Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Senate Passes Education Funding and Policy Bills.  Yes, you read that right.  Bills, as in two separate bills; one containing the funding provisions and one containing the policy provisions.  The debate was a bit longer than it was in the House with more amendments offered and more of those amendments requiring roll call votes.  The Republican minority centered in on the 1% increase in the general education basic formula in each of the next two years as the spot they sought to address through amendments, but they were unsuccessful in those efforts.  One area they tried to move money from was the proposed increase in school readiness aid contained in the bill.  The Senate bill increases School Readiness Aid dramatically, investing an additional $50 million in the second year of the biennium, and some believe that is simply more than a majority of school districts want or need to accomplish their goals with respect to early childhood education.  It certainly is a healthy investment, but the Senate proposal does fit within the existing School Readiness program and is certainly not the overgrown program suggested by the Governor.  That said, it is a healthy increase and it will likely be a target for discussion as the bill moves to conference committee.  The education funding bill passed on a vote of 39-28, with 5 Republicans (Three of whom serve on the Education Funding Committee) voting for the bill and 5 DFLers voting against it.  That pretty much assures that there will be a Republican member of the conference committee.  The vote on the education policy bill was even stronger, with a final tally of 53-13.  A dozen Republicans joined the DFLers to come to that total.  The was only one amendment requiring a roll call--an amendment similar to the one approved by the House on Saturday--that would have mandated separate dressing rooms and rest rooms for transgender students.  That amendment failed on a vote of 25-40 with three Republicans joining the DFLers to defeat the amendment.

The question now is how things will advance procedurally.  The House combined its policy and funding bills into one bill while the Senate has chosen to keep them separate.  That doesn't mean the bills couldn't be negotiated simultaneously; it would just require some fancy footwork.  The Senate appears to be following the pattern of passing separate funding and policy bills for each major issue area and the strategy behind that may be to keep horsetrading of money for policy off the table, especially given that the House budget targets are all much lower than the Senate budget targets.  The Senate may be trying to prevent having to consider taking House policy in return for the House accepting a higher budget target.  That's inside baseball to most everyone--and truth be told, the process starts to resemble a blender on puree during the session's waning days--but all types of considerations take on a fairly large role in the procedural calculus.

It is unclear when the conference committee will begin, but it is my guess the festivities will kick off next Monday with a walk-through of each bill.  We will know then how the "separate bill" issue will be resolved.  I will provide perspectives as information becomes available.

Thanks.  Thanks to all SEE members for participating in our district-by-district survey of how a 1%/1% basic formula increase over the biennium would affect their districts.  It looks like about $89 million in cuts accompanied by a reduction in budget reserves and the prospect of attempts to raise additional revenue through voter-approved referenda.  Not a pretty picture and it helps make the case as to why the final budget target has to be bigger than what either the House or Senate has proposed and how additional revenue needs to go on the basic formula.  Thanks again for getting back to Deb with this useful information.

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