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House approves amended omnibus K-12 finance bill

published 5/18/2011
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At 6:03 a.m. weary House members passed the conference committee report for HF934*/ SF1030, the omnibus K-12 education finance bill 70-55.

Its House sponsor, Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), called it a “bold and beautiful bill” featuring reforms, including a teacher appraisal and effectiveness rating system; expanding school choice through a nonpublic school voucher program for some low-income students; a school report card A to F grading system; and changes to teacher tenure and bargaining rights, including prohibiting teacher strikes, eliminating seniority-only employment decisions and creating five-year renewable tenure.

The conference report awaits action by the Senate, where Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) is its sponsor.

According to Garofalo, the bill’s target of $14.13 billion for the 2012-13 biennium would increase funding by $450 million in additional state aid.

According to Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), it represents a $44 million cut that would hit Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul especially hard, but would also result in per pupil net cuts to many other districts throughout the state.

Each sees the same numbers differently, with Garofalo comparing to prior year spending and Greiling to the base budget.

“I don’t know of any person in this body who campaigned to cut K-12 education. But that’s what we’re looking at tonight, in the middle of the night,” Greiling said.

The voucher proposal drew particular opposition.

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) said the plan “sucks money out of our public education system and sends it off to private institutions. With this voucher program we’re just going to hand over $17 million with minimal accountability. And that’s on top of the $11 million tax credit,” for private school tuition proposed in the tax bill passed earlier.

Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine) said the scholarships would empower parents with one more school choice option. “If parents decide this is not an option they want to take, the money never leaves.”

The bill would increase basic formula revenue by $41 over the 2012-2013 biennium. It would repeal integration aid in fiscal year 2012, to be partially replaced with innovation transition achievement revenue and literacy aid. Compensatory revenue — a complex formula based on district and site concentrations of students in poverty — would be delinked from the basic formula and fixed at $4,179 per eligible pupil. Combined, the cuts would affect Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul schools most, DFL members said.

Garofalo said conferees had accommodated some of the governor’s positions including removing the freeze originally proposed on regular and excess special education aid and the proposal to close the Perpich Center for the Arts as a state agency.

He said May 17 that the voucher issue had come up in conversations with the education commissioner but would not speculate if it’s headed for a veto. 

- Kris Berggren

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