On Tuesday, the Minnesota House debated and passed the Omnibus K-12 Education Finance bill, the largest single expenditure of our state’s budget. In our current budget, passed in 2011, we provided a 33% increase and spent $15.5 billion. This budget also helped spur over $300 million in surplus that will be used to pay back the school shift. With $15.7 billion in funding for our public schools, the 2013 bill creates millions in new bureaucratic mandates that funnel money outside of the classroom. Line items like new “regional centers of excellence” aren’t necessary to improve the classroom experience for our kids.
Even more concerning, however, is the elimination of graduation standards that got slipped into the bill. Currently, Minnesota High Schoolers take several assessments in order to qualify for a high school diploma. Two of these GRAD (Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma) tests include the GRAD Writing Test given at grade nine and the Grade 10 Reading MCA. These tests are now on the chopping block.
Why would we remove statewide comprehensive standards for our students? Embarrassed by poor results in their metro school districts, some powerful education groups have applied great pressure on Governor Dayton and my Democrat colleagues in the legislature to do-away with these measurements. Unfortunately for our students, the pressure worked.
With great concern for our local schools and student readiness for post-graduation, I spoke with several teachers in our district and offered an amendment to the K-12 bill which would have kept a grad standard in place. Through an accumulation of scores across subject areas, my amendment would have allowed an overall positive score for students and teacher candidates to outweigh a potentially lower score in one subject area. It would have kept a state standard for our graduates and our new teachers in place.
My amendment was rejected by House Democrats and the elimination of crucial learning measurement benchmarks will march on.
On Wednesday night, the House also passed the largest tax increase in three decades. Paid for with new higher income taxes and a shift in lower and middle income brackets, the bill also brings about higher sales taxes on alcohol products and tobacco. One lesser known item in HF677 (Omnibus Tax Bill) is the elimination of the state’s charitable giving tax credit for those that itemize deductions, as well as the elimination of a tax credit for purchasing long-term care insurance.
With new taxes and fees totaling $3 billion over the next two years, people from our area across income levels will feel the bite of this stone-cold job killer. Businesses will have less to hire and grow jobs, and may raise prices or close down. Farmers will not see the property tax relief they deserve, because the bill is focused on metro-area interests. In all, the new taxes amount to over $500 for every man, woman and child in Minnesota, or $2000 for a family of four.
Both bills will now merge with Senate versions and return to the House before they are given final passage and sent to Governor Dayton.
Thank you for your input during these long weeks of session, I appreciate hearing from you.