The 2021 legislative session has been unlike any other as the Minnesota Legislature adapts to operating a full legislative session, in a budget-setting year, remotely amid COVID. Everyone seems to have adapted to the new way of operating, but it has not been without challenges.
Over the last two and a half months, the legislature has been busy reviewing the Governor’s budget and policy recommendations. House and Senate committees have also been hearing bills in their respective bodies highlighting their legislative priorities as well as ideas brought to them by their constituents and advocacy organizations, including MASA and our other education associations. This has all been amidst a larger debate on the Governor’s peacetime emergency powers, what is needed to continue to address the pandemic, and what role the legislature plays in distributing federal COVID relief funds.
First in the budget process was the release of the Governor’s budget recommendations. In E-12 education, Governor Walz recommended $745 million in additional funding to provide increases to the per-pupil formula, declining pandemic enrollment and compensatory aid, support for student mental health, funding to address the ELL cross-subsidy and special education cross-subsidy, initiatives to address lost learning time, continuing funding for VPK/SR+ among many other initiatives.
Next in the budget process, the Minnesota House and Senate will advance their respective budget bills. What we know now is a broad overview of their respective budget priorities. The Senate budget target is set at $152 million. Out of that, we expect to see funding for Education Savings Accounts (a new way to describe vouchers), support for student mental health through the safe schools levy, and additional referendum equalization aid. The House target, $721 million, is close to the Governor’s and we expect to see budget priorities similar, but not the same, to the Governor. Mid- April we will have a better idea of the details of the House and Senate budget bills.
The legislature has tackled several issues this session including a MASA priority to expand opportunities for school districts to offer distance learning for families that want it and additional flexibility in determining school calendars. Other issues addressed include the teacher of color shortage, teacher licensure, student discipline, and student mental health.
Throughout the session, MASA has been advocating for our legislative priorities, including funding on the per-pupil formula, declining pandemic enrollment and compensatory aid, the ability for school boards to renew expiring referenda, and against new unfunded mandates. Your work to connect with your local elected officials enhances these efforts and we greatly appreciate your efforts!