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Safe schools funding added to revised tax conformity bill

Rep. Jenifer Loon makes closing comments on passage of the conference committee report on HF947, which includes general education provisions with tax reform policy. Photo by Paul Battaglia

With only hours left of the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers met Sunday morning to make revisions to the tax reform bill in hopes that this go-around it will garner Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature.

Sunday afternoon, the House voted 85-42 to pass the conference committee report. It now heads to the Senate.

Following Dayton’s veto of HF4385 Thursday, a conference committee on HF947 adopted a delete-all amendment that replaced general education provisions with tax reform policy, including six changes to the original conference committee report. Conferees also added a K-12 education article that would provide additional revenue and funding flexibility to school districts.

That new article is meant as a compromise to Dayton’s request to provide $138 million in emergency school aid.

The new article falls short of that amount, but it does provide $50 million in new funding in Fiscal Year 2018 for the safe schools initiatives or other school district needs. Additionally, it would provide flexibility by allowing districts to use funds earmarked for staff development to be used for other purposes. It would also allow districts with surplus community education funding to transfer that money to their General Fund one-time in either Fiscal Year 2019 or 2020.

WATCH House floor debate and passage of the conference committee report

Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) said that the new provisions in the tax bill were a good-faith effort to compromise with Dayton.

“We are providing new money in schools, we’re trying to meet the governor at least halfway and I believe we have more than done that with this proposal,” she said.

However, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said she had been hopeful the Legislature would provide a comprehensive standalone education bill and after seeing the revised conference committee report she was “beyond disappointed.”  

“This proposal is full of transfers and shifts and, most importantly, takes money from teacher development after we just passed a tiered-licensure, which will allow teachers to get a position in our schools with no preparation,” she said.

WATCH House tax chair talks about the amendment

Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) noted that this was one avenue of several that they’re using to provide funding for school safety improvements.

Rep. Greg Davids makes closing comments on passage of the conference committee report on HF947, which includes general education provisions with tax reform policy. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The supplemental budget conference committee report passed by the House and Senate early Sunday morning includes approximately $28 million in Fiscal Year 2019 for school safety, and the House bonding bill includes an additional $25 million for that purpose.

Nelson said kids and parents aren’t interested in the intricacies of how they’re schools become safer, only that they are safer. 

“They don’t think about whether it was new money, they don’t think about if it came out of this bill or that bill,” she said. “They want to know that when they send their children or grandchildren off to school that they are in a facility that has been given the resources and the ability to make those schools safer.”

Problematically, Dayton has consistently requested that all of the safe school funding be contained in a standalone bill and indicated that he’ll likely veto the 989-page supplemental funding report because it still contains dozens of provisions he finds objectionable. Additionally, the bonding bill is currently under revision following its failure to pass the Senate.

“There are so many ways we could we get more funding to our schools that don’t involve raiding the reserves, transfers, taking money from our teachers, or shifts,” Cassellius said. “If this body is interested, I’m still hopeful that we can find some way in these last hours to get to our schools and make this bill better.”

 


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