The largest change this session was the rolling together of the E-12 education finance and policy committees. The committee increased to 12 members. Five DFL senators, including Chuck Wiger, Greg Clausen, Susan Kent, Patricia Torres Ray, and Steve Cwodzinski were appointed to the new merged committee. Senator Carla Nelson remained as chair and ran it with a partisan agenda, allowing only 13 DFL member bills to be heard.
Snow Days bill signed into law
Minnesota school districts were handed an excused absence slip in April when Governor Walz signed the snow days compromise bill that will remove penalties for school days lost to Minnesota’s cold, snowy winter. As the snow days mounted, many districts realized they were at or nearing the required 165 education days prescribed by state law. Districts risked penalties for non-compliance with the required number of school days and hours. The provisions are in effect for the 2018-19 school year only.
The bill allows school boards to determine how many days they will declare instructional days to meet the state minimum. Pay provisions for hourly and contract employees and provisions for probationary teachers were included in the bill. School districts also must report to the commissioner on number of days board approves to count as instructional days under the bill. (SF 1743)
2019 E-12 Omnibus Bill
Governor Walz and House and Senate DFLers are generally in agreement on investing in the state’s education system. The governor’s proposal invests $733 million in the state’s education system, and the House DFL investment is slightly higher at $900 million.
However, despite urgent needs facing the education system, Senate Republicans allocate only $211.5 million in their budget proposal. (SF 7)
Other large discussion points also show a strong divide in Senate Republican and DFL priorities.
Basic funding formula increase
The main discussion so far has been on funding, specifically the potential basic funding formula increase. The governor proposed a 3% (FY20) and 2% (FY21) increase totaling $521 million. This provides $189 per student in new money in FY20 and $130 per student additionally in FY21 for the biennium. Education advocates had requested that future funding increases be tied to inflation, but that provision was not included in the governor’s bill. The House bill contains the per pupil funding increase.
The Senate’s omnibus budget bill has a $211 million target, providing a .5% and .5% (FY20 and 21, respectively) increase which is approximately $94 million per year or $31 per student (FY20) and $32 per student (FY21).
Special Education Cross Subsidy Ignored
The Senate Education Policy and Finance Committees met over the summer and fall to discuss special education challenges and potential solutions, with emphasis on Minnesota’s funding design and program requirements, especially paperwork mandates. Advocates requested funding to address Minnesota’s burgeoning cross subsidy, which will total $730 million in FY19.
The Senate bill provides no additional funding to help districts cover rising special education costs for the biennium. The low target provided no options for further investments in the program this session.
The governor proposes a $91 million increase to hold the special education cross subsidy flat and reduce per pupil amounts to $820. The tuition bill reimbursement will also be set at 85% for FY20 and 80% in FY21, helping to flatten rate increases for public schools.
A low funding target means no increased investments in several successful school programs will be funded, including expanded school breakfast and alternative compensation (Qcomp) funding for teachers. Other programs were cut completely:
- Northwest Regional (rural) Partnership: $2.77 million
- Litigation fees: $4 million
- Perpich Center: $4.89 million (34% reduction)
- Turnaround Arts: $370,000
- Vision Therapy Pilot Project: $200,000
- Rock N’Read: $500,000
- Starbase MN: $1 million
Reading Proficiency Enhanced
The reading proficiency gap continues to plague Minnesota students, but proposals this session could help if they become law. A bill requiring school districts to screen students for dyslexia in elementary school has been discussed, and there is a bill to form the Minnesota Reads Action Council. The council would recommend legislative action, report on literacy outcomes, and provide an assessment of literacy programs in Minnesota.
Teacher preparation programs in Minnesota would be required to include dyslexia instruction strategies under one of the bill’s provisions. Funding for one program would allow teachers to participate in a literacy professional development program offered by an eligible training provider; a portion of the teacher’s tuition, room, board, and travel costs incurred may be reimbursed. The bill names eligible training providers specifically. Teachers may also receive a hiring bonus if trained by specific providers and school districts may use literacy incentive aid to provide the bonuses.
Voluntary PreK/Early Learning Scholarships
Early education was a hallmark of Governor Dayton’s administration; Governor Walz is continuing Dayton’s legacy by maintaining the $47 million investment to safeguard programs for 4,000 students in 140 schools across 80 school districts and charter schools set to expire on July 1, 2019.
The Senate bill provides an additional $44.5 million in one-time funds for early learning scholarships, creating “transitional seats” based on geographical location around Minnesota. The commissioner of education is prohibited from directly designating scholarships to specific programs; the funding will cover only 3,000 of the 4,000 early learning positions that could be lost.
The governor does not increase funding for the early childhood scholarship program but does propose to transfer the appropriation to an account in the Special Revenue Fund to simplify the payment system, improve the department’s program management and oversight, and ensure the department can meet the commitments made to these children.
Cursive handwriting skill gets a boost
In the era of cell phones and keyboards, the Department of Education must develop a model to enable students to learn legible cursive handwriting skills by the end of grade 5 as part of their review of the English language arts standards.
Military recruiters, skilled trades counseling in schools
Schools must provide military recruiters and organizations promoting careers in skilled trades and manufacturing access to schools and students. The Department of Education must collaborate with the Department of Labor and Industry to incorporate construction and skilled trades into career counseling services for middle and high school students.
After the Parkland shooting, legislators promised more money to bolster school safety and enhance mental health services in schools. The governor suggests $5 in one-time state per pupil aid for FY20, and for FY21 and beyond he proposes an increase in the Safe Schools levy from $36 per pupil to $50 per pupil, creating a minimum revenue amount of $20,834 per school district, and equalizing the levy to allow districts with low property wealth to access the revenue. Charters would receive $14 per child. The money could be used for support staff and professional development, social emotional learning and for restorative practices.
The Republicans have proposed $74.5 million in one-time funding for school safety revenue, which is a mixture of aid and levy. The bill also provides $5 million in school-linked mental health grants.
Safe Schools Levy
The safe schools levy remains at $36 per student and may be combined with safe schools aid, which is a new category for schools. Districts that are members of intermediate districts will also receive an additional $15 per student levy authority.
- Safe schools aid is set at $38 per student, and districts will receive a minimum of $32,000 in Safe Schools revenue. The aid can also be used for enhancing school cybersecurity, pay costs for school-linked mental health services delivered by telemedicine, and debt service. It preserves the pass-through levy for school districts that are members of intermediate school districts
- Allows a school district to issue bonds using their safe schools revenue as collateral for purchasing public announcement systems, emergency communications devices, and other equipment related to violence prevention and facility security
- Allows school districts to transfer safe schools revenue into their debt redemption fund to pay for the share of any bonds that were used to pay for facility security enhancements
- Charter schools would also receive $38 per student
- MDE must report on safe school revenue expenditures to the legislature by January 15 of each year
Teachers of color recruitment and retention
A comprehensive program to encourage more people of color to enter the world of teaching was basically ignored in the Senate and didn’t receive a hearing, and the funding for programs remains at base level. The new provision allows grants to be used at eligible secondary schools to partner with higher education to offer “Intro to Teaching” or “Intro to Education” PSEO courses.
The bill does not implement a specific civics education requirement but adds a civics component as a part of the social studies requirement. Schools must also report the percentage of students who graduated the previous school year and who correctly answered 30 of 50 questions on the civics test.
CTE licensure requirements end
Under a provision included in the omnibus bill, a person who teaches CTE courses in Minnesota high schools who be exempt from teacher licensure requirements if the person demonstrates occupational competency based on work experience or industry. The person would not be required to complete a teacher preparation program or meet any of the state’s licensure requirements. This provision was set to end later this year.
School districts would be required to assess students to determine their readiness for kindergarten based on a provision included in the bill. The commissioner of education must develop and implement a kindergarten assessment to determine young students’ preparedness for formal schooling. The assessment data to be reported with the World’s Best Workforce report and explicitly requires the commissioner to integrate readiness data into the longitudinal data systems by the 2020-21 school year.