Home / Budget / Taxes / More homework ahead for education bill

More homework ahead for education bill

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans held a conference call to brief reporters on state preparations for the possible event of a shutdown beginning July 1. (File photo)

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans held a conference call to brief reporters on state preparations for the possible event of a shutdown beginning July 1. (File photo)

They have a number, but not much else.

Gov. Mark Dayton and House Republicans are one step closer to ending their standoff and averting a state government shutdown. Republican leaders and the governor staged dueling press conferences Monday to state their positions, which indicated that the governor would accept a slightly lower funding number in exchange for GOP willingness to drop controversial policy pieces of the education bill.

The announcements marked a breakthrough in negotiations, which had resumed almost immediately after Dayton officially vetoed the E-12 budget. But other elements of the framework for a special session remain unresolved, including a passage in the state government finance bill that would significantly diminish the authority of State Auditor Rebecca Otto.

Even the education bill was still being ironed out, according to legislative and lobbying sources, who said Monday’s deal was limited to the new spending target, and left most other details unsettled.

The budget compromise agreed to would add $125 million to the education target passed last month. That’s equal to the amount the two sides had been wrangling over on the final night of session, and $25 million less than the governor had insisted was necessary.

Dayton’s veto also spelled out that the bulk of the additional money should go toward creating optional, half-day pre-kindergarten for all of Minnesota’s school districts, schools and students. His announcement Monday indicated that Dayton had relented on this demand, and would accept the Republican terms on allocating the funds.

As detailed in a briefing document released by Republicans on Monday, the new money would be split between several categories. Among them:

  • Some $63 million, or just over half the added funding, will go toward the general education formula, meaning a 2 percent increase in that pool for in both 2016 and 2017.
  • Another $43 million would be split evenly between early learning scholarships and “School Readiness,” bringing total increases to those programs to $52.5 million each.
  • A $10 million allocation for compensatory pilot programs that had been included in the Senate DFL’s omnibus bill, but not the House GOP’s.

Kirk Schneidawind, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association, said that, as of Tuesday afternoon, he understood that the only firm aspect of the deal between Dayton and House leaders was the $525 million target. Schneidawind, for his part, said his organization’s members had pushed for a much larger target, and praised Dayton for forcing the GOP majority to reconsider its original education target of $157 million.

As for the remainder of the funds, Schneidawind said his initial concern was how strict the bill would be on districts’ use of School Readiness money.

“One of the things we’re worried about is that they’re going to become too prescriptive,” he said. “Hopefully, they err on the side of flexibility.”

In exchange, Republicans offered a compromise position on the “last-in, first out” (or LIFO) policy governing teacher layoffs. Under the compromise, the existing language would be stricken from the state statute, forcing each school district and local bargaining unit to negotiate their own terms for layoffs procedures.

Speaking Tuesday morning, Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, chair of the Senate E-12 Budget Committee, said he was surprised to find that the GOP’s position LIFO had resurfaced, as had the “Student Privacy Act,” a controversial bill that would regulate the use of bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender high school students.

“Those were nonstarters, and they melted quickly,” Wiger said, referring to the way the offer had changed by Friday afternoon. “They were withdrawn because, ultimately, we need to be realistic.”

The House’s redrafted offer also contains $4 million for the Northside Achievement Zone and St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, and another $4 million for American Indian Education Aid, bringing total spending on that category to $7.178 million. Dayton had named inadequate funds for both programs in his veto letter; other requirements mentioned in the governor’s letter, such as English Learning and special education, are not part of the GOP’s most recent offer.

Wiger said negotiations had reached a “very delicate” stage the day after Dayton and his House counterparts first hinted at the outline of a compromise. At that time, Wiger was not certain if Senate Leader Tom Bakk would play the larger role in finalizing allocations, or if it would be left to Wiger and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, chair of the House Education Finance Committee.

In the latter case, Wiger estimated that the two committee chairs could produce a compromise bill draft “within a few hours.”

“We’ve discussed many of these issues before,” Wiger said. “And we realize that now there’s a sense of urgency.”

With some exceptions, the Senate has generally left Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt to work toward a deal, though Bakk was quick to praise the two sides for progress in reconciling their differences. In a statement released Monday afternoon, Bakk said he was “disappointed” in Republicans’ continued opposition to the $550 million budget target, and said Dayton was right to take steps toward avoiding a shutdown.

“Throughout this process we have kept the state workers and their families in our minds, and are unwilling to gamble with their future by forcing Minnesota to endure yet another state shutdown,” Bakk said.

A tentative deal on one plank of the budget still leaves two other vetoed budget bills — the jobs and economic development package and an environment and agriculture omnibus — on the table, with at least two additional bills expected to factor into the special session.

Indeed, mere minutes after Republicans spoke to the press to restate their education offer, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans held a conference call to brief reporters on state preparations for the possible event of a shutdown beginning July 1. About 9,400 employees would be temporarily laid off if that deadline passes, Frans said.

Affected agencies include the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which would be hardest-hit by the shutdown, with 4,294 affected employees, followed by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), where 1,490 staffers received notices. Also working under the threat of furloughs are employees at the Department of Education (405 employees), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (940) and the Department of Agriculture (489), among other agencies.

Layoff notices were mailed Monday, and another notice would be sent on June 8 to certain contractors and vendors alerting them of discontinued state payments.

As happened in 2011, a court would determine which are considered “critical services” that the state must continue even under a shutdown; Frans said MMB was using the 2011 ruling on those services to guide its planning for this year. Frans said the announcement was not meant to pressure the negotiating teams to strike a deal, though he said he believed the administration “takes this very seriously,” and would continue working to prevent the shutdown.

“Obviously [Dayton] wants to reach a deal, as well, on the overall budget crisis,” Frans said. He added: “I hope that it gets resolved sooner rather than later, because the sooner it gets resolved, the sooner I can stop planning for a potential shutdown.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *