All Minnesotans should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
We’re committed to a future in which all Minnesotans have a path to success. To ensure quality education in Minnesota, it’s not enough to just maintain the status quo — we need to make smart, significant funding increases in our schools to close the opportunity gaps our children are facing. We must also ensure college and technical schools are an attainable goal to grow and retain the 21st century workforce we need.
Senate Republicans blocked the progress we need to fully fund our public schools and make class sizes smaller, bring Minnesota’s ratio of counselors to students in line with national standards, bring in more teachers of color, and safeguard schools against budget cuts.
Senate Republicans began 2019 budget negotiations with an embarrassingly low investment in K-12 public schools: just a half-percent increase in the per-pupil funding formula. They also wanted to spend $30 million per year on tax credits to wealthy donors who support private, religious schools, and they passed a new agricultural property tax credit that will certainly help farmers but exists only to offset a troubling trend in public school financing: too many districts being forced to rely on property tax payers to support local levies because state funding is no longer sufficient to meet students’ needs.
In the end, DFL lawmakers convinced Republicans to agree to a 2% per-pupil funding increase in each of year of the biennium, along with additional funding for special education. DFLers also successfully prevented Republicans from eliminating 4,000 early education slots from statewide pre-K programs.
Private school tax credits
The last two sessions, Republicans have tried to divert up to $35 million per year away from public education and into the pockets of wealthy donors and corporations who choose to support private or religious schools. The plan would starve public schools that are constitutionally created to serve the entire state, while supporting a few private institutions primarily in the metro area. This is not about low-income kids; it’s a tax write-off for the wealthy.
This year, they announced their intent to try once again to divert money for public education into the pockets of wealthy individuals and corporations. DFLers will, once again, prevent this lopsided tax loophole from becoming law and focus on the goal of ensuring every Minnesota student can receive a high-quality, well-rounded education, regardless of ZIP code.
Minnesota has one of the widest achievement gaps in the country. Some school advocates, and mainly Republicans, use this as a rationale for school choice, including vouchers. Instead, we should provide options that work to retain quality teachers and encourage more to join the teaching profession.
Feeling safe in school is essential for learning; students need to feel safe in school and to feel a connection to teachers, staff, and other students. We need to provide the funds to help schools expand resources to students in need; simply “hardening” schools with metal detectors and bullet-proof glass won’t ensure students feel cared for and valued. Although the Senate Republicans claimed this was a priority for them, only $33 million in one-time funds was appropriated for school safety.
With schools facing students with a myriad of metal health issues, there are policy and funding priorities that could be enacted:
Higher Education Funding
Minnesota law says the legislature should provide at least 67% of the funding for public post-secondary schools and the remaining 33% is intended to be provided through the students and families. Unfortunately, the percentages in funding have been reversed, with the legislature now providing about one-third of the necessary funding for higher education. Despite DFL pressure to increase investments, the Republicans have consistently ignored the needs of students, their families, and Minnesota’s higher education institutions.
As recently as 2018, the Republican Senate provided a $0 funding increase for higher education programs, and other budgets have completely ignored requests by the U of M.
The Senate Republicans announced their plans for the upcoming session and pointed to continued job-training programs and economic development through higher education but did not roll out any strong signals on a higher education supplemental budget or student loan-relief plans.
Minnesota State has made a supplemental budget request of $54.2 million for FY20-21. Of that, $39.7 million will be used for tuition relief and campus support, and $14.5 million will be used for NextGen – MinnState’s largest technology modernization upgrade in the system’s history. The University of Minnesota has not yet released a supplemental budget request.
Other E-12 Issues
The push continues for Minnesota to replace the 11th grade MCA with the more widely used ACT. Students know that the MCAs won’t help them gain access to higher education or a job. They would rather spend their time taking a test that really matters—like the ACT. The MCAs don’t provide useful data to students, parents, and teachers and is not used as a universal score for college entrance. Major discussion will be on how to move forward with this based on federal requirements. Minnesota spends over $21 million on statewide testing each biennium. Minnesota could better serve students by fully funding education instead having schools and teachers spend so much time on standardized testing.
Comprehensive Sex education
Last session the House education policy bill contained a provision to madate comprehensive sexual education in Minnesota public schools. The Senate GOP strongly opposed the proposal. It is likely the GOP will attempt to use it as a wedge issue, especially in rural Minnesota again this year. Some rural school administrators are saying that they would like to let the issue pass as they are already providing sexual education to students and that a strong mandate rom St. Paul could hurt their current efforts.
However, ignoring sexual education doesn’t mean that students are oblivious to the world around them. Having a comprehensive proposal that provides accurate and trythful information is the best way to safeguard students and ensure they have healthy productive lives.
A law was passed last session to require all funds from extracurricular activities to be deposited with the school district in order to put Minnesota school districts’ fundraising activities in alignment with General Accounting Standards Board (GASB) protocols. An unintended consequence arose that prompted some previously sales tax-exempt school fundraising sales to become taxable. This includes the sales of flowers, wrapping paper, wreaths, and certain other activities if they do not qualify for one of the exemptions that also is listed in that law. There has been some pushback from school districts and fundraising groups; the Department of Revenue has been working with the Department of Education on potential fixes that could be discussed this session.
A recent Federal Reserve Bank report on Minnesota’s widening achievement gap has prompted former Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari to promote a constitutional amendment to change Minnesota’s education clause to ensure that all Minnesota children have the fundamental right to a quality public education. There is no monetary clause included in the wording of the amendment, which can be read here: https://www.minneapolisfed.org/policy/education-achievement-gaps/why-a-constitutional-amendment[EA1]
The Business Partnership is behind the proposal. A Star Tribune story indicated there were “politicians, tribal leaders and business executives” in support, but no other names were listed. A January 13 conference listed Attorney General Keith Ellison, Sondra Samuels of the Northside Achievement Zone, Charlie Weaver, and Ecolab CEO Doug Baker as speakers.
Other Higher Ed Issues
Minnesota College Application Week/FAFSA requirement
This initiative, spearheaded by the Office of Higher Education (OHE), would encourage every senior high school student to apply to a post-secondary institution. The initiative would support the state attainment goal that 70% of Minnesotans between the ages of 25-44 have a post-secondary degree or credential by 2025. Students would receive a letter from the OHE informing them of pre-approved entrance to a specific college—based on predetermined criteria—along with college funding and scholarship information. Application would be free. Along with this initiative, students would be required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Minnesota annually “exports” a high number of students to other states for their higher education careers. With the Senate Republicans ignoring the needs of students and their families, having students learn about their options in Minnesota would be a step to keep more Minnesota students at home.
Student Grant programs
In FY18, $194 million in state grants were awarded to 80,793 students, 61% of them from families with less than $40,000 income. Increasing the amount of state grants is a wise investment in helping students afford college and stay in school. Increased state grant amounts could be part of a potential supplemental budget.
Again, increased state grant funding would help entice students to seek higher education opportunities in Minnesota. The state can’t close the achievement gap if opportunities aren’t provided for all Minnesota students.
State Equity Report Card
This initiative couples with the state’s 2025 higher education degree attainment goal. This database, developed though the Education Trust, provides completion data, enrollment representation, and degree attainment by ethnic group. The Trust would assist legislators in understanding the threats and opportunities in Minnesota reaching this attainment goal.
Dual/Concurrent Enrollment Funding increase
Minnesota currently spends $8 million per biennium on concurrent enrollment programs (i.e College in the Schools). The last increase in that program was made in 2015. The aid appropriated to schools is based on a proration factor to provide funds that will meet the appropriations. According to the Department of Education, about $11 million is the total amount spent by schools before proration, meaning there is a shortage of about $7 million from the actual cost of the courses provided. Increases in the concurrent enrollment amounts appropriated for Minnesota schools should be discussed again.
Helping students gain college credits while in high school means attaining a higher education will be more affordable.
Private For-Profit Higher Education Institutions
Minnesota students have been harmfully affected by the sudden closure of for-profit post-secondary institutions, the most recent being Argosy University in 2019. To safeguard students who find these schools to be a good option for them, legislative changes should ensure student protections against closure and misrepresentation of programs. Provisions must include student protections in the event of foreclosure, including increased bond requirements, early warning triggers and required program completion requirements. Statute should avoid affecting non-profit private institutions.
Minnesota students should not have to bear the brunt of schools that either weren’t forthcoming about degree attainment or left them hanging with a sudden foreclosure.
NCAA Student Athlete Bill
Last fall, the NCAA changed its position on payment for student athletes. The NCAA has not put forward guidelines for the change, but the Minnesota bill likely will allow athletes to profit from their names and images, including endorsements. Prior to last fall, this was prohibited under NCAA rules. More than a dozen other states have followed suit.
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