The Minnesota Legislature reconvened and passed a bill last Thursday to provide an additional $330.6 million to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill appropriates $200 million to create a COVID-19 Fund that Minnesota Management and Budget would draw upon to help state agencies respond to the outbreak.
It’s possible that a portion of the emergency fund could help schools if they identify budget problems directly caused by the pandemic. The emergency fund expires on May 11 and any unused funds are cancelled back to the state’s general fund.
The bill responds in part to Gov. Tim Walz’s revised supplemental budget request issued on March 22 for emergency COVID-19 related funding. HF 4531/SF4451 was passed 99-4 by the House and 67-0 by the Senate.
Not included in the legislative package is a series of education policy waivers that would have ensured high school seniors can graduate and probationary and student teachers can move on in their careers regardless if they met all of the requisite credit hours to do so. These waivers were wrapped up in a legislative package that the House DFL was pushing.
The legislation included language aimed at ensuring hourly staff were paid according to their normally scheduled hours and that vendor contracts were honored during the distance learning period. This language has been misrepresented by some groups and it didn’t actually prohibit schools from making layoffs.
House leaders tacitly admitted the language didn’t prohibit layoffs, but packaged this with fiscal policies to ensure that several school aids would still be distributed even if schools aren’t able to generate the aid due to distance learning. The House believed that by providing more budget certainty for schools, it would help prevent layoffs.
A lot of noise has been made about this issue and educational leaders, both labor and management, need to work as thoughtfully as they can through this period of time. We’re going to need to work together to rebuild after the pandemic.
State Aid in Question
The aids in question are: special education, transportation, nutrition, career and technical education, inter-district desegregation aid and adult basic education aid.
The Senate GOP, being true to local control, was reluctant to pass legislation that could impede current labor and vendor contracts. They were concerned that overlaying new legislation would create confusion at a time when district leaders are faced with difficult decisions. They noted the requirements issued in the Governor’s Executive Order 20-19 for distance learning and the new slate of distance learning implementation guidance from MDE.
MREA supported passing this legislation last week in order to secure the state aids in question and getting the policy waivers answered sooner rather than later.
However, since there was uncertainty about the actual impact of the hourly staff issue and the policy waivers weren’t as pressing as the other items in the COVID-19 bill, the prevailing wisdom was to hold on passing education legislation until the full effects of the pandemic and distance learning program are better understood.
Education relief can still be addressed in the remaining weeks of the regular legislative session. The legislature is scheduled to return on April 14, if not sooner, and both chambers passed changes to their rules to allow voting remotely if necessary for members.
We expect additional legislative responses to COVID-19 before the legislature is required to adjourn on May 18. However, the state’s budget is heading for a crash and getting all of the state aids normally due to schools could prove difficult in the weeks to come.
Also coming to Minnesota is a portion of the $13.5 billion that was included in the federal COVID-19 relief bill targeted at educational services. Ninety percent of these funds must be passed on by the MDE directly to schools and charter schools. Schools will be able to use the money for things like buying technology to get remote learning off the ground, sanitizing school buildings, and starting summer learning programs.
School districts will also receive some of another $3 billion distributed to governors. Another $8.8 billion will be directed to child nutrition, including school meals. An additional $3.5 billion will be directed to child care providers through the Child Care and Development Block Grant, while Head Start programs will get $750 million.
What will schools be able to spend the federal money on?
Districts will be able to use their portion of the federal funds on a wide variety of things, including:
- Supplies for cleaning and sanitizing schools and school district buildings
- Efforts to help students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English learners, “racial and ethnic minorities,” homeless students, and students in foster care
- Coordinating long-term school closures, including meals, technology, and serving students with disabilities
- Buying technology, including connectivity, to help students continue learning, including adaptive equipment for students with disabilities
- Items principals need “to address the needs of their individual schools”
- Mental health services
- Planning and providing in-person or online summer learning programs and after-school programs
- Continuing to provide district-level services and employ staffers
Stay apprised of resources and news on COVID-19 for schools at: MREAvoice.org/covid19