Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hearings Report.  It was a busy Tuesday with all three education-related committees holding hearings.  The Senate Education Committee voted to confirm Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius on a voice vote.  Her confirmation now goes to the Senate floor where she will almost certainly be approved.  The committee vote was not unanimous and I doubt the floor vote will be unanimous either, but I don't think those votes are (or will be) a vote against the Commissioner as a person, but rather about differences in the approach to education overall that currently pervade the national debate.  The Senate then proceeded to discuss three bills that provide grants to the Minnesota Council on Economic Education, the Works Museum, and the Minnesota Children's Museum respectively along with Education Chair Wiger's bill that would increase funding for school readiness.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee tackled seven bills.  In a somewhat rare move (at least these days), the committee voted down Representative Erin Murphy's universal pre-kindergarten funding bill.  Most bills that are heard are laid over for further consideration until when the major funding and policy bills are put together.  I think this vote was a "statement" vote to some extent, as universal pre-kindergarten programming is a central component of the Governor's budget and the House wanted to signal early in the session where they plan on being different from the Governor.  Pure conjecture on my part, but my guess is that the House will move a considerable portion of the $102 million in the Governor's budget for pre-kindergarten programming toward the general education formula.  The other six bills dealt with teacher licensure, post-secondary enrollment options, the principals leadership academy, allowing a computer programming course to fulfill a math requirement, and a bill making sure that directory information collected by local school districts and the state conform to federal standards.  The volume of business before the House Education Innovation Committee required a night meeting to clear the agenda.

The House Education Finance Committee dealt with five bills that propose establishment or expansion of tax credits and deductions related to education.  Representative Jim Knoblach's HF 798 is the most prominent of these bills (not to say that the other bills are neither prominent nor important) in that it proposes to increase Minnesota's tuition tax deduction and education tax credit and also make tuition a eligible expense of the tax credit.  When the tax credit was proposed and passed in 1997, then-Governor Carlson worked hard to have tuition covered by the tax credit, but was unsuccessful as the Legislature refused to go along with his recommendation.  A partial government shutdown was averted as a special session was called for June 26 and the education, public safety, data practices, and several other bills.  Expanding the allowable expenses under the education tax credit to include private school tuition was a Rubicon the Legislature refused to cross then and although I expect a number of education-related tax credits and deductions to be approved by the House, it will be interesting to see how many of these the Senate and Governor will go along with.

Senate Republicans Announce Education Package.  The Senate Republican caucus released its education proposal for the 2015 and it is very straightforward.  The package calls for an increase of 3% on the general education basic amount in each year of the biennium.  The projected cost of the proposal is approximately $450 million.  Unlike the proposal coming from the Governor and the Senate DFL, the Senate Republican plan doesn't appear to add too much to the general fund formula increase.  The other angle is that the Republican plan pledges to add no new mandates and to give local school districts the maximum amount of flexibility in spending new revenue.

Here is a link to an MPR story on the Republican plan:  http://blogs.mprnews.org/capitol-view/2015/02/state-senate-gop-wants-no-strings-funding-for-schools/

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