Thursday, April 14, 2016

Education Funding Bills Clear Their Committees.  It was a day chock full of sitting, watching, and waiting as the education funding committees in the House and Senate processed their respective funding bills.  The Senate was first up this morning and they breezed through their bill with relative ease.  After adopting several technical amendments, an amendment offered by Senator Eric Pratt that would have taken the money in the bill currently dedicated to an expansion of the state's commitment to early childhood education--modeled on the Governor's proposal--and the grant program that aims to increase the number of student support staff personnel and re-directed it to the general education basic formula.  After that amendment failed, Senator Pratt offered a scaled-down version of his initial amendment that would have only moved the money pegged for the pre-kindergarten increase onto the general education formula.  Senator Pratt picked up a DFL vote on the second amendment, but the effort still came short of adoption.  The primary criticism of the bill coming from the minority is that they believe the formula is being sacrificed to programs that are of limited use--and perhaps limited interest--to school districts throughout the state.  

It's difficult to get a read on where the school community in its entirety is at on balancing money on the formula with the proposed pre-kindergarten expansion.  Generally, more groups would like to see the formula bolstered, especially given the erosion of the formula over the past dozen years, but there is more than a little support for increased pre-kindergarten spending.  I think the problem will arise if and when the whole supplemental budget bill is constructed.  The increase in pre-kindergarten spending appears to be a non-starter with the House Republican caucus and that could scuttle any progress on anything.  The reality this year is that nothing has to happen and given the nervousness surrounding national economic performance a number of legislators would probably just as soon see no new spending or tax cuts to keep the state's bottom line in good shape.

The House Education Finance Committee meaning did not go as smoothly as the Senate side as there were more amendments and the discussion of the amendments took a longer amount of time.  The most time was spent on an amendment to require some type of civics test that students would have to take (and hopefully pass) before they graduated.  The primary question surrounding the amendment in its initial form is whether or not it constituted a new graduation requirement and the implications for students if it indeed did.  The amendment was scaled down and it was made clear that not passing the civics test won't prevent a student from not graduating.  But then it was pointed out that if the test didn't have any stakes attached, why administer it.  Whether or not this survives the proceedings throughout the remainder of the session remains to be seen, but it did supply some interesting discussion.

The Senate bill goes to the full Senate Finance Committee tomorrow and will be in the Tax Committee next week.  The House bill goes to the Tax Committee early next week and then to Ways and Means.  Whether or not they clear the Senate and House floors next week remains to be seen, but we are closing in on the home stretch of the session and things will have to start happening fast in order to finish comfortably by the May 23 constitutionally-mandated adjournment date.

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