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.
March 2, 2018  
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What is happening at the Capitol
The February forecast revealed a $329 million surplus for the remaining year of the current state budget.  The good news is it's a $500 million swing from the $188 million d eficit projected last November.  The bad news is the surplus was quite a bit less than most legislators were predicting and really dampens the appetite for new spending out of this legislative session.  Read more.  

Considering the modest surplus and the politics involved, I believe the best chance of new funding for education will come through school safety and pensions.  We will see how this prediction plays out as the session progresses.  

School safety - Obviously with the Florida shooting, keeping our schools safe for students and staff is a concern for state policy makers.  We were told during a Capitol visit this week that the Republican caucus in the Senate supports increased funding for school safety.  Chair Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) of the Senate Education Finance Committee is carrying the bill.  Currently, school boards can levy up to $36 per pupil in local property taxes through  the safe schools levy.  Chair Nelson's bill changes the name to safe schools revenue because it adds direct funding from the state.  Not only can this funding be used for security enhancements to school buildings, but also allows funding to be directed to mental health services.  You can see a listing of allowable expenditures in the bill's text, SF2754.  Currently, the size of the appropriation is left blank in the bill but will certainly be an ongoing discussion.  Chair Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) of the House Education Finance Committee is taking a different approach.  The bill has not been formally introduced yet but is scheduled to be heard in committee on Tuesday.  The title - authorizing use of long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) revenue program for school facility safety - suggests the focus will be on building modifications to enhance school security only.  In addition, LTFM funding is through local property taxes, which puts low-property wealth school districts, like SEE districts, at a distinct disadvantage. We will have to see the details when the bill is introduced, you can find it here when it is available.  The governor also have said he supports increased school safety.  

Stabilizing  state pension plans - the teacher retirement account (TRA) is included in in the sweeping pension bill,  SF2620(Rosen)/HF3053(O'Driscoll), that was introduced.  The main changes to TRA is to reduce the projected rate of return on the assets from 8.5% to 7.5%, increasing the employers (school districts) contribution by 1.25% over six years, increasing the employee (teachers) contribution by 0.25% in FY24 and lowering the cost of living adjustment (COLA).  The bill includes funding for the school districts' portion, which will go directly into a TRA account and not sent to the school districts.  Here is  a summary with much more detail.  
Mental Health
The House Education Finance Committee held two days of testimony around the increasing number of students suffering from mental illness and the shortage of in-school mental health services to meet the existing need.  The  Mental Health Facts for Children and Teens are alarming .  Schools have become the front-line defense around mental health for many reasons.  First, when the state-run mental health institutions were shut down, the state envisioned a more regional approach through counties but adequate resources were never provided.  As Sue Abderholden, the Executive Director of the  National Alliance of Mental Illness - Minnesota (NAMI), pointed out - the mental health system in Minnesota isn't broken, it was never built.  In addition, schools are held accountable to ensure every child succeeds and students have a safe environment to learn.  Thus, over the past decade, the responsibility to provide for safety and mental health needs have shifted to public schools.  Here is a concise explanation of the problem and the solutions.  Here is another version.  

Over the past several years, the legislature has funded, in a very limited way, pilot programs that are producing results.  Here are several that were discussed in committee.  (audio)  
  • School-Linked Mental Health Grants - schools contract with mental health service providers.   Description / School Districts
  • Intermediate District and Cooperative Unit Staff Training for Level 4 Behavioral Issues.  Meet Karla - an amazing example of how this staff training transformed one student's life.
  • Support Our Students Grants - grants for social workers, school counselors, psychologists, chemical abuse counselors, school nurses, etc.
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) grants - Description
Nami has outlined a children's mental health system based on what is known to work.  This begs the question, how is the state going to provide the resources so all children have access to these services they not only need but deserve?
What's coming up
School trust lands, teacher's code of ethics, school safety, and morality are all on next week's committee schedule.
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