Testimony on Shift Payback Bills. There's not a whole lot to report today other than the hearing in the House Education Finance Committee this morning, where four bills dealing with the education aid payment shifts were heard. The four bills--HF 1 (Selcer-DFL-Minnetonka), HF 134 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine, HF 53 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine), and HF 235 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine). HFs 1 and 134 would repay the school aid shifts and restore them to the statutory 90%/10% payment schedule in the coming biennium. This would take over half a billion off the table for other purposes during this year's budget negotiations. HFs 53 and 235 would require, if passed, a 3/5 vote in each house of the Legislature to increase the shift as part of a budget-balancing agreement.
Scott Croonquist, Executive Director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, and I testified on behalf of a coalition of education lobbying groups that composed a memorandum to the committee. Our message was very straightforward: while the shift can be troublesome (and certainly isn't the best budgeting policy), it is certainly preferable to the alternative of reducing the aid entitlement to school districts. The level of cuts, borrowing, and drawing-down of school district fund balances is considerably less than what would result if the same amount of revenue were cut, instead of borrowed, from school districts. The angle I added in my testimony is that when the state eliminated the general education levy in 2001, it added nearly one billion dollars to the amount of state aid to meet the state aid entitlement. Because the state takeover of the general education levy was implemented without any increase in state revenue through tax increases, it has become increasingly difficult, especially given the uneven economic performance of the past decade, for the state to make good on its statutory commitment to pay 90% of a school district's aid entitlement each year.
Other Hearings. The House Education Policy Committee heard from a slate of individuals who work in the teacher licensure area, including Board of Teaching Executive Director Karen Balmer and MDE's lead staff person on teacher licensure issues, Richard Wassen. The Senate Education Committee spent its time discussing a report recently issued by a task force convened by the Minnesota Department of Education dealing with assessment issues. The report calls for the elimination of the math GRAD and its replacement with either the ACT test or something in that vein. This report will certainly spark a lot of discussion and it will be interesting to see where things end up.