Week 10: Legislative Session Enters Final Phase

Four weeks from today, the Minnesota legislature will be heading home for the summer. This is a short week due to the Passover religious observation, and the legislature is out until noon on Wednesday. With that being said, there’s about three weeks left for the House and Senate to process dozens of policy and supplemental budget bills. A Bonding bill was to be the primary focus of this session, but it has taken a quiet backseat as the DFL Trifecta continues to press an aggressive pace and agenda for this otherwise non-budget session.

The GOP doesn’t have much leverage except for the Bonding bill, and there’s speculation they’ll want more support for rural emergency medical services. The Trifecta budget targets only allow about $16 million of the $120 million that rural entities are asking for EMS support. Perhaps the budget targets will be increased in the final week of session to accommodate a few caucus priorities to help get a Bonding bill to the Governor’s desk.

Thursday Senate Tax Committee : SF 4995 Seasonal Recreational Tax Base Replacement Aid

While it’s getting late in the process, Senate Tax Chair Ann Rest has agreed to hear SF 4995. This legislation would buy-down the cost of a voter-approved operating levy by sending state general fund revenue back to the school district based on the amount of seasonal property in the district. The state funds would be required to buy down the total levy, making it more affordable for homeowners. The price tag of the bill is around $8.5 million, so it doesn’t fit in the tax budget target, but the end of session is always interesting as the chess pieces get moved around.

Education Policy Conference Committee: HF 3782/SF 3567

Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL Eden Prairie) and Sen. Steve Cwodzinkski (DFL Eden Prairie) are co-chairing a conference committee on Education Policy issues. There are several items of agreement between the House and Senate and a handful of differences. The Governor is looking for a provision that would prohibit the banning of books by a governing board of a library system, be it a K-12 or public system.

Education Supplemental Budget: HF 5247/SF 5252

Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL Hopkins) and Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL New Brighton) will eventually co-chair a conference committee on supplemental spending for the state’s E-12 budget. They have $43 million to spend on fiscal year 2025, but the “tails” budget, fiscal years 2026-27, can only increase by $18 million, therefore most of the funding is one-time. The House and Senate proposals were released last week and the big ticket items line up fairly closely.

The Read Act is the focus as schools and teachers implement the massive new law aimed at ensuring teachers are using structured literacy as the driver of reading instruction in elementary grades. Roughly $35 million of the one-time target will go to pay teachers for their time getting trained in new curriculum and instructional methods. A $35 million allocation from the 2023 E-12 budget bill is being remodeled so school districts will get a direct infusion of $40/pupil to cover other costs associated with the Read Act. The previous language would have required schools to apply for grants, which is unpalatable for many small and medium-sized schools.

The House, Senate and Governor all agree to add another 2,200 VPK slots, to continue a Compensatory Aid hold harmless. They all agree on a $2.7 million investment in PELSB to develop an on-line licensing system, allow for schools to reserve some of their Student Support Personnel Aid, and each party wants to expand Medicaid billing for school social workers.

Where they differ is how to continue investments in the next generation of teachers. The House wants to fund a series of student teacher stipend programs through the state’s public higher education teacher prep programs. The Senate would like to invest more in the Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers (TOCAIT) grow- your-own programs.

Lastly, student absenteeism has been a hot topic this session. The House bill funds several pilot projects at specific school districts, including Mankato, Moorhead, Chisholm, Red Lake, Northfield, and Windom as the chosen districts outside the metro area. The Senate would fund a grant pool whereby districts could apply for grants up to $250,000 to address absenteeism.