The House and Senate returned from their legislative break last Tuesday, releasing their major omnibus budget bills. In a flurry of committee activity, the omnibus bills were reviewed and edited before they advanced to the next step in their respective bodies.

In about a week, the House and Senate will debate their education bills on the floor, and in about two weeks a formal education conference committee will be established.

The differences in the house and Senate approach are very clear. The House DFL is bringing everything – lots of money and lots of policy – to conference committee, while the Senate brings very little of either money or policy. It’s a negotiating tactic for each side and despite the differences, a new two-year operating budget for schools will pass into law by the end of June.

House DFL Approach

HF1065, the vehicle for the House omnibus education bill, includes a $725 million boost in funding for education. It mirrors the overall scope of the Governor’s spending and policy plan. This plan differs slightly by providing ‘2&2’ on the basic formula compared to the Walz approach of ‘1&2.5.’

As expected, the bill addresses key topics of this legislative session aimed to implement structures that diversify the teaching workforce and increase school support staff to address growing mental health concerns amongst students.

The fiscal highlights of the House DFL plan include:

  • 2&2 on the basic formula, with future inflationary increases included
  • Special Education cross-subsidy aid
  • Continued school readiness plus, 4-year old slots
  • Funding to expand the numbers of teachers of color
  • English Learner funding
  • Additional compensatory aid

The House DFL education plan also includes numerous policy initiatives and mandates. The most significant policy initiatives in their bill revolve around:

  • Changes to the tiered licensure system
  • Added requirements to the terms and conditions of collective bargaining
  • Limits placed on discipline procedures for elementary students
  • Additional reporting and planning requirements under the World’s Best Workforce; aimed at racial equity policies
  • Definition of community education educators as “teachers” for purposes of tenure

House Early Childhood Education

With $775 million in federal and state funding available for investment in early childhood programs over the next four years, the House omnibus early childhood bill (HF2230, Pinto, DFL, St. Paul) includes increased investments in early childhood scholarships (including lifting the cap on Pathway II scholarships), child care sector stabilization and child care assistance for families. The bill could provide a long needed boost for early learning programs, providers and participants. It may help to address gaps in the accessibility of education at an earlier, and perhaps more critical, stage of life for young learners. Some of the components of this bill will be merged into HF 1065 this week in the Ways & Means committee.

Senate GOP Approach

The Senate omnibus education bill, SF 960, includes a much lesser $152 million boost in funding for education. Most of the funds included in this bill are one-time use, rather than on-going. The Senate bill places no new money into the basic education formula, special education or the 4-year-old PreK slots that are set to expire on June 30 under their own bill.

The Senate’s approach seeks to equalize, to a modest extent, the lopsided distribution of the federal relief funds that schools will receive through ESSER II & III. To do so, the Senate uses $60M in one-time “Classroom Support Aid” that would be allocated to schools based, in-part, on how little or much they receive in federal aid.

Further, the Senate proposes that the intermediate school districts receive $400,000 each to help offset the federal funding that they were recently left out of.

Rural educational cooperatives like MREA, who serve students and districts directly, were also left out of the recent federal relief dollars  but aren’t accounted for in the Senate’s one-time classroom support aid. MREA is asking educational cooperative leaders to reach out to their Senators, asking them to address this major inequity in the bill.

MREA appreciates the Senate’s ‘light on mandate and policy’ approach. It appears the bill has a clear, pragmatic way to address elementary discipline by simply proposing a student in K-3 may only be dismissed when “the child poses a safety threat to the child or others.​”

The Senate plan funds $11.5M for “educational savings accounts” or vouchers, something MREA and other public school organizations strongly oppose.