The House and Senate Education finance committees last week unveiled their omnibus bills and passed them out of their respective committees. Each bill has a few more stops before full debate in front of the House and Senate and then onto conference committee.
MREA created a side-by-side comparison of the funding and policy issues currently being debated at the Capitol related to education. This detailed comparison includes what’s in each of omnibus bills and MREA’s position on each item. View the detailed comparison.
The House plan would increase the basic allowance by just over a half a percent each year for the next two years. The House bill would spend an additional $30 million on early childhood education scholarships while putting a new $9.5 million into School Readiness, which is administered by Community Education.
Critics of the House plan have panned it as woefully underfunding schools, especially at a time of economic recovery and a $2 billion surplus. MREA has been documenting the projected local budget cuts and possible layoffs associated with only putting “1&1” on the formula. Certainly, putting only “half&half” on the formula will cause more budget difficulties for local districts. View recent survey results.
While the House plan is causing a lot of heartburn because of the low overall budget target, there are some bits and pieces that will solve some nagging funding issues across rural Minnesota. Transportation Sparsity funding would see a small increase in the House plan and the bill would provide additional equalization for districts with over 30 percent Seasonal & Recreational property, which isn’t part of the operating referendum tax base. The House bill also invests over $700,000 each year in American Indian Education, something MREA and many others have been pushing this year.
The Senate bill matches the Governor’s initial proposal to put “1&1” on the formula. The Senate plan makes a large investment in School Readiness and would bring the current $12 million each year in School Readiness funding to almost $70 million over the next two years.
A 500-hour per year requirement for early learning is currently attached to this new School Readiness funding, but the program is voluntary and districts don’t have to participate.
The Senate bill also includes some new Transportation Sparsity funding along with more funding for American Indian Education.
The Senate plan also creates a new long-term facility maintenance program for school districts currently not in the Alternative Facility program. This proposal would allow boards to levy $200, then $300 and then $400 for deferred maintenance needs over the next three years and beyond.
The Senate bill spends a net $43 million in fiscal year 2017 (and more in the tails) to equalize this levy program. A small adjustment in the Net Tax Capacity tax base will be made to help more districts with large amounts of agricultural production land get some of the proposed equalization funding. We will continue working with legislators on this proposal as the Senate bill heads into conference committee.
Tackling the facility funding inequity has been a heavy lift and we’re so appreciative of the Senate’s attention to this issue.
Last week also brought one of many blow ups that happen in budget negotiations. The Governor came out swinging against both the House and Senate education plans saying they don’t invest enough and they don’t include his universal four-year old preschool program.
The Governor is way out ahead of the herd on his preschool plan and legislators of both stripes are cautious about jumping into universal preschool head first. They would rather go slow with more money for scholarships and school readiness as a means of building early learning capacity across the state.
Early childhood expansion will be one of the biggest battles between the three negotiating parties as we head toward the May 18 finish line.
What the Impact on Your School?
Here are the district runs on the current plans in the House and Senate: