Minnesota Miracle and May 7

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by Mary Cecconi | May 1, 2009 • It has come down to this: the fate of the Minnesota Miracle is in the hands of 11 elected officials — 10 conferees and 1 governor.

Today Mary Cecconi, executive director of Parents United for Public Schools writes about the Minnesota Miracle in the current legislative session.

Are you tired of funding your schools through wrapping paper sales and levies? I am! The most important part of this year’s education omnibus bill is in the House version. It is the New Minnesota Miracle. Both the House and the Senate began work on this bill more than two years ago, but it is only the House that has carried it this far. Please note that the bill has funding for the new formula beginning in 2014 and, as Chair Greiling keeps pointing out to the conferees, if the economy does not recover enough to fund the new formula by 2014 that date can be pushed back. BUT PUTTING IN LAW A FUNDING FORMULA THAT PROVIDES FOR A GREATER DEGREE OF FAIRNESS AND DEPENDABLITY SHOULD BE A PRIORITY OF THESE CONFEREES. It is the one ray of hope in the bill. We applaud the House for its courage and forward thinking. We strongly encourage the Senate members to agree.

The conference committee for the E-12 Education Omnibus bill has begun.

The conferees were appointed and they have met three times this week. Just a word on process: The committee is chaired by Rep. Greiling and Sen. Stumpf. With each meeting, the chair function passes from one to the other. This is very important, because s(he) who holds the gavel calls the meeting and does not have to adjourn until they wish. They control a great deal of what can happen. If I am holding the gavel, I can choose to wait until an agreement is met before calling the committee to the table. Also, it is important to remember that an omnibus bill cannot be amended once it has left the committee process. It must pass or fail off the floor “as is,” so what happens in the conferencing process is incredibly important.

The conference committee walked through the bill, seeking explanations for each others’ provisions, and on Thursday night and Friday they accepted those provisions that are the “same” or “similar” from each bill. One of these accepted provisions that is of great interest is the establishment of a Minnesota Reading Corps program for increased literacy instruction. It’s important to understand the differences in these bills.

The process:

Because of the difference between the Senate and House committee structure, the Senate’s Education Omnibus bill has all policy and finance rolled into one bill for early childhood through grade 12. In the House, there’s an Education Policy bill, a K-12 Education Finance bill, and an Early Childhood bill. At a future date, policy and finance will be rolled into one House Education Omnibus bill and the early childhood provisions will be divided between the Education Omnibus bill and the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill.

The specifics:

* The House has a zero target, which means they are making no cuts to education. They do this with a property tax shift and federal stimulus money.
* The Senate has cut education by 7%. They are not using a property tax shift and by using federal stimulus money the aggregate cut to schools is about 3%.
* Both the House and the Senate call for revenue increases and reductions in mandates.
* The Governor’s budget increases funding to schools through his initiatives — mostly Pay for Performance and Pay for Progress — and uses property tax shifts, significant cuts to other critical areas of the state budget, and $980 million in bond sales.

The conference committees on omnibus appropriation and tax bills must report bills to the floor by May 7. Please contact each of the conferees and tell them you want to see the Minnesota Miracle provision — Article 9 — in the final E-12 Education Omnibus bill.

The E-12 Education Omnibus bill conferees —

From the House:

Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville)
Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul)
Representative Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood)
Representative John Ward (DFL-Brainerd)
Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington)

And from the Senate:

Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls)
Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood)
Senator Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury)
Senator Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield)
Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista)

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