The 2010 Legislative Session will focus on some major policy reform, funding issues, and stabilizing the funding base.
EDUCATION FUNDING SPARED CUTS IN 2009; FUNDING "SHIFT" HURTS SCHOOLS
During the 2009 Legislative Session, Minnesota schools were spared the budget ax, mainly through use of federal stimulus dollars, to stabilize education revenues. School funding was not cut, but rather remained flat, with districts expected to make do with current revenue levels. However, in June, Governor Pawlenty unilaterally cut school funding by $1.8 billion, or 27%, through a "shift" that pushed promised payments to the future and forced school districts to borrow money or drain reserves to pay their bills.
The Pawlenty shift has caused more than a third of Minnesota school districts to short-term borrow to pay their bills. Since last summer, when the shift was ordered, 126 school districts have been forced to borrow $300 million to cover costs.
CHARTER SCHOOL FACILITIES REFORM UNDERWAY
Some reforms related to charter school facilities are on the horizon. The Senate Subcommittee on Charter Schools has been looking at how to address the facility and lease aid issues, and to ensure that there is accountability, oversight, and transparency in the process.
RACE TO THE TOP FUNDS COULD BOLSTER SCHOOL FUNDING
Minnesota is one of the 10 states in line to possibly receive a portion of $4.3 billion in federal education aid to enhance education and help students achieve. The Department of Education is working on the grant proposal, and school districts are considering whether to sign on to grant stipulations in order to receive funds. The grant application is due by January 19. Fifty percent of the funds received by the state would be directed to school districts.
PERMANENT SCHOOL TRUST FUND COMMITTEE CONTINUES ITS WORK
Minnesota currently owns about 2.5 million acres of school trust lands and an additional one million acres in mineral rights. The school trust land acres were set aside as part of the state's Enabling Act of 1857, with the land to be set aside for school use. Now, revenues generated come through mineral leases, timber sales, land sales, and some leasing activities. Most of the school trust lands and trust mineral lands are located in Northern Minnesota.
The school trust land dollars ($28 million) currently are used to offset education costs but do not flow directly to school districts. The Permanent School Trust Advisory Committee, of which I am a member, has been working for the past year to see how law changes and other activities could boost these revenues to help school districts.
CHILDHOOD OBESITY TASK FORCE
Senator Anderson, along with some of her legislative colleagues and various stakeholder groups convened an informal legislative working group that met four times this past fall and winter to recommend legislative proposals that would assist in reducing the epidemic of childhood obesity here in Minnesota.