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Education finance bill passes

Published (5/16/2008)
By Thomas Hammell
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As budget negotiations broke down May 13, the House and Senate passed a standalone E-12 education finance bill, which Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office came out quickly and strongly against.

Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), said HF6*/SF352 would increase the amount of money for school milk, include a task force on special education and provide additional funding for school districts in the form of a one-time $51 per pupil allocation.

“I would say that every district in the state and every student will be happy to get what they can squeeze out of this Legislature in the time of the deficit,” she said.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) questioned the source of the funding, a freezing of the Quality Compensation for Teachers program, commonly known as Q Comp. He also questioned the date chosen to stop accepting applications for the program, one which allowed the Roseville School District to receive funding under the program.

In part, the bill would:

• add legislators to the State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care. The council would be given the additional task of finding federal funding for early childhood and child care programs;

• rework the language on the referendum ballot to say that “By voting yes on this ballot question, you are voting to renew an existing property tax referendum that is scheduled to expire”;

• repeal the annual general education offset in the Permanent School Trust Fund beginning in 2010. That money would be available directly to meet the technology needs of school districts; and

• appropriate $50,000 for costs to examine education achievement and $188,000 for the administration of the school report card.

The House began discussing the conference committee report late morning on May 13 and recessed after House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Mpls) received a call, reportedly from Pawlenty, asking the bill not be taken up until a global agreement on the budget is reached. However, after negotiations broke down later in the day, the House reconvened and passed the bill, and the Senate quickly followed suit.

Seifert unsuccessfully brought a motion to send the bill back to the conference committee, questioning the timing of the legislation.

“Members, this is very disappointing, when we are in the midst of a global negotiation in which we can get a balanced budget, we can get a K-12 bill, a tax bill and a bonding bill and finish up by the deadline,” he said.

“We’re on the drop-dead date, actually, to pass the education bill,” Greiling countered, adding that the bill would help the agreement or at least serve as a safety valve if there wasn’t any agreement.

That night, the governor’s office issued a statement calling the decision to pass the bill “unfortunate.”

A statement from the governor’s Director of Communications Brian McClung said, “Tonight the DFL walked away from negotiations. Instead they charged ahead to do what they do best — raise taxes, irresponsibly increase government spending, and throw out accountability measures.”

The bill, the statement continues, would stop nation-leading programs that pay teachers for performance and it would revoke other accountability measures.

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