The first policy deadline for the Minnesota Legislative Session on Friday brought a jam packed series of committee agendas in the House Education Policy Committee and the advancement of an omnibus policy bill filled with many new requirements on school districts. The Senate E-12 Committee doesn’t appear to be interested in advancing much new policy this session, but MREA will track what emerges over the next two weeks as the second policy bill deadline approaches on March 29.

In late March and early April, both the House and Senate will firm up their respective budget plans before they take a planned break for Passover and Easter.

View quick summary by key issue.

New Tone

The tone of the session changed a bit last week and indicates we’re well past the opening bell and niceties typical of a new biennium. Gov. Tim Walz is figuring out the legislature and realizing not everyone wants to hop on board the “One Minnesota” train. Last week he made the following statement:

“There’s a pattern here. The day I announced my transportation package, that was dead. The day I announced my education package, that was dead. The day I asked we have a concerted statewide (dialogue) and the expectation of a vote on gun violence and safety in our schools, that was dead-on-arrival. Here’s the thing, the dead-on-arrival stuff is coming from a group people who were not on the ballot in 2018. I guess what we’re finding out is, in divided government, if there’s a group of people who want to shut everything down, say no, go to shutdowns, go to special session, they’re capable of doing that. But it’s abundantly clear there is one group of people doing that. There’s a very out-of-touch group in this country that seem to be concentrated heavily in the Minnesota Senate right now. So I think they need to re-think that.”

When asked by a reporter after making this statement if he would prioritize one of his agenda items, his answer was education. That bodes well for school interests, but it’s going to take new revenue into the state’s general fund to make his education funding plan a reality.

Funding Reality

The February budget forecast showed a structural deficit into the tails and the GOP still thinks they can pay for a $460 million transportation plan out of the general fund.

Rural voters have never been fans of a gas tax increase, but rural roads benefit immensely from this constitutionally dedicated revenue, especially as the metro looks to tax itself through more sales taxes for transit expansion. Learn more about Gov. Walz’s tax plan.

The 2017 tax cut package produced by then GOP House and Senate majorities, which was reluctantly signed into law by then Gov. Mark Dayton, hasn’t spurred GDP growth as promised. Instead, the state is seeing GDP numbers shrink for a  variety of reasons.

The $850 million in ongoing tax cuts from the 2017 tax cut bill have thinned out the state’s general fund and the state’s Price of Government is now set to drop from 15.5 percent in FY ’17 to a projected 14.9 percent in FY ‘20.

It’s clear that any substantial new education funding will take new general fund revenue.

What’s in the Policy Bill?

Some of the new mandates and tightening up of local control include:

  • School Boards must control all extracurricular activities; no activities without the consent and direction of the board
  • New required HS courses in Government and Personal Finance
  • Dyslexia screenings required
  • Non-exclusionary discipline procedures required
  • Significant changes to Tiered License system
  • ABE and ECFE teachers are included in continuing contract (tenure) statutes
  • Sexual health education required, topics defined, models to be provided
  • Lead in water and Radon testing, notification, and remediation required
  • Respectful meal policies required, districts cannot limit students’ participation in any school activity due to unpaid lunch debt

The bill provides some flexibility to schools, including:

  • Pre labor day school start allowed for 20-21 and 21-22
  • Special education paper work reduction

View quick summary by key issue.