Funding bump, plus programs for English language learners in omnibus education finance bill


An increase on the school funding formula and more dollars for English language learners are key pieces to the omnibus education finance bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), HF3171 would place an additional $54.5 million in General Fund revenue onto the education funding formula this biennium. The House Education Finance Committee began bill deliberations Tuesday and is expected to take up amendments tomorrow.

Marquart said in recent years the state has begun to reinvest in education and he said this bill adds to that momentum. “I think we did turn the dial,” he said.

The bill provides $5.4 million to increase program support from five to six years so students may receive state-funded English language learner services. It also increases the basic revenue funding from $704 to $726 per pupil.

Marquart considers the General Fund increase and English learner provisions central to his bill.

“They’re a big part,” Marquart said.

Specialized assistance

The bill includes a $5 million increase in telecommunication access funding for schools, and a $2 million increase for early childhood learning school readiness programs.

An additional $250,000 for early childhood health and development screening is also in the bill.

Two community programs, the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis and St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, would each receive $1.1 million in fiscal year 2015, with ongoing funding for their efforts at strengthening struggling neighborhoods.

Included in the bill is $500,000 for the Minnesota Reading Corps’ early childhood literacy program, enough funding for the corps to reach 750 more students.

School districts offering specialized services for students recovering from chemical abuse could receive grants up to $125,000 from $500,000 in funding, beginning in 2015.

School lunch program funding would increase by $3.5 million in fiscal year 2015 under the bill — a response to the recent revelations that some students, unable to pay for lunch, could be going hungry.

The bill contains many provisions put forward by Gov. Mark Dayton, including $300,000 in funding for the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind.

All told, HF3171 would spend $75 million in General Fund revenue this biennium with a funding of $170 million provided for the 2016-2017 biennium.

Fixing the ‘doughnut hole’

A priority for Marquart (pictured) is to close a so-called location equity funding “doughnut hole.” That is, the problem of some school districts being too small to receive location equity funding, too big to qualify for small school funding.

The recently enacted tax law expanded the $424 per pupil location equity amount enjoyed by metro school districts to all school districts at a cost of about $20 million to the General Fund, beginning in fiscal year 2016.

Location equity was designed to offset higher costs metro school districts face by providing $424 per pupil for districts wholly or partially within the seven-county metro area, $212 per pupil for Greater Minnesota school districts serving more than 2,000 students.

These equity dollars metro school districts receive have long been a sore point for lawmakers with school districts outside the metro.

One provision the bill would change this.

Beginning in 2016, the definition of the metropolitan area could expand from seven counties to 13 counties as recognized in a federal statistical region. This would increase the number of school districts eligible for metro equity revenue from 48 to 65.

Other features in the bill include:

  • an increase from $10 to $15 per pupil to the Safe Schools levy for intermediate school districts beginning in taxes payable in 2016.
  • requiring the education commissioner to better align the state’s alternative teacher professional pay system and teacher development and evaluation program. The commissioner is report back to the Legislature by Feb. 1, 2015.
  • a requirement for school districts to make public plans on how the district would provide staff training on techniques that may be necessary to subdue a child exhibiting extreme behavior. A $250,000 appropriation would be available to assist school districts that have experienced high use of restraints.
  • natural disaster debt service provisions for school districts that have suffered natural disasters since Jan. 1, 2005, were damaged by more than $500,000, and have repair and replacement costs not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.
  • authorization for the Perpich Center to operate Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury as an east metropolitan area magnet school. It also authorizes the East Metro Integration District to transfer Harambee Community School in Maplewood to the Roseville School District for operation of a multidistrict integration faculty.