Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Eagle has Taken Off.  I was tempted to write "the Eagle has landed" in respect to SF 177 (Skoe-DFL-Clearbrook), but it's too early in the session to say that something has been accomplished and we've got a long, long, loooooooong way to go this session.  Still, it is extremely heartening to see a major equalization improvement bill introduced this early in the session and to be introduced by the Chair of the Senate Tax Committee.  The bill is very straightforward.  It doubles the first-tier equalizing factor for the referendum levy and the first-tier equalizing factor for the debt service revenue program.  In my conversations with Senator Skoe, it's his contention that property values statewide have doubled over the past 20+ years and the equalizing factors set then (and which haven't truly been adjusted) should also be doubled.  We'll see where things go from here.  The bill is slated to start in the Senate E-12 Division, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the bill migrate over to the Tax Committee, where it will be balanced with other tax initiatives.  The bill has not been introduced in the House as of yet, but the companion bill should probably hit the House introductions in the next couple of weeks.

SF 177:

Equalization Hits the House as Well.  It is not the companion to Senator Skoe's SF 177, but Representative Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines) introduced HF 248 today.  HF 248 is the same bill Senator Runbeck introduced in 2011.  Instead of setting the equalizing factor as a constant, as SF 177 does, HF 248  sets the equalizing factor for the debt service and referendum revenue programs as a percentage of the state average adjusted net tax capacity and referendum market value amounts and then indexes the equalizing factors to rise (or perhaps fall) as the state average values rise (or perhaps fall).  The indexed equalizing factor is something that truly needs to be discussed as the future of the equalization program is discussed and I certainly want to thank Representative Runbeck for introducing her bill.

HF 248:

Busy Day in the Hearing Rooms.  The Senate E-12 Division heard two bills calling for the establishment of voluntary All-Day kindergarten by raising the pupil weighting for kindergarten to 1.115 (the same weighting as that for first, second, and third grade students).  SF 2 is authored by Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) and SF 162 is authored by Senator Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury).  The bills are almost identical.  The only difference is that Senator Kent's bill contains a provision that would allow school districts to use any revenue remaining after a school district had satisfied the district's commitment to All-Day Kindergarten for pre-school programs.  Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) offered an amendment that was passed that clarified the additional language in Senator Kent's version of the bill.

The Senate Education Policy Committee took testimony from education lobbying groups (including SEE) in respect to their policy goals for the upcoming session.  It was an interesting session with a fair amount of repetition from lobbying groups.  Most everyone is looking for clarity in legislative goals and financial support from the Legislature to implement goals the Legislature deems necessary to elevate educational performance throughout the state.

The House Education Policy Committee took testimony on Children's Mental Health and what schools can do to provide a broader range of services to students with mental health issues.  For a variety of reasons, the importance of this issue has been elevated and there is a recognized need to provide school districts with better tools to support students with mental health needs.  Thanks to Representative Mariani holding this important hearing.

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