By Sam Walseth, MREA Chief Lobbyist

After eight hours of debate on the House floor Tuesday night and eight hours of debate on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, the omnibus education bills passed and are headed to a conference committee.

There were several contentious issues during debate in both bodies, the most significant revolving around the repeal of the Math GRAD. The debate and votes on the Math GRAD issues were primarily along party lines with DFL members supporting the repeal and GOP members voting to put a cut score for a diploma back into law.

Assessment & Accountability

The final House vote did include 10 GOP “yes” votes, mostly from rural Minnesota. The final Senate vote was a little thin with 35 votes (34 needed to pass) in support. All GOP members voting, voted no as did three DFL members.

You have heard extensively from MREA this session about the importance of moving forward on assessment and accountability reform. Those reforms, including the repeal of the GRAD exams, have survived the process thus far and are on their way to a conference committee where the third party in negotiations, the Governor, supports the reform.

We can’t celebrate yet, but major assessment and accountability reform appears to be a few short steps away from becoming law. However, you can expect to hear the business community supported politicos continue spouting comments about “dumbing down the diploma.” Such is the difficult state of the education debate.

Spending Differences

The big discrepancy between the House and the Senate and Governor are not on the policy issues. The discrepancy is in the amount of money that should go into the traditional K-12 system.

The Senate and Governor are proposing close to $300 million over the next two years on the traditional classroom and an expansion of all day, every day K. The House by contrast is proposing closer to $470 million on the traditional classroom and expansion to all day, every day K.

The Senate is also seeking to spend about $230 million to reduce school levies by buying back several local levies and increasing referendum equalization. The House spends about $30 million on referendum equalization and the Governor did not propose any reforms to school property taxes.

Budget Target

The next and probably final wave of advocacy by school officials this session needs to be on increasing the education conference committee budget target. School officials, educators and others need to urge their House Representatives to fight for their school aid target and to urge their Senators to accept the higher aid target the House is bringing to conference committee.