All public school children must have equal access to a high quality education regardless of where they live in Minnesota.

Legislative Update
A c ommunication for education advocates in SEE districts.
May 10, 2019  
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What is happening at the Capitol
Negotiations between the DFL Governor Tim Walz, DFL Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka broke down on Tuesday without setting the spending targets for each area of government. No plans were made to meet again until they share a boat on Saturday for the fishing opener. The Governor brought an offer to reduce his total budget by an unspecified $200 million but stipulated that his gas tax and extension of the healthcare provider tax remain. The House reduced their budget by an unspecified $664 million to match the Governor's offer if the Senate meets them halfway by adding $332 million in additional spending. The Senate countered without an increase in spending but offered to add $200 million more for education by cutting health and human services. Read more.
The education conference committee met all week to compare House and Senate budget and policy items. There is not much they can accomplish without a spending target. In reality, the two sides politely bickered. The DFL House criticized the Senate for their low budget target that would cause devastating cuts in schools across the state. Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), a co-chair of the conference committee, repeatedly pointed out that the Senate budget does not increase taxes, leadership will boost the education budget target in the end, and education funding from the state has outpaced inflation. To combat that last claim, Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis), the other co-chair of the conference committee, distributed SEE's graph showing the erosion of the basic formula. When adjusted for inflation, the state spent over S1,400 per pupil more on the students in the classroom in the early 1990s than it does for our students today. Then, the committee got bogged down in conversation that misses the point. Co-chair Nelson reminded the committee of a chart that she previously distributed to the committee members that shows when all education funding, not just the basic formula is included, the state funding exceeded inflation, and she suggested all education funding all that funding should be put on the basic formula. Co-Chair Davnie and the other DFL committee members seemed to downplay the importance of the basic formula and started defending the categorical and other funding streams that, in many cases, benefits the urban centers more than rural and metro districts. By this time, my blood pressure is off the charts. Let's take a more in-depth look at this.  
  • The formula is the critical funding mechanism intended to provide a quality learning environment. Schools use these funds to determine the number of teachers they can afford to maintain reasonable class sizes and rich programming for students. The funding is foundational! Too much concern for the categoricals at the expense of the formula is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, no matter how it looks, the ship is still going to go down!
  • When considering all the funding streams, the per student amount, when adjusted for inflation, went up an average of 0.4% a year since 2002.  But, again, the basic formula is foundational and lags behind inflation, which is the relevant point.  Much of the increase Chair Nelsons references is from the automatic annual 4.6% increase in dedicated special education dollars. The average annual cost increase in mandated special education services is around 8%, far exceeding the increase in special education funding. Thus, districts continue to take funding out of the dwindling basic formula to pay for special education.  See this article on special education funding, halfway through is a chart that shows how much the unfunded cost per pupil has increased since 2002 for each district. Also, let's not forget, the legislature continually added new unfunded mandates over this time.
What's next? 
Ten days remain until the end of the legislative session at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, May 20. If that deadline is missed, a special session will have to be called by the Governor, which usually doesn't happen until there is an agreement on the budget. The philosophical differences between the DFL House and Governor versus the Republican Senate are vast and firmly held. It is hard to see a way to compromise. Read more. We will see. . .
As leadership is still negotiating the spending targets, if you haven't done so, please write your legislators and copy leadership today.  For more information, see last week's action alert! 
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