Saturday, October 09, 2021

Pandemic Pupil Loss Revenue Adjustment Finalized.  Earlier this summer, Governor Walz announced that $29 million in Federal COVID relief revenue would be distributed to school districts throughout the state to partially address the drop in student counts during the 2020-2021 school year.  The count in terms of student loss has finally been verified and the revenue will be distributed through an informal adjustment in the declining pupil formula.

This is certainly a funding boost and it looked at several junctures that a funding adjustment wouldn't take place.  Bills to provide some adjustment were introduced during the special sessions that took place in the fall of 2020 and language was included in several bills--including the Governor's "summer" bill--discussed during the regular session.  As the session progressed, more attention was paid to what I would term "forward" funding that was largely divorced from the changes in attendance and service delivery resulting from the the pandemic.  

It's important to remember that the three Federal aid packages passed since the onset of the pandemic did provide considerable financial support to school districts, but as has been shown, the distribution of that revenue was very uneven throughout the state and in more than a few instances did not cover the additional costs incurred by districts as they reacted to changing circumstances.  The link below shows what each district will receive as a result of the Governor's action.

MDE Federal Relief Page (Scroll Down to Allocation for Enrollment Loss Support--10/4/21 under Federal Relief Funding Resources Subheading in Bold)

This adjustment does look backward and it is a needed first step.  The second necessary step is to mitigate the loss in compensatory revenue resulting from parents not filling out the required forms to qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.  This is largely due to meals being made free for all students.  Because no paperwork was required, it was not submitted and, as a result, the student count necessary to establish a count for the calculation of districts' compensatory revenue was greatly reduced.  This has caused problems statewide and if the Legislature does return to funding discussions in 2022, this is one area that deserves considerable attention.

October is National Economics Education Month.  It has become increasingly important for students to understand how the American and international economies work.  Our good friends at the Minnesota Council on Economic Education (MCEE) provide quality professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers to help teachers implement the state's eocnomic and personal finance learning standards.  These standards are embedded beginning in elementary school and so few teachers have an extensive background in economics.  MCEE provides a variety of teacher-friendly programs at low or no cost to help teachers deliver the standards with confidence and fidelity.  In addition, MCEE sponsors student competitions.  For more information, follow the link below.

Minnesota Council on Economic Education

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

More Detail on Governor's COVID-19 Education Relief Package.  I wrote briefly last week about how the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) will be distributing $132 million in COVID-19 relief funds that are available to the state through the American Relief Plan (ARP) that was passed at the Federal level in March.  Here are the major funding areas of the MDE plan with the dollar amounts attached to each program within each funding area.

Learning Recovery--$66 million

There are no specific programs mentioned in this funding category, but the plan states that the funds will go directly to public schools to support historically underserved students (HUS) with particular emphasis on students receiving special education services.  Funding from this category may mesh with the special education recovery language that was passed by the Legislature as part of the omnibus education finance and policy bill.  Districts receiving revenue must select evidenced-based strategies from the MDE-identified list in addressing student needs and aligned to the MDE priority list for learning recovery referenced here,  Schools are encouraged to engage community-based partnerships in meeting student needs.

After School Programs--$13.2 million

MDE will allocate funds to Ignite Afterschool to provide grants to community organizations and culturally-specific community organizations to deliver evidence-based after school programming.  

Summer Enrichment--$13.2 million

MDE will allocate funds for grant distribution with 50% of the funds going to community organizations and 50% going to culturally-specific community organizations.

School Support--$26 million

  • $5 million for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)*
  • $5 million for Full Service Community Schools*
  • $4 million dedicated to expanding rigorous coursework for underserved students*
  • $3 million for trauma-informed/anti-bias instructional practices training.*
  • $3 million for non-exclusionary discipline training*
  • $2 million for Life Skills/Transition Programs
  • $2 million for teacher mentoring for new staff
  • $1.5 million for ParentChild+ and Reach Out and Read.
  • $500,000 Tribal/State Relations Training for public school leaders.
*Included in some form in the Governor's original budget recommendations but either not passed or funded at the level recommended by the Governor in the omnibus education funding and policy bill.

State Support--$13.6 million
  • $6 million to prioritize data disaggregation
  • $2 million to provide for a public engagement division in MDE that will support public school efforts to provide translated materials for families
  • $2 million to provide non-grant administrative related supports attributable to needs arising from COVID

I have not accounted for all of the revenue here and more details will be forthcoming from MDE in the month ahead.  I know that they are planning a set of webinars and while those should be well-publicized by MDE, I will certainly follow up with notice on the blog.

The curtain has come down on the legislative session, but there's a lot to explain regarding the omnibus education funding and policy bill and the Governor's most recent initiative related to distribution of the ARP funds.  Feel free to contact me with questions or comments.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Governor Announces COVID-Relief Package.  On the same day that the Governor signed, sealed, and delivered the omnibus education funding and policy bill, he also released his plan for disbursing nearly $132 million in Federal aid that was passed through to the state as part of the American Rescue Plan, the third (and my guess final) Federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a refresher, the $132 million is the 9.5% of the initial state allocation that remains after 90% of the revenue was distributed to school districts based on their Title I numbers.  The Minnesota Department of Education retains 0.5% of the allotment to administer the program as outlined by Federal law.

The breakdown of the Governor's plan (this isn't a proposal, because the revenue is at his disposal--that rhymes!):

  1. $66 million will be distributed to public schools to support students using evidence-based strategies. 
  2. $13.2 million will be dedicated to Ignite Afterschool to provide grants for evidence-based after-school programs.  50% of the funds must go to community-based programs.
  3. $13.2 million will be dedicated to summer enrichment allocated through grants with 50% going to community-based programs.
  4. $26 million will go a variety of grant programs including full-service community schools, expansion of rigorous coursework, training for non-exclusionary discipline strategies, funding for Life Skills/Transition programs for students receiving special education, and other initiatives.
  5. $13.6 million will be dedicated to building and reinforcing systems and structures with the Minnesota Department of Education to better support students, families, and educators.
It is a very ambitious program and dovetails with the overall general support that school districts received in the omnibus education funding and policy bill.  The thing that jumps out at me is that many of the Governor's initiatives that fell by the wayside during the negotiations to construct the final omnibus education funding and policy bill will find their way to students through this effort.  It appears that something akin to Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), which promotes the use of evidence-based strategies to meet student needs in a comprehensive manner will be part of this plan.

Here is a link to the press released annoucing the plan.  There are links at the bottom of the release for further information.

Governor Walz Announces $132 Million in Federal American Rescue Plan Education Funds to Support Student Recovery from COVID-19 and Promote Success for Years to Come

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

 Education Bill Passes 65-0 on the Senate Floor.  I thought I would start things off with something upbeat to commemorate the occasion and I settled on ELO's Mr. Blue Sky.  The clouds that threatened the early days of the 2021 legislative session have vanished and a strong education bill has been passed and a government shutdown has been avoided (just in the nick of time).  While the overall budget target for the E-12 bill is not appreciably larger than recent history (especially when inflation is factored into the equation), if someone would have told me when the Legislature kicked off the session on January 5 that the E-12 budget target for this biennium would be $546 million, I would have definitely taken the under on a bet.  But the February budget forecast was up dramatically and that provided legislators in both bodies with the resources they needed to make their legislative statements.  

The initial targets for the House and Governor were higher on the spending side and were somewhat reliant on the passage of tax increases.  Across the partisan street, the Senate concentrated more on tax relief and, as a result, had much lower spending targets.  As has happened in the recent past in Minnesota's divided Legislature, this produced a collision where the sides met near the middle with lower spending targets and no tax increases.

The centerpiece of the omnibus education bill is clearly the 2.45%/2% increases in the basic formula for the next biennium.  As I have written before, when the budget target of $525 million was initially set (subsequently raised to $546 million), I didn't think there was any way that the 2%/2% initiative that a vast majority of education lobbying groups set out as their goal would be possible.  I assumed (and remember what people say about what assuming makes one) that the final bill would look almost identical to what was agreed upon in 2019, when the special education cross-subsidy hold-harmless was fully funded and the voluntary pre-kindergarten slots were protected.  This year, they opted to put money on the formula instead of funneling it toward maintaining the level of the special education cross-subsidy at its current level, which was standard practice prior to a couple of biennia ago.  Prior to that, putting money on the formula was the automatic default position and this bill returns to that approach.  There will be distributional effects as districts with special education cross-subsidies well above the state average would benefit from state action to hold them where they are instead of putting dollars on the formula.  Districts with lower cross-subsidies obviously benefit from the approach that this bill takes.

It is similar in the case of the 4,000 voluntary pre-kindergarten program slots that the bill protects.  If a district does not participate in this program, the formula would have obviously been of greater benefit, but in the absence of this funding initiative, the pre-kindergarten programs in participating districts may have disappearned entirely.  There is an impression that all 4,000 of these slots are in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and a few inner-ring suburbs.  That isn't the case as a number of districts well outside the metropolitan area are reliant on this funding.

Those are the largest moving parts in the bill and while neither side got all that they wanted, that is the nature of negotiations and the final bill is a very good piece of work.

A special session was probably unavoidable this year given the nature, timing, and amount of the Federal relief packages and trying to gauge the effects of fourteen months of reaction to COVID-19.  As a long time observor of the process, I think those were the major complications as opposed to other explanations that have arisen regarding how the legislative machinery has changed over time.  My guess is we'll know more next year when session kicks in again on January 31, 2022, and will likely run all the way to the constitutionally-mandated end date of May 23, 2022.  It will be an election year with a gubernatorial race and the entire legislature running in newly-drawn legislative districts.  Should be fun . . . maybe.

So in closing, as the current comes down on the 2021 special session, I think Kurt Vonnegut wrote it first and Nick Lowe sang it about a decade later:  So it goes.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Several Steps Closer.  The omnibus education funding and policy bill has been moving briskly through the process after the agreement was annouced last week.  HF 2/SF 23 was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee last Wednesday and the House Education Finance Committee held an informational hearing on the agreement on Friday morning.  The full House passed the bill by an overwhelming vote of 105-20 on Saturday after several hours of debate which featured the rejection of a number of amendments.  The amendment that produced the most rhetoric was offered by Representative Glenn Gruenhagen that would have created opportunity scholarships (basically vouchers) for students in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts.  Most of the amendments that went to a roll call were defeated on straight party-line votes.  I was a bit surprised by the margin of final passage, but it is important to remember that a lot of the resistance to the bill as it left the House during the regular session revolved around what the minority caucus labelled a plethora of mandates on local school districts.  Those mandates were almost completely eliminated and the vast majority of the new money for school districts will go out on the general education basic formula, which really removed most objections.

The Senate heard the companion file--SF 23--last Thursday and will take up the bill on the Senate floor tomorrow (Monday).  I surmise that the bill will pass with ease and will head to the Governor shortly thereafter for his signature.  With that, the eventful legislative season will have come to and end.

I will provide a more in-depth update at some point after the dust finally settles. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

 At Last.  We'll end the day with the late Etta James singing her biggest hit "At Last" to signify the final data run that will accompany the release of the omnibus education funding and policy agreement.  Here is a link to the coveted district-by-district data run that shows the estimated per pupil revenue amounts each district is slated to receive over the coming biennium as a result of the agreement.

So with no futher adieu, here it is:

Omnibus Education Funding and Policy Agreement District-by-District Data Run

 More Documents for Your Review.  Linked below are documents showing the overall budget change, indivdual change items, and levy changes associated with the Omnibus Education Funding and Policy bill.

HF 2 State Aid Change Above Base

HF 2 Individual Change Items

HF 2 Levy Tracking

No district-by-district run as of yet, but I imagine one will be available when the bill for when the bill is discussed on the floor tomorrow.

 Bill Language and Summary Available.  Below are links to HF 2--the E-12 omnibus bill language and summary--that will be discussed this evening in the House Ways and Means Committee.  Note that the bill is only 71 pages this year.  Traditionally, the E-12 omnibus bill runs at least 200 pages and covers a vast array of projects and formulas.  This year's bill is narrowly focused with very little in terms of on-going education funding beyond the basic formula and funding for a variety of programs aimed at increasing the number of teachers of color.  I am sure there will be a spreadsheet and district-by-district runs available soon (perhaps even later today) and I will get those on the blog as soon as I receive them.

2021 Omnibus Education Funding and Policy Bill Language

2021 Omnibus Education Funding and Policy Bill Summary


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

 We have a budget agreement!  About an hour ago, the agreement on the E-12 budget for the coming biennium was released.  I chose a fireworks graphic both as an indication for celebration and also a symbol of what have been fireworks that have likely been part of the process to get to this agreement.

There are still likely language details but here is the budget framework that was released.

  • Basic formula increase of 2.45% for 2021-22 and 2% increase for 2022-23.
  • $46.5 million to preserve the voluntary pre-kindergarten seats for the next two years.
  • $10.45 million over the biennium for special education cross-subsidy reduction.
  • $4 million over this biennium and $4 million in the next biennium to reduce the English Language Learner cross-subsidy.
  • $280,000 for American Indian Teacher Preparation Grants (funding in on-going).
  • $750,000 in this biennium for the Black Men Teach program.
  • $400,000 in this biennium for Come Teach in Minnesota Hiring Bonuses (funding is on-going).
  • $250,000 in this biennium for Expanded Concurrent Enrollment (funding is on-going).
  • $10 million in this biennium for Grow Your Own (funding is on-going).
  • $4.508 million in this biennium for Teachers of Color Mentoring and Retention Incentive Grants(funding is on-going).
  • $500,000 in this biennium for Teacher Recruitment and Marketing Campaign (funding is on-going).
  • $3 million in this biennium for the Sanneh Foundation (one-time money).
  • $3 million in this biennium for LETRS grants (one-time money).
  • $1.75 million in this biennium for non-exclusionary discipline training with the House language included.
  • $300,000 for Children's Museums statewide (one-time money).
  • $1 million for Digital Well-Being Grant (one-time money).
  • $1.5 million for Girls in Action (one-time money).
  • $1 million for Math Corps (one-time money).
  • $150,000 for Minnesota Civics Education Coalition (one-time money).
  • $1 million for Right Size College Entrance Examination Reimbursement (one-time money).
  • $265,000 for Suicide Prevention Teacher Training Grants (one-time money.
There are agreements on language relating to the notification of environmental hazards, anti-lunch shaming, religious observance school absences, special education COVID recovery, limits on students' screen time, and a suspension on the implementation of new learning standards.

It's important to look at this agreement in the context of where the legislative bodies started going into the negotiations during the regular session and where their positions sat in comparison to the Governor's original budget.  The House target was in the low-$700 million range while the Senate's was around $165 million.  The global budget agreement set the budget target at $525 million, which required the House to move away from its original proposal and giving the Senate the opportunity to move up and direct money to its priorities.  The Senate bill had a much narrower focus than the House bill, so in moving upward, it had the relative luxury of putting money on the formula, especially after it became clear that one of Senator Chamberlain's top priorities--Education Savings Accounts for use in private schools--was not going to gain approval from the Governor.  That led the Senate to put nearly all of its on-going resources on the basic formula.  On the other hand, the House had to constrict its spending and a number of programs that were in the House bill fell by the wayside.

There is always a trade-off between the basic formula and the categoricals and that will play out in the distribution of revenue from this legislation.  The Governor and House put $70.1 million for special education cross-subsidy reduction and $13.6 million for the English Language Learner cross-subsidy reduction, but the House faced the challenge of having to reduce expenditures from its initial target and face the reality that as the timeworn adage goes "you can only spend a dollar once."  A dollar spent on the basic formula can't be spent on cross-subsidy reduction.  Setting the basic formula where it ended up absorbed almost all of the on-going money available to the negotiators, which limited what could be done in other areas.  Maintaining the voluntary-preK slots was a House priority that was able to survive in total, while the cross-subsidy efforts were reduced.

I want to make it clear that money on the formula is a good thing and this is a very healthy increase in a year when I thought it was unlikely that we would reach the 2%/2% goal that most of the education lobby advocated for throughout the 2021 session.  In fact, there are bits of eggs on my face from when I told a group of superintendents right after the adjournment of the regular session that there really was no way 2%/2% was possible given the $525 million target.  I made the assumption--wrongly--that the special education cross-subsidy reduction revenue would survive the negotiations in total, so like many Vikings' fans who predict impending Super Bowl glory, I am duly chastened.

The question is always how dollars are distributed.  If you are a district with a unduly large special education cross-subsidy (everyone has a large cross-subsidy), you would have likely preferred the Governor's and House's proposal.  If not, you are likely pleased with the final bill.  The basic formula is usually the default position as the final landing spot for revenue when there are competing visions regarding revenue distribution and that is what clearly came through in this agreement.

There is little in the bill in terms of new mandates.  It appears there will be some language relating to non-exclusionary discipline (along with grants for training money), but I am hesitant to speculate beyond that.

I will link the bill when the language becomes available.