Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy President's Day. It sounds like yesterday was Vice-President's Day with speculation over who Senator McCain's choice will be for the second spot on his ticket with our Governor meriting considerable consideration among the coterie of cognoscenti who populate the Sunday morning opinion media. But enough speculation, let's get back to the indoor sport that has more of an immediate effect on our well-being: the 2008 Legislative Session.

President's Day may constitute a day off at the post office and the bank, but not at the Legislature, where there were both floor sessions and committee meetings. Two of these meetings were of note to the education community. The first of these meetings was the Senate Education Policy Committee, where three bills proposing changes to the permanent school fund were discussed. Pictured above is Senator Kathy Saltzman (flanked by Senator Sandy Rummel and Senate staff member Eric Nauman), who got the opportunity to chair the committee while Chairman Wiger presented two of the three bills before the panel

First, a little history of the Permanent School Fund. The basis of the Permanent School Fund comes from the General Land Ordinance of 1785 Uniform Survey System, when sections of each township were granted to the township for purposes of education. In Minnesota, these sections were numbers 16 and 36 in each township (there are 36 sections to a township--6 x 6). The land is granted to the states with 5% of land sales going into a trust fund. The state then plays the role of the trustee. In Minnesota, the trust fund lands are managed by the State Board of Investment. Revenue for the land go into the Permanent School Fund. The fund is not spent, but the interest generated is on-going revenue for school districts throughout Minnesota.

However, this generates no new money for Minnesota school districts. Instead, the interest revenue is distributed to school districts as part of the general education basic amount and a corresponding amount is subtracted from the state general fund investment toward the general education basic formula. In other words, the permanent school fund revenue sent to schools reduces the amount coming from the state general fund.

Three bills before the Legislature seek to make interest revenue generated from the Permanent School Fund an addition to school funding instead of a general fund offset. These bills are SF 2392 (Wiger)/HF 2973 (Dittrich), SF 2422 (Wiger)/HF 2975 (Dittrich), and SF 2811 (Lynch)/No House Companion.

SF 2392/HF 2973 would remove the revenue subtraction and make the revenue generated from management of the Permanent School Fund additional revenue for districts and dedicate the new funding to technology. SF 2422/HF 2975 would eliminate the Permanent School Fund subtraction with no revenue dedication. Instead, revenue would go to districts without any strings. SF 2811 would replace management of the Permanent School Fund by the State Board of Investment with a newly-established board to provide accountability and oversight.

Pictured at the left testifying in favor of these changes are (from left to right) MSBA lobbyist Grace Schwab, International Falls Superintendent and Permanent School Fund Advisory Task Force member Don Langan, and Senator Chuck Wiger, the author of SFs 2392 and 2422. Final action was not taken during Monday's hearing, but this will likely be discussed throughout the session and may be a way for school districts to receive additional revenue, though probably not in time for the next school year. The language and status of these measures can be obtained at the following links:

SF 2392/HF 2973:

SF 2422/HF 2975:

SF 2811:

These measures are ones that merit our support as we move through this session. There were a number of valuable handouts distributed at the hearing and I will try to find a way to get them into your hands so that you can use them when working with your legislators.

The House Education Finance and Economic Competitiveness Finance Division chaired by Representative Mary Murphy heard two reports from the Office of the Legislative Auditor this afternoon. The first was on the JOBZ program and the second on Student Transportation Safety.

The report on School District Student Transportation highlights a number of areas where the Legislative Auditor believes there are shortcomings in the current system. Many of these shortcomings fall with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Department of Education, but school districts undergo considerable scrutiny in the report as well.

The area of school district operations that will likely receive the most attention in the session ahead is that of drivers of Type III vehicles (vans and cars). Type III drivers are largely unregulated under the current system and a number of new requirements for these drivers will be discussed and it is my expectation that some of these requirements will be enacted.

Text of the School District Student Transportation Report can be read and/or downloaded at:

One item in the report not directly related to student safety, but interesting nonetheless is the approximately $40 million gap statewide between school district transportation expenditures and school district transportation revenue. In other words, if you can't readily charge fees or pass a referendum for transportation costs, you are probably in the soup. Food, or I guess soup, for thought.

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