By Vernae Hasbargen, MREA Lobbyist
Facing an important legislative deadline, the House heard the companion bill to Senator Skoe’s Education Enhancement Revenue (SF 576) that brings students at the bottom in education funding up $300.
In order for the bill to advance further, it must have been heard in both bodies before their Easter/Passover break. No bill could have more impact on outstate students than this one.
House Bill Faces Opposition
Authored by Rep. Radinovich, HF 1406 is directed to the 54 lowest funded districts who have no or less than $300 in referendum levy, but also affects all other districts by converting $300 of their referendum to permanent revenue.
While the idea of not having to repeatedly go to voters to renew this $300 should be attractive for districts everywhere, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts voiced their opposition unless it became “a complement” to their own bill which creates a Location Equity Index (LEI) and gives state aid to districts in the metro area with the highest housing costs. (HF 383). Most of these districts have much more than the average of almost $1,000 per student in referendum levy.
AMSD also opposed Radinovich’s bill because it contains a freeze on new operating levies in 2014. Rather than the state telling districts they cannot hold a referendum election in November 2013, this should be a local decision, they argued.
Some lawmakers indicated they do not like the school board making the decision to add or convert the $300, preferring only taxpayer approval.
A final obstacle for this bill is legislative leadership in the House. Skoe chairs the powerful Senate Tax Committee, but his House counterpart Rep. Ann Lenczewski from Bloomington, reportedly has concerns with the bill.
In the end, legislators could see EAR as a means to lower property taxes statewide because the freeze, plus the $300 conversion, reduces taxes $135 m. This could become an important property tax relief tool for taxpayers everywhere.
MREA Takes Lead
Sam Walseth, speaking for MREA, testified that 58,000 students are in districts without or less than $300 in referendum revenue. Once called excess levies, they are now considered essential operating levies. According to Walseth, these levies have driven the adequacy but also the increased inequity in our funding system.
Walseth pointed out the gap between students is now 33 percent between those at the top and bottom and this bill would lower that gap by a third, and giving the students at the bottom “a small step forward.” He presented a map, with the brown areas showing where funding is lowest. View the map.
Walseth shared responses from superintendents that showed they would use this $300 primarily to add or maintain courses which prepare their students for careers and higher education, opportunities all students should have. View fact sheet on the bills.
Student Points Out Impact
Siglind Dial told the K-12 policy-makers that she open-enrolled in Cambridge after her home district North Branch went to a four day week as a result of not passing its referendum. Her mother added that every time a levy is tried, “citizens face off against each other” and that is not the way schools should be funded. North Branch is one of the districts that does not have a referendum.
Siglind revealed how important this issue could be for students like her when she asked, “How would you feel if you or your child were offered a limited education? Education should be limitless.”
Skoe and Radinovich are determined that no district should have to pass a referendum to provide a limitless education for their children.