The Minnesota Legislature hopes to convene this week to weigh in on several emergency relief measures, mostly related to licensed facilities managed by Department of Human Services and a child care relief package.
Legislative activity screeched to a halt early last week. After passing an emergency aid package of $200 million for the hospital system late Monday night, legislators put social distancing into practice for themselves and their staff and like many others, explored how they could continue their work virtually. By the end of last week, news broke that a House staffer was the first in the Capitol complex with a confirmed COVID-19 infection.
Child Care Support
During Friday’s news conference, Gov. Tim Walz said he’s asking a lot of child care programs right now. Unlike schools where the pupil aid will continue to flow, child care programs only receive assistance for their families on basic sliding fees if they’re actually serving children.
Child care access and affordability was already a near crisis before the coronavirus pandemic and advocates are hoping to stem the wave of further child care closures with a financial relief package.
As for the K-12 system, the legislature is considering an emergency bill that would allow life to go on for high school seniors, probationary and student teachers, and to waive MCA testing this school year.
House DFLers would also like schools to continue paying hourly staff and contractors as if things were normal. The state’s unemployment system is getting crushed and keeping school employees out of the unemployment line so that private sector folks can use it first is desirable.
However, this will strain school district fund balances as many hourly staff are compensated through fee based revenue generating programs and those fees are evaporating before our eyes in the community education, food service and activities departments.
Here’s a snapshot of the emergency education legislation under consideration right now:
- Compensating hourly staff during any school closures related to the current public health crisis
- Allow student teachers to achieve licensure even if their experience falls short of the required number of days
- Provide probationary teachers credit to advancing towards continuing contract or tenure
- Allow students to move on to the next grade, seniors to graduate, and days students miss from school related to the virus not trigger truancy
- Direct the Commissioner to waive the requirement for MCA testing
- Fund school districts for special education transportation as if they were providing those services during a shutdown
- Provide the state portion of meal support for meals served to the full extent of the monies in the February forecast.
Fund Balances for Schools
Legislators that MREA connected with last week acknowledge the financial hardship this requirement will place on several fund balances.
MREA asked them to consider a one-time pot of money that schools can draw from if paying hourly staff means losing half or more of their reserves. They’re reluctant to do so and tell us they hope to backfill any major budget holes that develop at a later time.
The reality is there won’t be dollars to backfill budget holes as the economy is headed into a recession. Most likely, when the December budget forecast rolls around the state is going to see a multi-billion deficit projected for the next biennium and, very possibly, a deficit for the remainder of the current biennium.
Crunch Your Numbers
We know how extremely busy school staff members are planning for an extended distance learning program. However, if you have time you should crunch some budget figures to see how long your reserves will hold up as you pay hourly staff as normal as fee revenues decline.
Perhaps this is manageable and we should stay out of the way. However, we know how long it can take to build a fund balance and to see it rapidly vanish could cause problems when things hopefully return to normal.
Your legislators will need to hear from you soon as they’re looking to wrap up this round of emergency legislation by Thursday this week. And they’ll want details of what the budget impact will actually be in your district before they consider any emergency aid for schools.
MREA will be tracking Gov. Walz’ press conferences each day. We expect to hear more about ‘shelter in place’ requirements and details about who are considered essential workers. If you’re interested, take a look at the Executive Orders issued to date.