Fast-moving Day. It's difficult to be three places at once, but I tried and succeeded this morning at the Legislature. The Senate Tax Committee moved two equalization bills--SF 177 (Skoe) and SF 569 (Hoffman)--to the Senate E-12 Division by motion after recommending the bills to pass. In addition to recommending SF 177 to pass, the committee amended much of SF 576, the bill that indirectly roll in $300 per pupil unit of referendum levy authority into a board-approved levy of the same amount. This would help districts with less than $300 per pupil in referendum levy while reducing the voter-approved referendum levy amount by $300 per pupil. In its original form, SF 576 re-established the general education levy, but the changes made in today's amendment that was attached to SF 177 does not accomplish that. It is difficult to discern whether or not equalization will play a central role in the Senate's education funding and property tax relief and reform strategies in 2013, but all indications are the subject will be discussed thoroughly and will be given every chance to succeed. This is the best position property tax equity proponents have been in over the past decade and a half and it is important that we put forward every effort to push the Legislature toward progress this year.
The Senate E-12 Division dealt with three bills and I was called upon to add my perspective on the SF 221, Senator Terry Bonoff's (DFL-Minnetonka) bill on creating a location equity index. It is difficult to endorse the approach taken by Senator Bonoff in her bill, but the districts she represents have similar problems as a number of SEE districts when it comes to general education revenue. Senator Bonoff's school districts do not generate much revenue through categorical formulas (compensatory revenue, ELL revenue, sparsity revenue, transportation sparsity revenue). The difference between those districts and the average SEE district is that they have higher levels of property wealth and are able to translate that advantage into higher than average levels of referendum revenue. The point I made in my testimony is that increasing use of categorical formulas to deliver revenue to districts has created another set of inequities, some of which can be corrected through the passage of referendum levies, especially in high property wealth districts. I stressed that we have to get back to a system with a greater commitment to putting the basic formula amount at a level that meets the needs of the average student and has categorical revenue that aims at the "outliers" as opposed to what I perceive is the case now in which the basic formula reflects a minimum level of funding with categorical revenue being distributed from the first instance of "difference." It's hard to describe with words right here, so I'll let it drop, but we have to bring greater fairness to both the general education formula system and the property tax system and we may have a chance to make progress in both these areas in 2013.
Last, but not least, in a busy morning was the House Education Policy Committee's discussion (and approval as amended) of HF 771 (Davnie), a bill that would extend the allowable use of prone restraint in emergency situations. This bill (and previous bills extending the allowable use of prone restraint) is necessitated by a unilateral decision made at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to ban the procedure by memorandum in the spring of 2011. MDE convened a working group this past fall to work on an agreement that would hopefully reduce the use of seclusion and restraint through the provision of training to school district staff, more thorough reporting, and a continued ability to use prone restraint in emergency situations. The report of the working group called for a four-year extension of the ability to use prone restraint, but that was amended to two years in committee today. Because the bill contains money for training of school district personnel, it will now move to the House Education Finance Committee.
The afternoon slowed down. The Senate took up the Health Care Exchange bill and was working on amendment number 20 (out of a reported 90) midway through the afternoon, which necessitated the cancellation of the Senate Education Policy Committee.