Thursday, January 22, 2015

Busy Thursday.  There was a full slate of education-related hearings today and they all featured a lot of testimony.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee featured testimony from education organizations that will have issues before the committee in 2015.  Education policy actually touches a wider range of interests than education finance so it was a pretty long line of testifiers.  In fact, a lot of folks will be coming back next week because they couldn't get through the entire list.

The Senate Education Finance Committee spent its time allotment discussing three bills dealing with school facilities.  SFs 75 and 76 (both authored by Senator Kevin Dahle) contain major provisions from the School Facilities Funding Working Group that is strongly supported by SEE.  SF 75 increases the equalization factor for the capital projects levy, which is currently all local levy with no state participation to help low property wealth districts.  SF 76 proposes to enact the deferred maintenance portion of the aforementioned recommendations.  The bill would expand eligibility for the alternative facilities program to all school districts in Minnesota.  Currently, only 25 districts are eligible to use this program and, as currently designed, there is no limit to what these districts can levy to pay for these repairs.  The bill would combine several facilities levies and greatly increase the total amount that the districts not eligible for alternative facilities could access to pay for deferred maintenance purposes.

There was a lot of testimony in favor of the bill, including Dr. James Behle, the St. Michael-Albertville superintendent and our SEE Legislative Chair.  I also provided testimony.  In my testimony, I stressed the need for the committee to also look at other recommendations contained in the report of the School Facilities Finance Working Group, particularly increased debt service equalization (which hasn't been appreciably increased since its inception in 1991) and equalization of the lease levy.  Other groups testifying including the Minnesota Rural Education Association, the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, and the Minnesota Educational Facilities Management Professionals.  I'd say we all "got on base," but it was Worthington School Board member Linden Olson who hit the ball way out of the park.  He hit every note forcefully and addressed the complications that many rural districts face because of the roller coaster pattern of agricultural land valuation.  Agricultural land values are very high right now and because agricultural land is included in the tax base that debt service is levied against, it is very difficult for many rural districts to pass bond issues without virtually pauperizing farmers in the district.  Agricultural property is exempted from the tax base used to raise operating referendum revenue.  The role of agricultural property in school levies will be discussed during the 2015 session and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

The House Education Finance Committee finished its testimony on early childhood education funding and policy before turning to discussion of career/technical programs.  Several groups from SEE-member districts testified about their programs.  Forest Lake agriculture teacher Mike Miron--who is a true superstar--testified about the Forest Lake agricultural education program.  Anoka-Hennepin Associate Jeff McGonigal gave the committee a synopsis of their district career and technical programs.  Given all the rhetoric surrounding the "skills gap" nationally and in Minnesota, a long overdue discussion of career and technical education programs will undoubtedly take place this session.  We have a number of SEE districts with a strong interest in this particular issue and I hope to get as many of them as possible in front of the appropriate legislative committees this session.

Bill Introductions.


SF 267 (Coenen) -- Allows Montevideo school district to start school before Labor Day --

SF 271 (Chamberlain) -- Modifies and renews reading tax credit that is set to expire --


HF 306 (Quam) -- Amends definition of public employee to include replacement employees who work more than 60 days as a replacement teacher or faculty member --

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