It has become quite clear our students have some catching up to do after being forced to miss so much classroom time over the last year. Legislation which passed the House this week would appropriate $104.5 million to provide additional summer programming to help students make up for learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to increased after-school and summer programming, the bill includes expanding access to quality childcare, additional school-linked mental health services and helping schools develop community partnerships for added tutoring services and hands-on learning opportunities.
While this bill provides some helpful dollars, it seems we missed a major opportunity to do even better. House Republicans offered an amendment that would have distributed funding on a per-pupil aid based on enrollment, rather than through grants to districts and charters distributed by the Department of Education, as is prescribed in the bill.
This Republican plan would have been a major benefit to our local schools. For example, the majority’s bill which passed provides $929,000 for Bemidji. The House Republican plan would have provided around $1.4 million to Bemidji – nearly $500,000 more that could be spent according to local needs.
If we’re trying to help kids get caught up after a year of distance learning, then it stands to reason kids need to be in the classroom. That is why the minority’s amendment put the dollars directly in the classroom, and directly to in-person learning so students can make up lost ground.
On the other hand, significant portions of the funding in the bill which passed have no in-person requirement, which should be the focal point of funding summer school programming. Only 27 percent of this bill’s funds goes toward summer programs for K-12 students to address learning loss, and only 36 percent goes directly to schools. It instead gives $1 million to the Department of Education, and millions more to grants to be distributed by MDE. Again, those dollars should be going directly to the classroom to improve student learning.
The bottom line is the minority’s proposal that was rejected by the majority is more equitable and would have placed more money directly in our classrooms to help kids.
In other news, the House majority unveiled the spending side of its budget proposal for the state’s next two-year cycle. It is a $52.5 billion plan, larger than respective plans offered by the governor and the Senate majority. House Democrats said they will come out with their tax plan for the budget next month and, while we don’t have the numbers, we expect major tax increases to be proposed despite a $1.6 billion surplus, a deep pot of state reserves and $8 billion coming from the federal government.
Even without dollar figures, we did learn is House Democrats do not plan to take immediate action on tax issues that need to be corrected. The House chair on taxes confirmed they plan to offer only one tax bill, meaning Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief will be subjected to end-of-session negotiations.
A bipartisan PPP relief bill recently passed the Senate with a veto-proof 55-12 vote. It is disappointing the House is not taking care of this issue sooner, like weeks ago. I am hearing from local tax professionals and business owners about the headaches and added expenses they are facing due to the lack of action by the House on this issue. They are counting on us to deliver results and it is time we do so.
Until next time, stay in touch and let me know if I can be of assistance.