Sunday, March 19, 2017

Significant Committee Meeting Last Friday.  The Senate E-12 Funding Committee met last Friday morning from 9:00 AM until the early afternoon.  The committee covered a number of very interesting bills, some of which will be folded into the omnibus education funding bill and some that will likely move on their own.  Perhaps the most interesting bill is Senator (and Committee Chair) Carla Nelson's bill--SF 1885--that would establish Foundation and Incentive Revenue (FAIR).  This bill grew out of a desire to channel additional revenue to smaller school districts and is a bit of an offshoot from Senator Tom Bakk's SF 87, a bill that would have raised the pupil eligibility number from 960 pupils to 1,500 pupils.  Going in a bit of a different direction, SF 1885 provides a flat $200,000 to all school districts that is adjusted up or down based upon a school district's three-year rolling average on MCA scores.  Translating this into examples, if a district is small, the per pupil benefit ($200,000/Number of Pupils) is quite large.  If you are a large district, the effect is the opposite.  The $200,000 number changes due to student performance and higher test scores will lead to more revenue, which will add or subtract from the per pupil value.  

The bill spends approximately $60 million, which would translate to approximately $60 per pupil.  A back of the envelope calculation would indicate that a district of around 3,300 pupils with average performance on the MCAs would be the break point where the equation balances.  In other words, if you are above 3,300 pupils, you are better served by money going on the formula (provided your student performance is average or above average).  If you are under 3,300 pupils, the distribution of revenue in SF 1885 will probably favor you.  But again, a lot depends on a district's student performance.

There's no question that how smaller school districts are funded needs to be investigated and it's probably a reason why the school finance task force in Representative Urdahl's HF 149 needs to be pursued.  We may have reached a point in the education funding formula where it may collapse under its own weight.  At any rate, watch for SF 1885's progress as the Senate puts together its omnibus education funding bill.

Chair Nelson's SF 2094 was also heard.  This bill would increase the special education formula beginning next biennium and would add approximately $80 million to the budget tails.  There would be no new revenue in the next two years under this proposal, but special education costs are expected to continue to rise, making this bill very helpful to school districts throughout the state.

E-12 Policy Chair Senator Eric Pratt had four bills up, including the omnibus education policy bill--SF 1222--and SF 4, the bill that would establish the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.  SF 1475, another Senator Pratt bill, would provide financial incentives to school districts to promote participation in the state MCA testing program.  More and more parents are opting their students out of MCA testing, making the value of the tests increasingly questionable.  

Other bills heard were:

SF 609-Dahms-Increasing Appropriation to Promote Participation in SW State Program that Provides Opportunities for Paraprofessionals to Obtain Special Education Teaching Licenses

SF 1792-Nelson-Increase in Adult Basic Education Funding

SF 1698-Nelson-Appropriation for Rochester Children's Museum

SF 1567-Pratt-Funding for African-American Registry to Improve Cultural Competency of Teaching Candidates

Targets Being Announced.  The Governor and the Senate Republicans announced their budget targets on Friday and the House Republicans will announce theirs tomorrow (Monday) morning.  The Governor adds $100 million to his voluntary pre-kindergarten program in his supplemental budget and leaves the rest of his education budget released in January alone.  This puts his revenue over base request at approximately $700 million, almost exactly the same as he proposed in 2015.  

The Senate, while not outlining any specific initiatives, proposes to add $300 million above the current law base.  This gets a bit confusing because the Senate Republican press release shows that the biennium-to-biennium increase will be be $1.144 billion.  However, the February forecast shows that the education funding base will increase by $844 million without any legislative action.  The $844 million is generated due to higher pupil enrollment, the final year phase-in of the Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue Program, an increase in special education funding due to the growth factor in that formula, and the carrying forward of the second year increase in the basic formula enacted last biennium.  I will be writing more about this as things continue to take shape.

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