Because the budget bill was vetoed last session, no additional money was provided for schools, including school safety needs, special education, mental health and early education. The education finance chair promised to fund a special education working group to work on recommendations from the legislative auditor, but the group was never organized before the end of the legislative session.
What has happened in this issue area since last session?
The Education Policy Committee met three times to discuss potential special education challenges and solutions. Because the House committee never met, this issue will need further discussion and attention, particularly on the House side. No other interim committee hearings were held this summer or fall.
The biggest change is that the Education Finance and Policy committees will now be rolled into one, with Sen. Carla Nelson as the chair. As of Mid-December, there has been no word on how the committee will be configured and who will remain as committee members. No DFL members served on both policy and finance.
What is expected to happen this session?
The main discussion will be on funding: formula increase, special education cross subsidy, safe schools revenue, and early education programs. There will be a discussion around weighing investments in education with other priorities such as tax cuts.
With the election of a new DFL governor and DFL House majority, the Republican Senate will have to find a new game plan for the 2019 session. There is uncertainty around new or different priorities for them as session gets underway in January. The forecast looks favorable and with the budget bill veto last session, there will be a push for increased formula funding. It is also expected that school districts request additional special education and English Language Learner funding to ease the cross subsidy that increases each year. Other items on the table include safe schools funding, early childhood education, and policy changes including reading proficiency and civics education requirements.
The Senate Republicans held joint special education committee hearing this fall with emphasis on Minnesota’s funding design and program requirements, especially paperwork mandates. Expect the Republicans to continue those discussions into the new session.
Basic funding formula increase
The 2019 session is a budget-setting year, so expect discussion on Basic Formula increases. The supplemental budget bill was vetoed last session, so schools will likely be requesting larger increases. The Association of Metro School Districts is requesting a 3%-per-year increase and to implement inflation indexing.
The cost of a 3% increase is roughly $190 million per year. If the formula were increased by 3% each year of the biennium, the total cost raises to $570 million. The 2017 bill increased the formula by 2% each year.
Early childhood/Early learning scholarships
Early education was a hallmark of Governor Dayton’s administration; it remains to be seen what Governor-elect Walz will do on this issue. In 2017, $50 million in one-time money was appropriated and the School Readiness Plus program was initiated. The $86 million appropriated in 2016 was frozen for voluntary PreK in 2017. The Republican majorities have not supported voluntary PreK programs, but pushed instead for early learning scholarships, despite the popularity and success of PreK programs in Minnesota.
Safe schools funding
After the Parkland School shooting last February, legislators promised more money to bolster school security to keep kids safe. The Senate Republicans would only appropriate $18 more per student in one-time aid, despite attempts by Governor Dayton and the DFL to funnel more money to schools for safety. This remains a major issue and the discussion will continue this session. Suggestions for safe schools include an increased safe schools levy to allow districts to hire additional counselors, social workers and other support staff, as well as removing the per pupil limit and expanding allowable uses of long-term facilities maintenance money for school security modifications. Senate Republicans have promised to pass a bill early this session.
The Senate Republicans held joint special education committee hearing this fall with emphasis on Minnesota’s funding design and program requirements, especially paperwork mandates. Expect the Republicans to continue those discussions into the new session. AMSD is requesting that the state pay for 50% of its portion of the cross subsidy—$126.5 million over four years.
There was a bipartisan effort last session to pass legislation to improve civics education offerings in Minnesota schools. Expect further discussions this year that could include changes to the world’s best workforce requirements as well.
Vocational/Career Tech training
Minnesota businesses are clamoring for workers—especially in the skilled trades. E-12 education committees could have discussions about how to engage businesses for students wanting to try out various careers.
Last session, a dyslexia provision was included in the final bill, but didn’t become law after the veto. The provision required school districts to screen students for dyslexia between the beginning of kindergarten and the beginning of grade 2, as well as any student who does not read at grade level from grade 2 on. The biggest challenge may be in finding policies that don’t overburden school districts and that can be effective for students.
The Senate Republicans may introduce and hear an education voucher bill as they have in the past. However, with the DFL House and Governor, don’t expect this to become law.
This controversial issue may come up again in the Senate, but don’t expect the House DFL to entertain this proposal that was strongly opposed by most education groups except the Center for the American Experiment. The bill applied to public and charter schools and required that school boards design a policy that applies to students, teachers, administrators and all school employees and that the policy must prohibit school employees from requiring students to express a specified social or political viewpoint for academic credit, extra-curricular participation or as a condition of employment. The policy was required to include reporting procedures and disciplinary actions.