Thursday, May 15, 2014

E-12 Budget Done.  The E-12 Budget articles of HF 3172--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--were finalized early this afternoon.  $54 million will be spent on a variety of early childhood and elementary and secondary education purposes for the coming fiscal year with an additional $104 million built into the base budget for the next biennium.  The highlights of the bill include:

  • $25 per pupil unit on the basic formula increase (just under one-half percent) for FY 15 and beyond.
  • Expansion of eligibility for English Language revenue from 5 years to 6 years.
  • $4.7 million increase for Early Childhood Family Education by tying formula increases to increases in the general education basic formula.
  • $4.7 million increase in Early Learning Scholarships (cap lifted in FY 16).
  • $3.5 million for increasing subsidy for reduced price lunch, making it free.
  • $1.8 million increase in Learning Readiness.
  • $9 million in one-time money for teacher evaluation for non-alternative compensation districts (distributed on $302 per FTE).
  • $50 per pupil increase in lease levy.
  • $5 per pupil increase in safe schools levy for members of intermediate districts for use at intermediate districts.
  • Increase in debt service equalization factors.  Second tier increase effective in Pay 15.  First tier increase effective in Pay 16.

Deb Griffiths is posting a more comprehensive summary on the SEE website, so look for it there.

All in all, a very good year.  I'll be providing more details as things take greater shape.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Budget Conference Committee Moving (E-12 Portion Not).  Yesterday saw the first movement in over a week on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and four portions of state spending (Health and Human Services, Tranportation, Higher Education, and State Departments) are now approved.  This leaves the Environment and Natural Resources, Economic Development and Agriculture, and E-12 Education as the only segments yet to be unveiled and approved.

From what I hear, the major hang-up is how much money should be dedicated to the basic formula.  The House bill contained a 1% formula increase, but with the overall budget target for E-12 dropping by over $20 million from the mid-$70 million range for $54 million, that provision will have to be pared back considerably.  From what I understand, the House is holding tight around one-half of a percent, but even that is difficult to accommodate given the "tails" target that affect the revenue available for next biennium.  The Senate has a number of early childhood initiatives they are promoting and are holding fast to them.  The Senate also has one-time revenue for teacher evaluation costs in non-alternative compensation districts and that is a high priority for Education Minnesota and being a one-time expenditure, it has the advantage of not counting toward fiscal obligations in the next biennium.

The conference committee has been instructed to finish its work today, but it's 3:45 PM and there's not a lot of action.  That doesn't mean things won't happen quickly, but to finish today, things are going to have to happen quickly.

HITA Bill Passes.  Education Minnesota's Health Insurance Transparency Act (HF 2180) passed both bodies today by comfortable margins.  The final vote was 79-50 in the House (6 Republicans joining all the DFLers) and the debate was very short.  Things got a little more interesting in the Senate.  The debate was more heated and there was a motion to reject the conference committee report.  That motion failed on a vote of 27-39 on an almost strict party-line vote.  That made the final vote a fait accompli , as the vote to pass the conference committee report was 40-27, with two Republicans voting for the measure and one DFLer voting against.  I will provide a summary of the new procedures at a later date. A lot of this is busy-work, but it's still a pain and it continues to promote the impression that school district boards and administrations simply don't care about their employees.

Education Policy Conference Committee Report Passes.  The conference committee report on HF 2397 passed the Senate floor yesterday on a vote of 37-27.  As I reported yesterday, there was speculation that the conference committee report would be rejected due to opposition to the PSEO language in the bill that allows post-secondary institutions to advertise the advantages of their program.  The effort to point that out only swayed 3 DFLers to oppose the bill, but with 4 Republicans voting yes, those defections were more than made up for.

Here is a link to the final roll call:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Here's a Discussion that is Going On.  There is a lot of concern being expressed over the PSEO language in the Omnibus Education Policy bill (HF 2397) and the Senate will likely be taking up the conference committee report on the bill this afternoon.  This article gives a pretty good perspective on the "pro" side of the argument.  The key arguments against the provision--appropriate use of public money/quality of post-secondary courses taken by students--kind of get short shrift.


Supplemental Appropriations Bill.  The targets have been set, but the conference committee on the supplemental appropriations has yet to meet today.  It is expected that they will meet and it is hoped that at least some of the funding "skeleton" will be filled in.  I will certainly let you know if and when things proceed.
Rumors are True.  Here are the budget targets as reported late last evening.

Spending Targets by Budget Area
  • E-12: $54 million
  • Higher Education: $22.25 million
  • Health and Human Services: $103.9 million
  • Jobs and Economic Development: $19.8 million (Note: a $10 million transfer from the Assigned Risk Pool will boost total spending to $29.8 million)
  • Transportation: $15 million
  • Environment and Agriculture: $12 million
  • Judiciary and Public Safety: $35 million
  • State Government and Veterans Affairs: $705,000
  • Additional Spending: $20 million in various bills (Women’s Economic Security Act, synthetic drugs, medical marijuana, etc.)
Here is the MPR story:

Monday, May 12, 2014

HITA Bill Finished.  The conference committee on HF 2180--the Health Insurance Transparency Act--finished its work today.  One of the changes made to the final bill was an erosion to the Senate position that would have totally exempted self-insured districts from having to participate in the multiple bid program.  Instead of a straight exemption, the self-insured districts have to get three bids from providers of third party administrative services.  Districts that are currently self-insured or those with more than 1,000 insured lives that subsequently become self-insured do not have to seek a bid from PEIP for these services, but can if they so desire.  Districts who become self-insured in the future and insure less than 1,000 lives must get a bid from PEIP.

Other language relating to the self-insurance issue adopted today helps bring greater clarity to the issue of which districts are self-insured.  Under the interpretation of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, districts that buy their insurance through the self-insured pools developed by the service cooperatives are self-insured.  While self-insured in one sense, they are certainly not self-insured in the same sense as individual districts who build their own system of self-insurance and language was needed to delineate that difference.

The bill will now go to the House floor for final approval.  It is likely to pass relatively easily, even with the changes that some legislators who represent self-insured districts are not likely to support.  If passed, the bill will then head to the Senate, where there will likely be several defections from the DFL majority, but probably not enough to ground the bill.

In the end, it has always been difficult for me to comprehend the need for this bill.  Teacher bargaining units throughout the state still have unilateral authority to opt to be covered by PEIP during contract negotiations.  Given that "hammer," I don't know why bargaining units would need to saddle districts boards and administrations with a lot of paperwork that will change little, if anything.

Rumor of Targets.  Rumors are abounding that the budgets targets have been reached for each of the spending areas in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill have been set and that the target for E-12 education is $54 million (with a tails target of $108 million).  This is closer to the Senate target ($13 million above) than it is to the House target ($22 million below) and it will be difficult for the House position of a 1% increase on the basic formula to be achieved given the spending constraints resulting from a target at this level.

I would urge everyone who wants to see a lion's share of the target go toward the basic formula to contact members of the conference committee, especially the Senate members, and urge them to support the House's commitment to the basic formula.  Also, thank the House members for putting this provision in the bill and pushing it during the conference committee proceedings.

Here are the legislative home pages for each of the conference committee members.  You can e-mail them directly from their individual pages.



Please make these contacts as soon as possible.  By the end of the day Tuesday, it may be too late to make a difference!
Looks Like Things Will Start Moving.  The conference committee on HF 2180--the Health Insurance Transparency Act--will convene in about one hour.  Rumor last week is that everything was agreed to except for proposed treatment of self-insured districts.  The Senate version of the bill exempts self-insured districts from the bill while the House version does not and there is some question as to whether or not the Senate can pass a bill without at least some protection for the self-insured districts.  I will let you know the outcome as soon as it becomes known.

The Legislature has to finish its work by Sunday.  It must adjourn for the biennium on Monday, May 19, and under the Minnesota Constitution, no bill can pass on the last day of the biennium, making Sunday the last day on which a bill can officially pass.

Lots of work left to do and I will be reporting on all of it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

House Passes Education Policy Conference Committee Report.  By a vote of 80-49 after a debate that was surprisingly devoid of serious contention, the House passed the conference committee report on HF 2397, the omnibus education policy bill.  Nine Republicans joined an overwhelming majority of DFLers, with one DFLer voting against the bill in the final tally.  The primary complaint lodged by the Republicans was the additional mandates that are contained in the bill (and there are some).  A bulk of Article I is comprised of new requirements (some of which districts are likely already doing on their own) relating to English Language learners.  A bulk of the special education language springs from the Caseloads Task Force that met last fall, a bill that tightens up the seclusion and restraint process, and a study on the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).  The proposed study has elicited a lot of comments since it was included in the final conference committee report, as there are some who are concerned that a single system of MTSS will emerge from the study, but in my conversations with staff at MDE (who will conduct the study), they don't foresee that happening.  I urge you  all to look at the language (Article IV, Section 13) and, if interested in participating in the study, calling MDE.  I know some superintendents and special education directors have done so already.  This could be a very interesting study and a wide range of opinions on what a successful MTSS framework would look like and the discussion that surrounds this study should prove lively.

There is also language in the bill emanating from the recommendations of the task forces that dealt with the uniform adult basic education diploma and career and technical education.

The bill may be taken up in the Senate as early as tomorrow, but with the bonding bills making their way to their respective floors, it may have to wait until the action on those bills is completed.

Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Still Stalled.  Another day, another day in which the conference committee on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill did not meet.  One of the complicating factors is that it appears that the Governor may be reluctant to go as high on proposed expenditures as had been earlier thought.  There appeared to be agreement last Friday on a target of $293 million (I don't know where the $313 million comes from), but in a letter to legislators delivered on Monday, it appears that the Governor was not fully party to that agreement and does not want to go beyond $263 million.

Here is a link to the letter;

Monday, May 05, 2014

Still No Progress on Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill.  It would be difficult to call this glacial, because glacial implies some movement, but we're sitting still on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  Floor sessions went long today, making it unlikely the conference committee would meet.  It is difficult to determine what the hold-up has been, but even in a year when the budget outlays are purely supplemental and don't affect the on-going budget base to a great degree, there are a number of bills that need to be meshed--particularly the bonding bill--to ensure a smooth ending to the session.

Senate Releases Bonding Bill.  The Senate has released its version of the bonding bill, which proposes to spend approximately $1.1 billion on construction projects.  One puzzler to me is why the Senate is proposing to spend $200 million of the surplus on these projects as opposed to bonding for the whole amount.  With all the carping about the uncertainty of the budget situation for the next biennium that's been taking place in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill, it doesn't make much sense to take $200 million off the bottom line for the remainder of this biennium as opposed to putting into the budget reserve.  Further, interest rates continue to remain low, which makes bonding a bargain.  I realize there are other considerations that go into the decision to use cash instead of bonding, but it's always a puzzler to me.

Here is the MinnPost story on the Senate bonding bill:

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Ah, the Wonders of Technology.  A mere one day after the Education Policy conference committee finished its work, the conference committee report is online and available for download.  It's a 160-page conference committee report that covers the waterfront in terms of education policy.  Most of it is clean-up or customizing of existing programs, but there are a couple of provisions that, while not earth-shattering, do bring some new perspectives to the education process.  Perhaps the largest of these is the set of requirements dealing with English Language learners and world language proficiency that comprise Article 1 of the bill.  I will be providing more insight once I fully digest everything in the bill.

Here is the link to the bill:

"Saturday in the Park" or "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting."  It's hard to tell right now what it's going to look like, but we're all here--"all" meaning a broad range of lobbyists--waiting to see if the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations bill will be put together today or not.  The larger budget target from which all the differing issue area has been set, but now comes the trickier part of putting together the amounts for each of the different budget areas that comprise the larger bill.  The process used this year is not used very often (I can only think of one or two times there has been an omnibus supplemental appropriations process that combines multiple broad budget areas and that has usually been during special sessions) and it's more labyrinthian than the targets-by-budget area method that it usually used.

The supposed deadline for the work on the conference committee to be finished is Sunday night.  We'll just have to see if that deadline is met.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

One Down, One to Go.  The Education Policy conference committee finished up its work tonight.  As stated earlier, the overall budget target has been set for the Omnibus Supplemental Budget bill and that conference committee will be convening on Saturday in hopes of finishing its work.  The Education Policy conference committee covered a lot of turf tonight; striking a deal on assignment of students to Area Learning Centers and alternative programs, working out language on the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations, and accepting language from both bills on the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options issue.

I will provide more details when the conference committee report and the accompanying summary become available, which will likely be early next week.
Overall Budget Target Reached.  The Governor and legislative leadership have agreed on the overall budget target for the supplemental appropriations bill.  The budget target for the remainder of this biennium is $293 million, with a "tails" target of $883.5 million (sum of future commitments as a result of new current year spending).  This amount strikes a compromise between the House supplemental budget amount ($321 million), the Senate ($203 million), and the Governor ($165 million), with the balance clearly tipping toward the House amount.  No idea of the target amounts for individual budget areas, but there was discussion this evening in the conference committee with the House making its case for its position of a 1% increase in the basic formula and the Senate defending its position calling for a $10 million increase in the amount dedicated to the early childhood scholarship program established last year.

So stay tuned.  The conference committee has been directed to finish its work by Sunday evening, meaning its likely to be a hectic weekend ahead.