By Vernae Hasbargen, MREA Lobbyist
With Democrats in control of House, Senate, and Governor’s office, Republicans stood ready to accuse them of “overreaching” this year on their tax and spending proposals.
Yet from the Governor’s initial budget in January to the final legislative targets released this weekend, the charge has had a hard time sticking because of the relatively small amount targeted to K-12. Ironically, even the lead House Republican argued there should be more spending in their K-12 bill.
But the overreach argument has worked for the Safe and Supportive Schools bill as it moved off the floor in the House and out of the E-12 committee in the Senate.
From 37 Words
The bill is the outcome of a Task Force appointed by the Governor to strengthen Minnesota’s law described as one of the shortest and weakest in the nation. The new pages-long bill replaces our current 37-word law.
It’s hard to say what the outcome of this bill would have been in a normal year, but against the backdrop of the gay marriage debate, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act has taken on added importance.
Scott Dibble, the author of both the Marriage and Safe Schools bills in the Senate, has said the argument that this law isn’t needed, that everything is just fine, “doesn’t square with what kids and parents are telling us.”
According to a 2010 school survey, 13 percent of Minnesota’s students reported being bullied one or more times a week, but Dibble thinks this number could be as high as 38 percent.
Dibble said student testimony to the Task Force indicated adults seemed indifferent or had little awareness of the problem, especially cyber bullying, and that’s why this bill focuses not only on defining bullying behavior but also the required training of all staff and the reporting of data to a new School Climate Center in the Department of Education.
How do we pay for it?
Throughout the session, education groups have argued it will take time and resources to train an entire staff and a survey of school districts estimates the new law could cost from $15 to $38 per pupil.
According to testimony from MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan, “This bill is an unfunded mandate that will have greater relative impact on medium to smaller school districts.”
Governor Dayton and the Senate each put nothing on the formula in 2014 and an increase of $52 in 2015; while the House proposed roughly twice that amount in each of the two years. Regardless of the final outcome, these formula increases won’t go very far in paying the projected cost of this new law.
Why statewide policy?
Those who argued against the bill cite not only its cost, but the “over-reach” by the state in what should be a locally-controlled issue. An amendment to replace this bill with the current MSBA sample policy in every district failed.
House author Jim Davnie justified the need for a consistent statewide policy because as he put it, “Kids play checkers, they don’t deserve a checkerboard of policies across the state.”
In this last week of the session, getting rid of this checkerboard will be one of the highest legislative priorities.