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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Tama Theis (R)

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Capitol Update

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dear Friends,

It has been another busy week at the Capitol with two bills passing the House that will have a serious impact on our school districts.

The first bill was passed Monday, and I am especially concerned about the negative effects it will have on the self-insured Apollo School District.

House File 2180 essentially forces school districts to get their health insurance through the Public Employee Insurance Program (PEIP). Attempts over the years by Education Minnesota to place all teachers in a single health insurance pool have failed, and this is their new strategy to exert greater state control and regulation on school district health plans.

Under the bill, school districts must renew their health contract plans every two years and are limited to three bids for health insurance—one of which must be from PEIP. While PEIP is not the guaranteed choice, because of the size of the pool and the state’s ability to bailout the program should their reserves run out, they will be able to underbid every competitor.

School districts across Minnesota, including the Apollo School District, have been urging legislators to vote against this legislation since last year. Especially for self-insured districts, there are serious concerns that the state in increasing health insurance costs for teachers while simultaneously limiting competition and local control.

And when we discuss the state taking away local control from schools, we could just as easily be discussing HF 826, the Bullying Bill that also passed and was signed into law this week.

While no one supports bullying and wants to prevent it in schools, this one size fits all solution is a costly mandate on school districts that will take time out of the classroom and cost millions in taxpayer dollars.

In 2013, Apollo High School was recognized for their bullying policy and named a State-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports Sustained Exemplar School. Like Apollo, school districts across the state have implemented anti-bullying guidelines that work in their local districts.

This legislation will require many districts and charter schools to scrap those bullying policies for ones defined under state law. It’s frustrating that Minnesota legislators think they know better than teachers and superintendents, underestimating the efficacy and flexibility that local control fosters.

What’s also concerning is the price school districts will pay to enforce this legislation. In addition to the $1 million cost for fiscal years 2014-15 to fund School Climate Centers, it also passes along $20-$25 million of unfunded mandates a year on school districts across the state.

The training of staff and volunteers, the mandatory reporting to the Minnesota Department of Education and the required investigatory process for reported bullying incidences will take time and money out of the classroom. For some districts, it may even require hiring an additional full time employee to ensure all state requirements are met under this bill.

I strongly support Minnesota schools, but when the legislature ignores their requests and passes legislation against their wishes, it is extremely concerning. Both the PEIP Bill and Bullying Bill were strongly opposed by the large majority of school districts across the state, but were pushed through the process anyway. Blanket policies handed down from the state on high to our local school districts will not resolve anything.

Although unintended, I believe both pieces of legislation will have a negative impact on Minnesota schools.

As always, it is an honor to serve you. If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on how to make Minnesota better, please do not hesitate to contact me.