At 11 pm on Thursday, the Senate E-12 committee put a close to what felt like a ramshackle day of unveiling, discussing, amending and finalizing their omnibus education bills.  And yes, that was “bills” – plural.

In the Senate

The Senate has decided to move the policy reforms forward in a separate policy bill (SF 978) and a separate finance bill (SF 453).  SF 453 has an aid target of $336 million. The vast majority of that goes to a 1 percent first year basic allowance increase. In the second year, SF 453 increases the Kindergarten weight to 1.0, but no additional change to the basic allowance is made in the second year.

Together, these two provisions cost $230 million for the next biennium. The Senate bill also pays $22 million each year for early childhood scholarships.

These “top 3” provisions take up $277 million of the Senate’s $336 aid target.  The rest is scattered throughout the bill on school lunch, non-public pupil aid, testing reform and more.

The Senate bill also buys down several school board approved levies that are currently on a district’s adjusted net tax capacity (ANTC).  This is the same tax base used for bond issues, not the more limited Referendum Market Value (RMV) tax base. SF 453 buys down $175 million from the Operating Capitol, Safe Schools and Equity levies and has the state pick up the tab for these programs.

SF 453 also creates instructs the state’s Revenue commissioner to collect $20 million by setting a uniform property tax rate on a district’s ANTC.

The new general education levy (GEL) pays for a new $56 per pupil Basic Supplemental Revenue in FY ’15.  This GEL would grow to $26 and $30 million in the “tails.”  The net impact of the general education levy and the buy-backs is a $150 million reduction in school levies. All told, SF 453 costs the state $486 million in new spending on students and property tax payers in Minnesota.

SF 978 still contains the assessment reform and elimination of the GRAD exams. The elimination of the GRAD remains controversial with the business community that demands some kind of statewide objective measurement in an attempt to standardize the value of a diploma across districts. Standardized academic measurements on schools will still be collected in the new system, but to deny or not deny a student a diploma based on a single exam is at the core of the fight.

The business community believes that in order for a diploma to have value the state must require at least a single, standardized data point, like a cut score on the Math GRAD, that students must achieve in high school.  Read more on the Senate Omnibus Bills and and MREA’s response.

In the House

The House Education Finance committee unveiled its bill to the public Tuesday night. On Wednesday, staff walked members through the bill and the committee discussed several provisions, including the assessment reform and repeal of the GRAD.

The House committee took testimony from the public on Thursday and began work on amendments. The committee finished the last set of amendments and finalized the bill at the end of last week.

The House Education bill includes all of the finance and policy reforms for this session. A provision repealing the Labor Day start remains in the House bill, but we can anticipate an attempt to strip it from the bill as it moves forward.

By contrast, the House education finance provisions include a total of $500 million spent on K-12 and another $50 million spent on early childhood scholarships. The House bill adds All Day K funding in the second year of the biennium (Fiscal 15) as does the Senate bill. Where the Senate could only afford a “1&0” on the formula the House bill can afford “2&2” on the formula.

The House bill does enhance referendum equalization by about $30 million, but this is far less than the Senate’s $150 million expenditure on property tax relief. The House bill includes a major change to the equity formula to help districts with less than $300 in operating referendum authority.

Neither the House or Senate tax a stab at addressing special education funding in the near term. The House bill adjusts the regular special education formula in the “tails” by adding a student census component and $30 million to the formula.  Read more on House Omnibus Bill and MREA’s response.

Both the House Education and Senate Education Finance bills must clear their respective Tax committees and full Finance/Ways & Means committees before they are debated on the floor.