Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Equity Redux.  The Senate E-12 Division heard SF 929 (the Senate companion to HF 755), authored by Senator Sean Nienow today.  As a refresher, SF 929/HF 755 is the bill that guarantees all school districts in Minnesota at least 90% of the statewide general education revenue average.  By my count, 32 of SEE's 62 districts would generate additional revenue from the bill and while the effects are not universal, they do zero in on districts with low levels of referendum and/or categorical revenue.  Milaca Superintendent Jerry Hansen testified on the bill as he did at the House hearing, but the day belonged to North Branch parent Julie Belisle, who pointed out the concerns of parents in a low property wealth school district that is unable to generate revenue through the referendum levy and she spelled out those concerns clearly and with passion.

The North Branch story is clear to most everyone who follows education funding in Minnesota.  After passing a referendum levy in the late-1990s (a levy that was subsequently rolled into the general education formula as part of the Ventura administration's Big Plan enacted in 2001, North Branch has tried several times to generate additional revenue through a voter-approved levy, but has failed in those efforts each time. This has forced the district into a number of difficult decisions, particularly the one to go to a four-day school week.  SF 929/HF 755 attempts to remedy this situation at least partly by concentrating its benefits at the lower end of the revenue spectrum.  Whether or not it receives further consideration remains to be seen, but it, along with a number of other bills, have highlighted the plight of districts well below the state average and hopefully this attention will net some results.

Tomorrow will be an interesting hearing in the Senate E-12 Division, with the two equalization bills the Senate is considering--SF 177 (Skoe) and SF 569 (Hoffman)--will be heard.  Both of these bills are very important to low property wealth school districts and I will report on them tomorrow.

House and Senate Budget Targets Set.  The House and Senate majority caucuses have set their budget priorities.  Both the House and the Senate propose higher taxes than in the Governor's scaled back budget proposal.  What differs between the caucuses (and the caucuses and the Governor) is that the House proposes to pay back the school funding shift while the Senate does not and the Senate proposes to do more in terms of property tax relief and higher education spending (at least it appears that way at first blush). The House appears to have more revenue in their budget targets for PK-12 funding and both bodies appear to be committed to weighting kindergarten students at the same level as that of students in early elementary grades.  I hope to have the target documents available electronically tomorrow and I will send them along when I obtain them.

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