The Minnesota Legislature has one week to complete its work before the session ends. Much of their debate and work centers around COVID-19, both the state response and federal relief.
- New Budget Forecast: Instead of the $1.5 billion projected surplus announced in February, the state is now looking at a $2.4 billion deficit.
- Final Week of Legislative Session: Lawmakers have until Sunday to send bills to the governor. Control over the federal COVID-19 relief funds is a sore spot among legislators.
- E-12 Legislation: The House and Senate debate sending a bill to the governor that would clarify several education financial and policy issues raised during the distance learning period.
- Concurrent Enrollment Credentialing: New legislation has been proposed to provide funding to continue a statewide program that helps teachers meet the new concurrent enrollment credentialing requirements
Learn more about each of these below.
State Budget Update: $2.4 Billion Deficit
The Minnesota Management & Budget on Tuesday released an update on the state’s budget showing a $4 billion decline in state revenues for the current two-year budget cycle we’re in. Instead of the $1.5 billion projected surplus announced in February, the state is now looking at a $2.4 billion deficit.
The state needs to maintain a balanced budget and thankfully there’s nearly $2.4 billion in the state’s budget reserve and cash flow accounts. Another $2 billion in federal aid is on the way to the state, however, a significant portion of those funds are supposed to be passed through to local governments, the K-12 schools and Higher Education systems and hospitals.
It’s possible that some of these funds could end up supplanting existing state appropriations, but the federal strings attached might prohibit supplanting.
Congressional leaders are talking about a fourth COVID-19 relief package to help states balance their budgets, but action on that item will take some time, if it comes to fruition at all.
Legislature: Final Week
The Legislature continues to operate remotely and virtually as they try to process the remaining business before they need to convene on May 18. All bills need to be sent to the governor by May 17.
The final legislative pieces at play include:
- Bonding bill
- Potential tax bill
- Non-controversial policy items that don’t carry a cost
- Directing and prioritizing the federal relief funds
Control over the federal COVID-19 relief funds is a sore spot among legislators, especially the Senate GOP majority, concerned that Gov.Walz is exercising an immense amount of power amidst the pandemic. Hard feelings aside, Walz does have significant power during the remainder of this biennium. The projected deficit allows him to un-allot funds appropriated in the budget bills passed in May 2019.
One check on Walz’s budgetary control is his stated desire to not burn through the entirety of the state’s budget reserve, as is required by law before he can actually un-allot appropriations or delay payments in order to bring the budget into balance.
Walz’s desire to save some of the budget reserve for the next biennium (fiscal years 2022-23) could put him in a position to work directly with the Legislature in a special session later this summer to make adjustments based on the current operating budget.
MREA continues to track the education discussion as the House and Senate debate sending a bill to the governor that would clarify several education financial and policy issues raised during the distance learning period.
- The House DFL and 9 GOP members voted for a bill last week, HF 4415, that would codify much of the Governor’s Executive Orders for schools, including a requirement to pay hourly staff.
- The House DFL is reloading these provisions into HF 4542 as a new vehicle for trying to get these provisions passed in the final week of the session.
- The Senate GOP for their part don’t seem to be interested in passing a session law bill codifying the Governor’s Executive Orders for schools.
Concurrent Enrollment Credentialing
Another key piece of legislation in the E-12 bill is funding to continue a statewide program that helps teachers meet the new concurrent enrollment credentialing requirements.
The Legislature in 2016 initially funded 18-Online, originally known as the Northwest Partnership. The $3 million funding is now running out.
HF 4542 contains a proposal to shift $625,000 a year from $4 million CE aid to schools (15%) for a three-year period and put those dollars directly into 18 On-line. The base funding for both CE aid and 18 On-line revert to the current status of $4 million a year and $375,000 a year, respectively in fiscal year 2024.
This is a new proposal to help fund this program, given the state’s budget constraints. This funding would allow an average of 270 teachers per academic term (fall, spring, summer) from all over the state to continue to earn graduate credits in eight different subject areas and to grow the program in to more subject areas.
Operating 18 On-line costs about $1 million a year, if the program continues to cover the cost of the discounted graduate credits at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM).
The partnership began in northwest Minnesota in 2016 and has since gone statewide. Lakes Country Service Cooperative administers the program and primarily works with MSUM, which has been offering discounted credits for teachers in the program. Learn more about the program and its results.