During both hearings, public school officials and advocates were unanimous on one issue: the general education funding formula increases offered by both chambers for the next biennium was inadequate.
Despite having a $1.9 billion state surplus in hand for the next biennium, the Senate is budgeting only a 1 percent increase in fiscal year 2016 and a 1 percent increase in fiscal 2017.
The House is proposing an even more meager 0.6 percent for both fiscal 2016 and 2017.
While MSBA’s Denise Dittrich praised a number of components about the Senate Omnibus Education Bill (such as deferred maintenance needs, concurrent enrollment funding, Q Comp equity and technology), she reminded both committees that adequate funding for education was the No. 1 priority for Minnesota’s school board members.
“A 1 percent increase on the general education funding formula is less than inflation,” Dittrich said during the Senate hearing.
Dittrich encouraged committee members to add a 3 percent increase on the general education funding formula “to ensure that our schools are at least able to maintain class sizes and the programs they already offer to students.”
Gary Amoroso, the executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), also called on the education committees for a 3 percent increase. “The funding formula is the gasoline that runs the engine,” Amoroso said.
Legislators need to hear from school board members. Visit www.mnmsba.org/StandUpForPublicSchools-Funding to find out how you can urge legislators to add 3 percent to the general funding formula.
Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius was not pleased with either budget target either.
“We have an opportunity with this surplus,” Cassellius told the Senate committee. “One percent is not enough. We need more investments to move the achievement gap. We need a higher budget target.”
Cassellius expressed her displeasure with the House bill’s low target. “This bill doesn’t appear to be a serious proposal to help all students achieve,” she said. “This would deny opportunities for minorities and poor kids. A 0.6 percent increase will cause massive cuts and layoffs across the state.”
Cassellius told both committees that Gov. Mark Dayton would be willing to work toward a 1.5 percent increase on the funding formula — up from his current 1 percent proposal.
School leaders from Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Stillwater Area told committee members about the negative impact a 1 percent increase — or worse — would have on their budgets.
Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Superintendent Jane Berenz called on the Senate for a 2 percent increase to the funding formula.
Stillwater Area School Board Members Kathy Buchholz, Paula O’Loughlin and Mike Ptacek shared stories about their latest round of budget reductions — totaling $2.5 million — based on the assumption of a 1 percent formula increase. They told the committee that a 1 percent increase doesn’t keep up with inflation and will lead to more cuts.
O’Loughlin, a first-year board member, urged the Senate committee to add a 3 percent increase.
“Parents are disheartened and dismayed by these budget cuts,” she said. “Students have been asked too long to do less with less. Please consider an increase on the formula.”
Stillwater Area teacher Josiah Hill agreed: “One percent is not sufficient.”
Other funding provisions would:
- provide $2.8 million in transportation sparsity revenue by for school districts that do not receive operating sparsity revenue and cover at least 525 square miles, and for the St. Louis County School District;
- keep funding flat for the state’s Q Comp program;
- increase equity revenue for school districts located in Greater Minnesota by extending the 25 percent upward adjustment in equity revenue to all school districts beginning in fiscal year 2017;
- create enhanced equalization aid for the local optional revenue program for school districts where more than 30 percent of the tax base is seasonal recreational property;
- create an “Achievement and Integration for Minnesota” program to improve academic achievement and promote racial and economic integration and to create equitable educational opportunities and outcomes, among other purposes;
- increase funding for the Reading Corps program by $6 million;
- provide a $9 million increase to concurrent enrollment expansion to ninth and 10th graders; and
- reduce Adult Basic Education funding by $3.3 million.
Notable policy provisions included in the bill would:
- allow school districts to initiate and maintain four-day school week calendars without Department of Education approval;
- reform the teacher layoff statute to allow school districts to consider performance along with seniority in the event of teacher layoffs;
- prohibit school administrators from placing students in kindergarten through grade 4 in consecutive school years in the classroom of a teacher with the lowest evaluation rating in the previous school year unless no other teacher at the school teaches that grade;
- make several reforms to the teacher licensure process for out-of-state applicants, including allowing alternative pathways to licensure and requiring the Board of Teaching to enter into interstate agreements with neighboring states; and
- allow school districts to hire non-licensed “community experts” without Department of Education approval when licensed teachers are not available.
The Senate Education Committee was scheduled to reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Thursday to take amendments.
The House Education Finance will resume work on their bill 12:45 p.m. Thursday.
Please visit https://www.mnmsba.org/Advocacy and look under “Recent Documents” for more details about these two omnibus bills. MSBA will provide more updates this week.