What is happening at the Capitol
Today began a special session that will run until 7:00 a.m. on Saturday to pass all the budget bills on the House and Senate floor, The conference committee bills cannot be amended on the floor. Then, the bills are forwarded to the governor for him to sign into law.
The final education spending target is $543 million, up from the Senate target of $206 million, but down from the House target of $900 million. Total spending exceeded the target due to reclaiming unspent funds in other programs., Eighty-eight percent of the funding was dedicated to the basic formula and the special education cross subsidy (the unfunded cost of special education services.) The education omnibus bill includes the following highlights.
- Increases of 2% to the basic formula for each of the next two years ($389 million).
- Establishes special education cross subsidy reduction aid - the goal is to freeze the cross subsidy at the current state average of $820 per pupil. Districts will see a 2.6% reduction in their cross subsidy next year and a 6.4% reduction the following year. Also, caps in the special education formula will be reduced or eliminated over the next several years. ($90 million total for FY20 and FY21, $142 million total for FY21 and FY22.) In addition, a school district's fiscal responsibility for resident special education students enrolled in schools outside the district will drop from 90% to 85% next year and 80% the following year and thereafter.
- Increase in referendum equalization aid to reduce the high taxpayer cost of a referendum dollar in low-property wealth district. ($10 million in the tax omnibus bill.) I will post the district data run on this page of the SEE website when the information becomes available.
- Preserves the funding for 4,000 existing voluntary preK seats for the next two years. ($47 million)
- Provides safe schools aid, contingent on the state having a surplus at the end of the current fiscal year. The funding can be spent on support staff or building safety upgrades. (Up to $30 million or about $30 per pupil.)
- Additional information: District Revenue Data Run V1 / District Revenue Data Run V2 / MDE's Legislative Update (draft presentation with good detail.) / Total Education Spending Items / Bill Summary / Bill Text / SEE's Legislative Website for complete information.
Policy items were kept to a minimum and include the following.
- Clarifies operating levies by moving the $300 per pupil of board-approved referendum to local optional revenue (LOR). Now all referendum is voter-approved, and the $724 per pupil of board-approved levies is LOR.
- Requires screening for characteristics of dyslexia for all students in grades K-2 and students struggling with reading in grade 3 or higher.
- Encourages districts to offer a course for credit in government and citizenship in grades 11th or 12th.
- Directs the Department of Labor and Industry to study ways for middle and high school students to safely participate in hands-on training in the skilled trades.
- Reduction in some special education paperwork in the areas of conciliation conferences, prior written notice and including MCA scores on a student's IEP.
- Allows students to possess and use sunscreen.
- Some notable controversial policy not in the final bills includes comprehensive sex education, changes to the tiered teacher licensure system, and opportunity scholarship vouchers to pay for students attending private schools, including religious ones.
- See the second half of the MDE Legislative Update for more policy details.
SEE's legislative platform concentrated on three priorities - the basic formula, special education cross subsidy reduction, and increased equalization, progress was made on all three. Overall, this legislative session was good for E-12 education. The focus on the basic formula and reducing the special education cross subsidy is significant funding that comes with no strings attached. School districts have local control to spend the dollars to best meet the needs of their students and their communities. We thank the Governor and all the House and Senate members for prioritizing Minnesota's public schools. However, the sad reality is after years of stagnation in the basic formula and the runaway growth in the cost of special education services, many schools may still be in the cutting mode, and certainly replacing previous cuts in programming and staffing made in prior years cannot be made up in just one legislative session. Well, that's a fight for another day.
Unless something unexpected happens during the special session, this will be the last SEE update until the 2020 Legislative Session begin on February 11.
Finally, I want to thank all of you, especially those who wrote emails and attended SEE Capitol visits. Our voices were heard. Together, we did make a difference!