The Minnesota Legislature continues to operate remotely and virtually as they try to process the remaining business before them. The final pieces of the legislative puzzle revolve around the bonding bill, a potential tax bill, non-controversial policy items that don’t carry a cost and what, if anything, to do with the state’s budget as we get news of a deficit and federal money is set to flow to the state.
Two weeks from now the state’s constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn “sine die” or “to never return.” Legislators cannot pass bills on a day prescribed for adjournment ‘sine die. Therefore they have until midnight on May 17 to send bills to the governor.
For education, it is preferable to have the Legislature send the governor a bill clarifying that several state aids will continue to flow to schools despite the distance learning period. It’s also preferable to have the Legislature create policy waivers around teacher licensure as a matter of certainty.
Otherwise schools and education associations all will be leaning on the Professional Educator Licensing & Standards Board (PELSB) this summer to create the waivers needed to continue thousands of teachers through their licensure renewal process despite not having met CEU requirements.
Sen. Torrey Westrom (GOP-Elbow Lake) and Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls) also are advancing legislation to support distance learners. Westrom’s bill, SF 4494, would fund $8 million in distance learning grants while Ecklund’s bill, HF 3029, would fund $15 million.
Both bills also include $10 million in funding for the community broadband fund and $2 million for telemedicine grants. MREA is a member of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition that is helping to push this legislation across the finish line.
- The House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division amended HF 3029 on Monday.
- The Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed SF 4494 on Wednesday.
The grants for school districts are designed to provide wireless or wire-line broadband access for a limited duration to students currently lacking Internet access so that the students may participate in distance learning.
Both House and Senate are on the same page when it comes to prioritizing additional funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. Senate and House leaders are facing incredibly difficult choices during the pandemic and will face even harder decisions in the coming weeks and months with the state’s uncertain economic future. Through all this, they have consistently said that connecting more Minnesotans to broadband should remain a top priority.
Getting an education bill across the finish line will be difficult. The DFL and GOP disagree on what, if anything, should be passed as a matter of session law for the hourly workers during the distance learning period brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
MREA continues to advocate for an education bill to create certainty around school revenues and teacher licensure. We also continue to advocate for legislation shoring up funding for the 18 on-line concurrent enrollment teacher credentialing program, cooperative facilities lease levy authority and funding aimed at supporting students lacking sufficient internet access during distance learning.
Stay apprised of resources and news on COVID-19 for schools at: MREAvoice.org/covid19