For the 2017 session, which began January 3, everyone’s attention is focused on the passing of a two-year state budget. The state is currently sitting with a $1.4 billion budget surplus. However, half of that is considered to be one-time funding so legislative leaders are advising caution as they work to develop their budget priorities.
The February forecast will provide legislators with the last evaluation of the state’s fiscal picture before deciding on a two-year state budget. Once the February forecast is released, committees will receive their budget targets before beginning to compile their major budget bills. Budget bills will be passed out of committee by March 31.
First out in the budget process is the Governor’s budget recommendations. Governor Dayton’s 2017 education budget recommendations total a $609 million increase over current level spending. His proposal includes increasing the per-pupil formula by 2 percent per year for a total of $370 million. Gov. Dayton also invests heavily to expand voluntary pre-kindergarten — a $74 million investment. He also proposes to invest additional funding to cover unfunded special education costs, increasing special education aid by $40 million as well as $68 million to cover employer contribution increases as part of a TRA proposal to sustain the fund.
A number of policy issues will be also be addressed this session. Most notably, the House and Senate majority would like to expand tax credits for private schools, a proposal MASA opposes. Another priority of this Legislature is to address the confusing and complex teacher licensure structures. Look for proposals to restructure teacher licensing, which hopefully will also provide more flexibility to attract and retain teachers.
I know many of you have been reaching out to your local legislators and participating in the MASA regional lobby days. Thank you! Your efforts make a difference in helping advance the MASA priorities. •