The final four weeks of the Minnesota legislative session could bring support for teacher pensions, special education, school safety, school readiness and broadband.
The House and Senate currently are assembling their omnibus supplemental spending bills that encompass change items across all of state government, including E-12. A tax bill aimed at addressing conformity issues with the new federal tax law will come in the next week or so.
A bonding bill, always a backroom ordeal, likely will emerge amidst a global deal in the final hours of session – with little public process. Typically, schools don’t have specific interests in the bonding bill. However, the House is considering using a portion of their bonding bill for school safety and security projects.
What’s at stake for rural schools?
A public employee pension bill aimed at improving the solvency of the various pension funds, including major help for TRA is in the mix. The Senate didn’t hesitate to move this bill out and approved it 66-0 in March. House GOP leadership will hold the bill until the last days of session as bargaining leverage for the infamous ‘global’ negotiations yet to come.
Special Education Funding
About $90 million in forecasted special education funding is also at stake and we need the legislature to at a minimum pass what are referred to as the ‘forecast articles.’ This is typically a perfunctory act by the legislature, but there’s $90 million of growth in special education entitlements under current law, making passage of the forecast changes even more important.
Additional special education funding continues to bubble up. During the House education bill ‘mark-up’ process, Chair Jenifer Loon accepted an amendment to fund the Special Education Cross-Subsidy Equity proposal from Rep. Jim Knoblach. The amendment would have been effective for the next fiscal biennium, but was subsequently amended to take effect three years from now.
Safe Schools Funding
The Governor, House and Senate supplemental budget bills all have a focus on safe schools funding. The Governor had the most robust safe schools revenue proposal including $18 per pupil in 2019 aid to schools and an increase to $72 per pupil in safe schools equalized levy authority.
The House offers $18 per pupil in aid in 2019 as well and equalizes the current safe schools levy.
The House and Senate also offer new aid for cooperative educational programs. The Senate mirrors the Governor and House for fiscal 2019, but doesn’t continue the new revenue in the tails.
The Senate GOP has been expected to drag on new spending this session since they’re not up for election in the fall and their leadership said from the start they didn’t want to spend new money this year.
The Governor continues to push for ongoing School Readiness Plus funding. The GOP majorities aren’t going to budget on additional revenue for any pre-K program. The Senate bill includes language requiring schools to contract with non-school 3&4 star providers for 40 percent of any new slots paid for through the Voluntary Pre-K program.
The proposal includes a waiver for schools should they find no willing and eligible provider to sub-contract with.
The Senate Education Committee on Thursday will review the much anticipated Office of Legislative Auditor (OLA) report on early learning coordination.
Gov. Dayton proposed an additional $30 million for community broadband funds. The House and Senate supplement bills include $15 million for broadband. Senate Jobs Chair Jeremy Miller spent $15 million of his $17 million on broadband, showing strong support in the Senate.
Sen. Rich Draheim offered an amendment that would require oversight of broadband service providers and Internet speeds. He proposed that providers be required to disclose on their billing statements the average speed they are receiving during the billing period. However, the amendment was withdrawn in the spirit of solely focusing on funding this year, without policy changes, as had been the position of the Rural Broadband Coalition.
In the House, Chair Pat Garofalo also proposed spending $15 million on broadband, but he earmarks $750,000 for satellite providers. The funds are to be spent on 1,000 unserved consumers to aid in satellite equipment installment as well as to lower monthly subscription fees for one year.
The Rural Broadband Coalition was disappointed at the amendment, especially since the satellite providers only are only required to meet speed goals of 25/3.
With only four weeks left of the 2018 legislative session, it is expected that all the major decision making will come down to the last weekend. The state’s constitution prescribes Monday, May 21 as the last day, but it also stipulates that the legislature cannot pass bills on a day prescribed for final adjournment (when they adjourn ‘sine die’). Therefore midnight on Sunday, May 20 is the last chance for the legislature to pass bills.