The House Ways and Means Committee met last night and approved both HF3858, the omnibus K-12 education policy and finance bill, and HF3237, the omnibus higher education policy and finance bill. The two bills have been combined and are now HF2749. Ways and Means is the last stop for the bill. It now heads to the House floor.
Included in the higher education bill are a variety of provisions impacting Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, including developing a plan for offering an academic program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The plan will address how programs will be offered at up to four campuses that have the ability to offer a robust program. This is similar to the language and appropriation included in the Senate higher education budget bill; however, the Senate language directs these programs to be implemented for the 2017-2018 academic year.
The language regarding statewide testing and MCA college ready scores in Article 2 of the bill was deleted in committee. Bill author Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said the provisions in Article 2 are in the K-12 education bill, so there is no reason to include them in the higher education bill.
As a reminder, those provisions include statewide testing. There is a requirement that the MnSCU chancellor review and confirm the benchmarks established by the Department of Education show that students are able to successfully complete credit-bearing coursework at a Minnesota state college or university.
Regarding MCA college ready scores, included in the K-12 bill and no longer in the higher education bill, is language that states that a state college or university must not require an individual to take a remedial, noncredit course in a subject area if the individual met a career and college-ready MCA benchmark in that subject area. The deleted higher education language directed state colleges and universities to consider MCAs alongside other relevant factors when determining course placement for individuals in remedial, noncredit courses. When notifying students and their families about test results, the Department of Education is required to include a statement indicating that students who meet a career and college-ready MCA benchmark are not required to take a remedial, noncredit course at a Minnesota state college or university in the corresponding subject area.
There is language in the bill regarding promoting the federal loan forgiveness program and requires the Office of Higher Education to develop and distribute informational materials designed to increase awareness of federal public service loan forgiveness programs among Minnesota residents who are eligible for those programs.
Both K-12 education and higher education have zero budget targets. There is no new funding in the higher education bill. Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, expressed his disappointment with no new money and said he’d be voting no on the bill since there is no new money for education. “Almost daily in the media you’re hearing about student debt and the difficulties students are having meeting those obligations so they can attend,” Carlson said. Carlson continued, “With the financial health of the state currently, we could be doing much better for the students, whether they are in E-12 or in higher education.”
Committee Chair Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, reminded everyone that the state sets a two-year budget, and last year’s budget included substantial education funding increases for education over the previous biennium.
Looking ahead, once each body passes the higher education bills off the floor, they’ll need to head to conference committee to work through the many differences. At this time, it’s hard to see the path given the House has just the one higher education policy bill, but the Senate has a policy bill and a higher education budget bill that will be rolled into one large Senate supplemental budget bill.