Well into the late hours of Thursday evening, the Senate Finance Committee reviewed the omnibus E-12 budget bill (SF 811) and a handful of amendments offered to shuffle funds within the bill.
Legislators added one amendment to slightly reduce the new long-term maintenance levy program to add $1 million each year to Head Start funding. The new long-term maintenance levy program now stands at an allowance of $193/pupil in FY 17, $292/pupil in FY 18 and $380/pupil in FY 19. Coming into the Finance committee the allowances were 200, 300 and 400 respectively over those fiscal years.
Another amendment added was the result of an MREA Board meeting with Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius earlier that same day. During the meeting, MREA board member and Southwest Minnesota State University Professor of Education Rhonda Bonnstetter mentioned an opportunity to take 50 paraprofessionals through an online program to get them special education licenses. The program would be in partnership with the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative.
The dilemma was finding start-up funds to staff the program, build an online platform, and assist with tuition for these 50 individuals. Commissioner Cassellius was excited about the prospect of adding 50 new licensed special educators in the state. She told MREA to get to work on it and she would, too.
It was a Hail Mary pass to find $195,000 at the last minute, but when you have a determined commissioner, things can happen.
Just before midnight during the Senate Finance hearing, Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) and chair of the Higher Education Committee, offered the amendment and after some discussion, the amendment was adopted.