School Employee/School Board Member Salary Cap
A bill was passed and signed into law to increase the salary cap on part-time school employees who seeks to run for school board in the same district that employs them. Currently, an employee may not earn more than $8,000 per year to be eligible to serve on the school board. This change will allow an employee to make up to $20,000 annually and serve on the school board concurrently. (SF 3107)
DID NOT PASS
Education Supplemental Omnibus Bill
The Republican Senate education supplemental omnibus bill proposed only $30 million for teacher literacy training and failed to address the multitude of challenges facing our students, parents, teachers, and schools.
With a $9.2 billion budget surplus, the Legislature should have invested in our youngest learners, addressed student mental health needs, compensated districts for the cost of special education services, and tackled the teacher shortage. Instead, the education supplement proposed to spend just 0.3% of the surplus on a privately held literacy instructional program called LETRS.
Governor Walz and the House DFL Majority were able to negotiate a $1 billion E-12 education target ($320 million in fiscal year 2023 and $640 million in fiscal years 2024 and 2025) with the Senate Republican Majority prior to adjournment, but the Legislature ran out of time to reach an agreement on how to spend those resources.
The Minnesota Senate should have readjusted its priorities and focused on the importance of education instead of tax breaks for the rich. We had an opportunity to invest some of the unprecedented budget surplus in our students and schools but failed to provide any financial support to our teachers, school support personnel, and districts. (SF 4113)
The Senate Education Supplemental Omnibus was a proposal for $30 million in additional grant funding to the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) company. The bill also provided $700,000 for literacy support directors at the Department of Education’s Regional Centers of Excellence to assist in LETRS training. The 2021 omnibus education bill provided $3 million to train teachers through LETRS, which began in January and is anticipated to continue through June of 2023.
While literacy is essential, it is only a fraction of what our schools need and what education advocates pleaded with us to support this session. Nevertheless, the House DFL agreed to the LETRS funding demands of the Republican Senate, including support for the governor’s BOLD Literacy policy proposal, but was unable to get the Senate to agree to funding for other critical needs in the education budget. (SF 4113)
Student Mental Health
Due to the isolation and stress of a long pandemic, the adverse effects of social media, and a myriad of other factors, it is very apparent our students are not okay. Minnesota has one of the worst student-to-counsel ratios in the nation at a time when more students than ever before need mental health support. The Senate DFL Caucus supports providing new Student Support Personnel aid advocated by Governor Walz and the House DFL majority to place counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses in every public school in our state.
$95 million in FY23 for Student Support Personnel aid would have funded 1,100 new mental health experts in our schools. But at every opportunity, the Senate Republican majority blocked this proposal, even with a $1 billion education budget target. $2 million for school-linked mental health grants eventually passed in another bill, but this pales in comparison to the need and will not allow schools to provide comprehensive mental health services to all students.
When school districts are forced to make cuts, these mental health employees are often the first to go to ensure class sizes are not increased; implementing a dedicated aid program would guarantee funding to keep these critical employees in our schools even when difficult budget decisions need to be made. (HF 4300)
Special Education/English language learning
Special education and English language learning costs continue to increase for districts despite receiving no new financial support for these mandated services by the state and federal government. These unfunded mandates are typically referred to as the special education and English language learner cross-subsidies. The Senate DFL Caucus repeatedly attempted to elevate these issues to the forefront during the debate on a supplemental education bill and amend additional funding for the cross-subsidies into the omnibus supplemental education bill.
The Senate DFL Caucus also attempted to amend the tax bill by eliminating the income tax rate cut for the 4th tier—those earning more than $284,000 a year—to provide $386 million toward the special education cross-subsidy. This would have not only funded special education and helped our school districts, but also taken pressure off local property taxpayers.
While Senate Republicans eventually acknowledged the need for additional special education aid from the state within the $1 billion education budget target, the English language learner cross-subsidy, and many other education-related budget areas were never considered during the negotiations that eventually fell apart. (HF 4300)
Basic Education Formula/Voluntary Pre-K
The basic education funding formula is the primary tool to provide school districts across the state with the resources they need to provide a high-quality education to all students. With inflation also affecting our schools, increasing the formula would have been a way to help all districts, but especially those facing budget cuts next school year. A countless number of teachers are struggling after a long pandemic and are considering leaving the profession because they don’t feel supported—the lack of across-the-board funding increases to schools is proof of exactly that.
Early learning resources are another proven tool to ensure our children are ready for kindergarten and help parents with childcare support. Both the Governor and House DFL majority had proposals to provide funding for volunteer pre-kindergarten programming and early learning scholarships. The Senate Republican majority refused to provide resources for this programming in any of their budget offers. (HF 4300)
A bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee but did not become law to set up ‘Educational Savings Accounts’ (ESAs), which would essentially serve as vouchers that would provide public taxpayer dollars to pay for private E-12 instruction and homeschooling. Educational services include private school tuition, tutoring, and even electronic devices such as computers or iPads. The funding would be administered through the Department of Education and placed on a debit card for parental use.
It is estimated that public schools across the state would lose $178 million due to the departure of students from their schools to private institutions and homeschooling. This proposal also would have resulted in a $23 million reduction in local school levy revenue because school district taxation authority is based on per-pupil counts. The bill gave non-public schools in the program complete autonomy from state regulations, so the state would not be able to hold voucher spending of taxpayer dollars accountable.
Vouchers undermine the state’s commitment to public education and have not demonstrated an improvement in academic outcomes in other states. They will allow private schools and home school instructors to take taxpayer money without implementing minimum teacher qualifications, academic standards, or student achievement benchmarks. This taxpayer-funded giveaway came with no strings attached and would have undermined the ability of Minnesota schools to provide a world-class education to our students regardless of where they live, their family income, or their social, racial, or cultural status. (SF 1525)
Menstrual Equity Bill
A bill was heard and included in the omnibus education bill but was not passed to ensure students in Minnesota receive menstrual hygiene products in school. The proposal was the result of advocacy from students to address the inability to access hygiene products, referred to as period poverty, which has affected almost a quarter of students according to nationwide survey data.
For those students, the cost of these products can be prohibitive, denying them access to these necessary products and affecting their ability to learn. Proponents argue that much like soap, toilet paper, and paper towels, menstrual products should be available free of charge. This bill would have required school districts to provide menstrual products to students free of charge, available in restrooms used by students in grades 4 to 12, while providing state funding to compensate school districts for the cost. (SF 3052)
Parental Curriculum Review
Instead of addressing school funding shortfalls, confronting the opportunity gap, providing mental health support, or tackling teacher retention and recruitment, Senate Republicans chose instead to spend time pushing far-right legislation this session that had no chance of ever becoming law.
The bill would have duplicated current Minnesota law already providing parents the right to review curriculum and would also prohibit districts from recouping the costs of expensive data requests coming from outside interest groups intent on overburdening our teachers and administrators.
The bill was opposed by the Minnesota Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and failed to prioritize the real issues facing our parents and schools. With an unprecedented budget surplus, we had a historic opportunity to invest in the real needs of our students, parents, and teachers but failed at every opportunity. (SF 2575)