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The Stretch Run: looking at education bills in the Legislature

Rep. Joe Hoppe

The Minnesota State Legislature returned today from Easter break.  Legislative leaders have promised a quick to end to a session that has thus far produced very little legislation — other than a Voter ID constitutional amendment — lots of stadium talk that has gone nowhere, and more than the usual amount of partisan hijinks.

One of the policy areas, though, where there have been some substantive actions so far in this session has been in K-12 education.  Let’s take a look at some of the important legislation in education, and what the last couple of weeks of the session may mean.

Repayment of the K-12 funding shifts:  Legislation by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) would have taken an additional $430 million out of state reserves to partially payback the K-12 funding shifts enacted in the last two state budgets.  The bill was passed on largely party-line votes in both houses, then vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton.  Dayton cited the potential risk to the state budget if the economy does not meet expectations as well as the fact that the bill is not a long-term solution to repaying the shifts (there would still be about $2 billion outstanding).  Dayton favored repaying the shift by closing certain tax loopholes.  OUTLOOK:  Poor.  The two parties are a long ways off on this issue, and look content at this point to litigate the school shift as part of the campaign.

Tenure reform:  House and Senate Republicans passed bills that would end the practice of laying off teachers using the Last In, First Out (LIFO) methodology.  Instead, the bill mandates a combination of seniority and teacher evaluations.  The bill is currently in conference committee, and is expected to be re-passed by both chambers shortly.  Gov. Dayton has already announced his intent to veto, saying it would be premature to pass laws dictating requirements for layoffs based on teacher evaluation standards that are not in place yet.  OUTLOOK:  Shaky.  Again, there seems to be a difference here that will be difficult to bridge.  Most people agree about ending layoffs solely based on LIFO, but question whether this bill is the right way (or whether this is the right time).

PEIP changes:  Legislation authored by Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) would change the process for education unions to enter the Public Employees Insurance Program  (PEIP).  Currently, if a majority of eligible union members approve, the union can enter PEIP.  Under the legislation, additional approval by the employer (in this case, the school district) would be required as well.  Versions of the bill have been passed in both houses, and are currently in conference committee.  Re-passage by both houses is expected before the end of the session.  Additional legislation that would prevent new groups from entering PEIP for three years is also in conference committee.  OUTLOOK:  Hazy.  Hoppe’s bill passed on a party-line basis, while the second bill had slightly broader support.  Given his positions on other bills, it seems unlikely Gov. Dayton would sign Hoppe’s bill.

Omnibus education bill:  A number of policy reforms are included in the omnibus education bill.  Among them are early graduation scholarships, which would reward students who graduate from high school early by helping to fund their post-secondary options.  The Republican bills would fund said scholarships by taking the money from their school district.  Also included is the call for a state report card on each school, prohibitions on political activities by school employees on public property, an extension on the ability for school districts to transfer dollars between funds, and allowing districts to use general fund dollars on all-day kindergarten programs.  OUTLOOK:  Possible.  The funding of the early graduation scholarship could be problematic, but it is an issue that ought to be able to be worked out if the two sides are truly serious about getting a bill passed.

This post was written by Sean Olsen and originally published on Brick City Blog. Follow Sean on Twitter: @sean_olsen.

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