Wednesday, April 03, 2013

General Education Levy Heard.  SF 1142 (Stumpf) was heard this morning in the Senate E-12 Funding Division.  This bill is a modified version of the consolidated levy proposal that Senator Stumpf has crafted at several junctures during the past decade.  Under that framework, the operating capital, equity revenue, and transition revenue programs are rolled into a new general education revenue program that will be funded with aid and levy.  What is different about this bill is that after it was amended today, is that it proposes to use the Senate's $150 million target to buy down education levies and uses that to reduce levies for all districts in the state of Minnesota.  In a somewhat related provision in the bill, the alternative compensation program (QComp) is rolled out of the general education program and funded by aid and levy outside that program.

Two points in all of this:  (1) the bill only provides new revenue for a handful of districts.  It does not provide any new money to all districts through an increase in the general education formula, and (2) it does not target the property tax relief toward low property wealth school districts.  While low property wealth districts are treated a bit more advantageously than a district with higher than average property wealth, the referendum levy remains at its current level of equalization, which creates problems for school districts.  I testified in favor of the bill's concepts, but pointed out that the legislation does nothing to narrow the gap between high and low revenue districts and because it does not put significant new revenue into the system, reliance on the referendum levy will not be lessened.  Because there will still be revenue issues, districts will continue to seek additional revenue through voter-approved levies and that system remains both random and inequitable.  So, in short, it would be nice to bring back the general education levy, but if all one does is bring it back without improving the aid/levy situation in low property wealth school districts and/or narrow the revenue gap between high and low revenue districts, the question must be asked, "What are you getting for $150 million?"

This reminds me of the points we made with the Ventura Administration in 2001 when the general education levy was eliminated.  The general education levy was the fairest levy and SEE's point in that discussion was leave the "best" levy alone and improve the levies that were becoming increasingly inequitable.  Doing the exact opposite, as suggested in the latest version of SF 1142, still doesn't address the issue of inequity that exists in the referendum and debt service levies.  Not bad policy, but policy that ignores the biggest problem facing low property wealth school districts.

Money Proposed for Teacher Evaluation.  The Senate E-12 Division also heard SF 1477 (Clausen), a bill that would provide revenue for districts to fund the teacher evaluation process that will be taking the effect in the 2014-2015 school year.  The bill differs from the $20 million the Governor proposed for this effort in a couple of respects.  First, it appears that districts that receive money under the current alternative compensation program (QComp) that would be ineligible to receive money under the Governor's proposal would be eligible under SF 1477.  Further, the money would be distributed on a per teacher as opposed to a per student basis.  There is no specific amount appropriated in the bill, but it's great to see this being in the discussion for this session.  The teacher evaluation is a huge mandate and any revenue injected into the system to help alleviate the burden that this mandate--and worthy as it may be--will inflict on districts throughout the state.

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