Saturday, April 11, 2009

Senate Bill (Part II). Now where did we leave off? That's right, the Senate E-12 Funding Division had unveiled its bill that applied significant funding cuts to school districts throughout the state. In reaction to these proposed cuts and the distribution of the cuts, I talked with several SEE area legislators and voiced my concern. Senator Amy Koch (R-Buffalo) had an amendment drafted that would have altered the way in which the cuts were distributed by putting all revenue streams into consideration for cuts. This would have implemented an across-the-board cut to all school districts of the same percentage amount in terms of state-generated formula revenue. As stated in the previous edition of the blog, fairness and equity can often be slippery and I am not going to be someone who can unequivocally state that doing it the way Senator Koch suggested is either the only or most correct way to implement the cuts, although it clearly treats districts at the bottom end of the revnue pile more fairly.

I was very pointed in my testimony on this amendment. I acknowledged that SEE was not a monolithic set of districts and that some SEE members would benefit from the manner in which the cuts in the bill were suggested, but that the Senate approach needed to be discussed both in a macro and micro sense. The first point I made is that the fact that education is being cut at all is a mistake and should be re-thought. I "get" the notion of shared sacrifice that the Senate has been promoting, but given that the Minnesota (and American) economic future is going to rely more heavily on preparing our human capital to compete successfully on a global scale, it's unwise to put education on a funding hiatus.
I then proceeded to talk about how the cuts were to be applied in the Senate bill and how districts with the lowest levels of per pupil general education revenue were going to be assuming a larger percentage cut due to the fact they receive little in terms of sub-formula revenue that is tied to the general education amount--compensatory, sparsity, equity, and transportation sparsity--and have little or no additional revenue provided through the referendum to offset these cuts.
Lastly, I talked about how Minnesota needed comprehensive funding reform that would raise the amount of revenue available for all districts, distribute that revenue so that differences in district demography and geography are recognized, and reduce reliance on the referendum. I pointed out how education funding reform has been one of SEE's top priorities over the past five years and that we, along with other organizations advocating for reform, have not had much luck getting the Senate excited about the subject.
Needless to say, the amendment and my testimony incited a spirited discussion, with proponents of the bill's language and proponents of Senator Koch's amendment sparring for about half an hour. In the end, Senator Koch withdrew her amendment, as there were some questions about technical aspects of the language and the fact that it probably would not pass.
One could ask--and it would be a reasonable question--as to why I got up and spoke sympathetically about an amendment that (1) was controversial, (2) might get people angry at me, and (3) wasn't going to pass. As for the first two points, I don't think a lobbyist has the luxury of taking a walk something needs to be said. If there are questions with a legislative approach, they need to be posed. As for the last point, it's often the best time to make a point when an amendment isn't going to pass because one can use the opportunity to make an argument more forcefully (and perhaps more forcefully than is wise at the time, which is a risk) in an attempt to promote a longterm viewpoint. That is what I tried to accomplish and I was somewhat successful.
The primary goal of our efforts this year should be--in addition to avoiding cuts--to create momentum for comprehensive education funding reform that provides adequate and equitable funding for students throughout Minnesota. This adequacy and equity should seek to create a funding system that recognizes the distinct needs of districts with high levels of need that distinguish them from districts that do not possess those characteristics without having the costs associated with the decisions to remedy these differences endanger funding adequacy for all districts. As we move forward as a nation, no future can be compromised.

No comments: