What is happening at the Capitol
Like two years ago,
, the E-12 education tax-credit scholarships bill, is back in play and was heard in the Senate Tax Committee on Tuesday. The proposal uses a convoluted foundation structure that is intended to get around the constitutional separation of church and state that has prohibited direct state funding through vouchers to religious private schools. The bill sets up a foundation that accepts charitable contributions from corporations and individuals, who would receive a tax credit of 70 cents on the dollar. The foundation would then provide scholarships to low- and middle-class students to attend religious and other private E-12 schools. SEE opposes such measures to spend state dollars on private schools when Minnesota's public schools have lost thousands of dollars per pupil through the
erosion of the basic formula
unfunded cost of special education services
alone. Approximately a dozen states have these tax credit voucher scholarships, and all started with a relatively low investment from the state, as was the $35 million proposed in the Minnesota Senate two years ago. However, in most states, the funding has soared. For example, Florida launched the nation's second tax-credit scholarship voucher program in 2001 at a cost estimated at $50million. Last year, it cost Florida's general fund approximately $699 million. The Minnesota Senate Republicans held a press conference on the bill this week where Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said, "We'll fight for this one" and suggested it will be a Senate top priority in the final legislative negotiations with the House and the Governor.
Also, on Tuesday, the House Education Finance Committee heard a series of bills designed to pay down the unfunded cost of special education, otherwise known as the cross subsidy. One proposal would increase special education funding by $360 million a year. Another proposes to fund an increasing percentage of the special education cross subsidy, starting with 3.3 percent ($30 million) next year and 13.2 percent ($60 million for 2020-21) and thereafter. The bill summaries on these bills contain overviews that are very informative if you want to learn more. (
All the bills were laid over for possible inclusion in the education finance omnibus bill. What struck me during the testimony was the tone and intensity as the superintendents and school board spoke of how the runaway cross subsidy is decimating the programming that school districts can offer to their students. This is a delicate area as we don't' want to pit general education students and special education students against each other. Repeatedly, the testifiers said this is not an issue about special education programming; it is all about the special education cross subsidy. However, the message was clear, the growth in the special education cross subsidy is not sustainable and threatens the quality of education for all students. Schools need relief now!
Governor Tim Walz revised his budget recommendations today after the February forecast dropped by $500,000 since the November forecast, which he used for his original budget. He reduces his proposed increases by $131 million (which I haven't been able to find the details for yet) and makes up the rest by doing some accounting shifts. However, his revised budget includes the 3% increase to the education basic formula next year and a 2% increase the following year as he initially recommended.
The House passed its snow day forgiveness bill on the House floor on Monday. The Senate had passed theirs a couple of weeks ago. Because the Senate bill forgives all snow days and the House forgives three days, a conference committee will reconcile the differences. The conference committee members are Senate Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-North St. Paul), Senator John Jasinski (R-Faribault), Representative Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), Representative Shelly Christensen (DFL-Stillwater) and Representative Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City).