And We're Off! I'm reporting live from the first meeting of the House Education Finance Committee and we are underway. Representative Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) is the chair of the committee. Representative Marquart is a high school teacher and brings a lot of relevant experience to the chair position.
Representative Marquart is having each member of the committee introduce themselves and lay out their priorities for the session. One issue that keeps coming up is repayment of the K-12 shift that was employed in 2011 to help solve the $6-plus billion budget crisis. The DFL campaigned heavily on that issue during the election season and there will be bills introduced early in the legislative session by both parties to get the aid payment schedule back to the statutorily-defined goal of 90%/10%. It's my hope that the desire to "buy back" the shift is balanced with the revenue needs of school districts throughout Minnesota. This concern is voiced in the SEE platform. It's important to remember that a dollar can only be spent once and that every dollar dedicated to reducing the aid-payment shift will prevent revenue being used for other educational purposes. In a time when the special education cross-subsidy continues to grow and the general education basic amount lags behind inflation, it will be important to recognize that education remains under-funded and this has to be addressed both now and into the future.
Equalization and equity funding have also been mentioned by several members of the committee. There is a strong contingent of SEE-area legislators on the committee and hopefully this will lead to some progress on these issues.
The achievement gap has also been mentioned. Minnesota has one of the largest (in some student categories the largest) achievement gaps and this issue will certainly receive considerable attention during the committee's 2013 proceedings.
Special education funding has also been mentioned by several committee members, which is always heartening to hear. The cross-subsidy of revenue from school district general funds to pay for the shortfall in revenue resulting from the inadequacy of the special education formula remains a problem. Remedying this situation would certainly reduce pressure on school district budgets and perhaps lessen the need for districts to seek revenue through voter-approved levies.
I'll be back later today to write about bill introductions.