourly employees and contract workers as the House did.  Fee-based programs, particularly before and after school childcare, preschool, and food service, aren't generating the revenue that districts anticipated.  It is such a difficult choice. Districts want to support their employees and communities by keeping people working. However,  forcing districts to deficit spend with the dire economic outlook could further destabilize the quality of education that schools can provide to their students. Already, school districts are laying off these workers.  Read more .  

The other controversial provision in the House bill but missing in the Senate allows MDE to relax some instructional time and academic requirements so high school students can graduate, and students can move up a grade next fall. The transformation to distance learning has continuing challenges that impact the ability of students to learn. Lack of internet access, insufficient support while at home for struggling students, and trouble with some students and families adjusting to the new norm are all concerns. The state and schools have the difficult responsibility to get students where they need to be while not punishing them for a world pandemic that was out of their control. 

The Senate included forecast adjustments, and the House did not. I'm not sure if this is controversial with the House or merely an oversight. Adjusting the revenue streams to the most recent February forecast sets a stake in the ground for the base level of funding for the 2020-21 school year. School districts are budgeting for the next school year, and this will add some clarity to the process.  
Overall, many areas where the House and the Senate agree, as listed below, will help stabilize schools. 

  • Provides full funding for the 2019-20 school year by adjusting funding streams that use variable inputs such as student contact hours or bus route miles to calculate revenue.  
  • Allows school districts to move revenue from different fund balances to pay for salaries and costs associated with moving to distance learning. 
  • Allows flexibility for teachers and PELSB, the teacher licensing board, in granting renewals of teacher licenses for next year.
  • Instructs MDE to direct the discretionary federal coronavirus aid directly to schools to pay for the cost associated with distance learning
  • Provides cash flow assistance to school districts that cannot make debt service payments for school building bonds due to a delay in receiving property tax proceeds. 

You can find more detailed information on the bills on the SEE website. 
 
At the federal level, states can now apply for their share of the Governor's Emergency Education Relief fund.  Read more . MDE will determine how to allocate the funding to school districts. This emergency education relief is only about a quarter of the total education revenue that Minnesota will get from the federal coronavirus relief package. If distributed evenly across the state, districts would receive about $50 per pupil. The bulk of the emergency education relief funding is going directly to school districts through the Title-1 formula. Depending on the concentrations of poverty, some districts will get very little funding this way and some will do much better. Using the Title-1 formula may not be the best way to equitably meet the actual costs districts face due to the impact of the coronavirus, and this should be taken into consideration as MDE decides how to distribute the Governor's Emergency Education Relief fund.
  
As always, check out Brad's Blog for additional information.  
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Deb

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