Special Session Likely as Divided Legislature Enters Last Week

As we enter the final week of the 2021 legislative session with no budget targets in sight, everyone is wondering if they’ll get done on time. Legislature has only ended on time twice in the last 20 years; one budget year like this one and one bonding year. They have also moved to shut down twice in those 20 years. Every other year had some sort of special session. Leadership negotiations will continue all week, and the final weekend will tell us if we’ll be done in the month of May or if budget negotiations will continue into June.

If the Legislature and the Governor get an agreement by this weekend, we’ll likely have a quick week of special session activity. If they are still far apart on a global agreement, the special session can be much more problematic. A special session will not be called until they reach an agreement, and depending on the chasm between the two bodies, they could end up at the brink of a shutdown on June 30th. From the outside view, it can look like nothing is happening as everyone waits on pins and needles to hear if a deal has been made.

There are serious differences between the House and the Senate that will make or break any agreement. The Senate Republicans have indicated from day one that they will not agree to any tax increases. Additionally, they want the Governor to end his usage of peacetime emergency powers and for the Governor to negotiate with them on how the federal funds in the American Rescue Plan are appropriated. The House Democrats are insisting on police and criminal justice reforms. Both sides are standing firm on those principles as we head into the last week.

In a nod to the GOP’s demand to relinquish peacetime emergency powers, the Governor made a significant announcement on May 6th to remove and amend many of the restrictions to help Minnesota re-open and begin a transition back to normal. That was a key piece that the Senate Republicans indicated they wanted, but it is still unclear if this is enough to bring them closer to a deal.

E-12 Conference Committee

Education conference committee work has been slow to date. Each side has organized testimony to educate the other on their priority issues. PELSB changes have been the most controversial discussion to date.

The House proposal to end suspension as an allowable practice for K-3 students was a featured topic for testimony last Friday. The scope of regulations around another year of optional distance learning for districts was also discussed. Education Minnesota is requesting 30 minutes of prep time each day a teacher is required to conduct synchronous teaching according to their testifier on Friday.

On PELSB changes, the Senate organized a series of opposition testifiers to the House PELSB proposal last Thursday. The following day, the House gave PELSB the chance for a rebuttal. The major sticking point is the transitional piece from Tier II to Tier III. PELSB and MACTE are insisting that formal pedagogical training, or a portfolio showing competency in this area, is a necessary, and currently missing, piece of our tiered licensure system. The key distinction they argue is that Tiers I and II are for district flexibility, but Tiers II and IV are statewide, portable and career supporting, therefore should have this additional quality assurance.

When they resume discussion this Monday afternoon, their focus will turn to proposals aimed at increasing teachers of color. The package of legislation around this topic are both policy and finance focused, but it’s one area where the House and Senate have an agreement for action.