Forecast, Taxes, Inflation and Bullying! Update for March 1, 2013
What’s it like at the Capitol?
In last week’s update, we introduced Tom Anderson, a soon-to-be graduate student in education. He is a “partner-in-crime” with Parents United, regularly observing the nexus between legislation and education. I think you will enjoy his insights:
The Process of Education Legislation: A Newcomer’s Perspective
Over the past few months, Parents United for Public Schools has allowed me to participate in their organization, to learn about the legislative process, and to help out where I can. I have absorbed an enormous amount of information but I am just scratching the surface. The abundance of acronyms and the vast array of funding formulas can be daunting for someone with no experience. However, I am in good company. There are a few legislators who have the same amount of experience with school funding as I do and many times they seem equally confused. The legislators, even the ones who have been doing this for years, rely on the testimony of education advocates, superintendents, teachers and parents, who see how the laws passed in St. Paul directly affect their students and their children on a daily basis. Most legislators would be lost without their testimony. Admittedly, so would I.
For many, “testimony” may conjure up images of a witness being cross-examined by a prosecuting attorney. After watching months of testimony, I assure you that this is not the case. In committee, quantitative data, as well as personal success stories and struggles, are shared with the lawmakers in order to paint them a picture of what our education system should be. Public testimony serves to convince legislators that programs like pre-K, all-day-K and special education are worth the investment. It is an invaluable part of the legislative process but it is not as daunting as one might presume.
Over the past two months, I have been collecting informational packets and taking notes on education finance issues like “the shift,” “pupil weights,” and “bonding.” I have heard testimony on issues ranging from childhood brain development to the longevity of a 120-year-old oven located at MN State Academies for the Deaf and Blind. This experience has shown me that there will always be a place for education advocates, educators, and parents to have their voices heard when it comes to the vast array of issues affecting our students. I may not always remember that the pupil weight for full-day kindergarten is .7, but I will remember to encourage educators and parents to head to St. Paul to testify on the educational issues that are affecting their students and their children.
February Forecast – Continued good news
The February forecast brought a brighter outlook for the state budget. The improved revenue forecast reduced a $1.1 billion deficit to $627 million. According to current law, $295 million will go to repay schools. The next step will be legislative leaders reviewing this new information to determine budget targets for each committee. Majority Leader Tom Bakk was quoted:
We have an opportunity this year to deliver on both closing the remaining $627 million budget shortfall and making important new investments based on the priorities we all share. A prosperous future depends on putting the past decade of constant deficits behind us, but we also need to raise new revenue if we want to invest in the things that will improve the quality of life for Minnesota families—education, infrastructure, and property tax relief. Minnesota is moving in the right direction, and our focus is getting the state on track for sustained economic stability and long-term prosperity.
Minnesotans weigh in on Governor’s tax proposals
A raucous House Tax committee hearing spread into three overflow rooms Wednesday evening and made front page news! Before the committee recessed at midnight, over 110 testifiers had been heard, including Parents United_._ If you’d like to know the relationship between raising new revenue at the state level and schools our testimony __should help.
Testimony from Jeff Van Wychen of MN2020 is packed with very factual information that helps unpack this dense issue – worth reading. Another 90 testifiers were signed up to be heard, and Committee Chair Lenczewski will reconvene the hearing Friday afternoon.
I found it most interesting that while testimonies were both supportive of or in opposition to the particulars of the governor’s tax plan, not one person I heard argued that the state didn’t need new revenue. That’s a far cry from discussions of a few years ago. **
Parents in Action
Wednesday morning brought a ton of parents and community members from five district LACs (legislative action committees). Groups from Robbinsdale, Orono, Osseo, Hopkins and Wayzata gathered to talk with their local legislators who responded to questions on education.
This is a wonderful idea. While it is difficult during session for legislators to get away from the Capitol, coming here to visit them is a great way to focus attention on the issue of schools. It’s especially fun when the room is jam-packed with little ones on their parents laps participating in the democratic process!
Special kudos to Kim Lewis from Robbinsdale for coordinating this effort and to each of the participating districts for making it happen. I am passing along Robbinsdale’s handout as an exemplar for all of us. It is very well done! Thanks for the energy, all!
Per Pupil Formula linked to inflation – what a concept!
HF416 was heard this week and as one superintendent testified, “If this bill passed I would feel like I had died and gone to heaven.” Sad that dependable school funding is such a dream! HF416 ties the per pupil formula to inflation, allowing school districts a sense of what they can have as they plan for their next year.
In another parent-in-action story, Kami Aho, a Robbinsdale parent, testified in support of Rep Radinovich’s HF 416. The Chair of the committee came to her after the meeting and told her how important it was for committee members to hear the perspective of parents. You are terrific, Kami! There are lots more bills to be heard – anyone else want to testify? Contact me!
Anti-bullying legislation begins its trek
HF 826 – the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act – began its trip through the legislative process this week. Authored by legislative veterans Representative Jim Davnie and the companion SF 783 by Sen. Scott Dibble, the bill is crafted using recommendations from the Prevention of Bullying Task Force.
Speaking to the need for this bill, Rep Davnie referred to the weakness of the current model bullying policy used in most Minnesota school districts. He said in the 50 states, only Montana ranks below us and they don’t even have a bullying policy. Rep Davnie called work to provide safe environments that improve relationships among and between students and staff “the next generation of education reform” and “a key lever in academic achievement.” The bill impacts charter and all other public schools.
The hearing on this bill brought a myriad of amendments from committee members all seeking to add, subtract or change proposed language. This is an important bill and will be getting a lot of attention throughout the session. Not an exhaustive list, but included in the bill:
- a much stronger state model policy dealing with student bullying, cyberbullying, harassment and intimidation, safe and supportive school grant program,
- safe and supportive school programming
- staff development
- the creation of a Safe and Supportive School Council comprised of commissioners of education, health and human services, human rights and public safety
- the establishment of a School Climate Center at the Minnesota Department of Education
Will school start before Labor Day?
HF261, a bill allowing local school boards to decide if school starts before Labor Day, passed out of the House Education Policy committee on a voice vote and is on its way to the Commerce committee. This routing of bills is by legislative design – since the focus of each committee is different a single bill can be considered through different lens.
Equalization – what is it and why does it matter?
A major component of school funding not easily explained is equalization aid. Equalization was first legislated in1993 for the state to provide dollars and help taxpayers in low property wealth districts afford local levies. However, the formula used to determine what that amount of aid should be was never tied to inflation. Today, as more districts than ever are reliant on local levies for basic funding, dealing with this unfair taxing mechanism becomes increasingly important.
Without equalization aid, local levies cause student opportunities to be dependent on their zip code – not what the Minnesota Miracle envisioned. If you want a terrific way to better understand this issue watch Capitol Pizza at the Schools for Equity in Education website and check out these bills – SF177 Skoe and SF569 Hoffman/HF579 .
By the way, many more components of school funding will be coming up during session – stay tuned!
The value of companion bills
Legislative process note – A bill has a better chance of making it into law if it has a “companion” or clone in the other body. An example: As HF 105, a bill that provides voluntary, full-day kindergarten funding, is working its way through the House its Senate companion SF 2 is taking a similar route in the other body. This means both bodies have interest in the same issue and resolving it in a similar way.
Ideas are legislators thinking about….
A Look Ahead
Next week look for integration and equalization bills. The legislature will be recessing for an Easter/Passover Break the week of March 25 and will reconvene April 2.
If you would like to plan a Capitol visit and need a little help—call us!!! It is always a good idea to check the House/Senate schedule the morning of your visit. Hearings and agendas are often changed.
Bills scheduled to be heard this week
House Education Finance
HF390 (Fritz) Minnesota State Academies capital improvements funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated.
HF366 (Sundin) Schools damaged by flooding in Rushford and Mooselake replacement funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated.
HF225 (Erickson, R) Independent School District No. 38, Red Lake; facilities construction and renovation funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated.**
** HF248 (Runbeck) Equalization aid levels increased for the operating referendum and debt service equalization aid programs.
HF579 (Hortman) Property tax relief provided, and equalization levies increased and indexed.
HF416 (Radinovich) General education basic formula allowance annual minimum increase created.
HF105 (Ward) Voluntary, full-day kindergarten funding authorized.
HF821 (Bernardy) Voluntary, full-day kindergarten funding authorized, and school district flexibility provided for.
HF113 (McNamar) Independent School District Numbers 611, Cyrus, and 769, Morris, consolidation facilitated, and bonds issued.**
**House Education Policy
** HF261 (Newton) School districts allowed to begin the school year before Labor Day.
HF477 (Davnie) Adult high school diploma requirements standardized, and advisory task force established.
HF198 (Mariani) Compulsory attendance age for public schooling increased from 16 to 18.
HF826 (Davnie) Safe and supportive schools provided for, rulemaking authorized, and money appropriated.**
**House Early Childhood and Youth Development
** HF704 (Hilstrom) Family Reunification Act of 2013 created.
HF697 (Mullery) Homeless Youth Task Force established.
HF485 (Allen) Director of child sex trafficking prevention established, sexually exploited youth provisions modified, grant programs established and amended relating to combating sexual exploitation of youth, related services and housing provided to victims, and money appropriated.**
** HF393 (Morgan) Compensatory revenue authorized to be spent on early education efforts, including parental outreach.
HF296 (Liebling) Drug formulary exception provided, case management services extended for young adults with severe emotional disturbance, and money appropriated for various mental health services and training.
HF739 (Moran) Children and family service provisions modified; data practice provisions changed; and contractual agreement provisions changed with tribes, child care programs, community action agencies, the Minnesota family investment program, and maltreatment reporting.**
Senate E12 Division
Senate Committee on Education
SF 410 Clausen Adult high school diploma requirements standardized and advisory task force established.
SF 419 Clausen School district compensatory revenue use for early education efforts and parental outreach
Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108