In a year-end work session, the Osseo School Board discussed legislative priorities for 2020.
Minnesota’s legislative schedule is based on a two-year timeline — during the first year, a two-year budget is devised and passed, and the second year is dedicated to policy priorities and the passing of a bonding bill to fund state infrastructure.
“Although it’s not a funding year, there is still a need to be actively engaged in the process, and for our school district to bring forth our needs to ensure we have the tools and resources to achieve our mission,” Executive Director of Finance and Operations Ron Meyer said during a Dec. 3 work session.
Valerie Dosland of Ewald Consulting echoed Meyer’s statement and said, although a budget will not be passed this year, additional money in the forecast typically results in a small supplemental budget. Ewald Consulting and city staff worked together to create a plan of priorities and issues to lobby for each year.
Prior to an introduction to the district’s proposed legislative platform, Dosland presented a list of educational issues likely to be discussed in this upcoming legislative session.
The first issue is a likely funding formula increase for school districts. During the last legislative session, the final education finance bill included a 2% increase per year formula for school districts. However, the House and Gov. Tim Walz showed support for a 3% increase, so support for an additional 1% on the formula could be supported depending on the budget outlook, Dosland explained.
Dosland also said school safety and mental health will continue to be hot topics this session. Last session, school districts received an additional $30 million in school safety aid, but it was one-time funding. “A long-term solution hasn’t been put in place, so you’ll see continued efforts,” she added.
There will be “a lot more discussion on policy this year because they’ll have a lot more time to spend on policy rather than budget,” Dosland said. Some possible issues that will be discussed include special education funding and mandates, tiered licensure, respectful meal policies, alternatives to suspension and expulsion, vaping prevention and outreach, youth access to tobacco and vaping in schools, and new graduation requirements, including civics and financial literacy.
Dosland also noted the Minnesota Department of Education directed Gov. Tim Walz to create a school finance task force to look at the education funding system and propose recommendations for the development of his 2021 budget recommendations. The task force began work in September and is composed of individuals of all different quarries of schools, including teachers, administration and parents.
After Dosland’s presentation, Meyer gave an overview of the Osseo School Board 2020 legislative platform. The proposed platform overlaps with many of the education issues likely to be discussed this year and the four focal points are the same as the 2019 platform.
“This is intentional because while we did make some progress over the course of not just last legislative session but previous ones as well, there’s still work to do,” Meyer said.
The basic formula used to calculate the annual budget is the first priority on the proposed platform. Meyer said part of the reason school districts are experiencing a budget deficit is because funding at the state level has not kept up with the rate of inflation. Rather than focusing on a specific increase, the district would like to make linking “the annual basic formula increases to inflation to provide stable, predictable funding so districts can advance work to ensure equitable student achievement,” the proposed Osseo Area Schools 2020 legislative platform states.
The second priority is increasing funding to better meet the needs of English learners, the student group with the largest achievement gap in the Osseo School District.
“Unfortunately, funding for English learners didn’t make it to the final bill, so this continues to be on our platform so hopefully we can gain some traction,” Meyer said.
The third priority is a two-part dedication to school safety, which encompasses both physical safety and mental health. According to the platform proposal document, this includes making mental health priority a safety through a permanent increase to the Safe Schools Revenue and expanding the allowable uses of long-term facilities maintenance funding to include the modification of buildings to enhance physical safety and security.
The fourth and final proposed priority is to reform special education financing by increasing funding to 100% of the state’s statutory obligation.
“While we did make some progress in the last legislative session with our special education cross subsidy, unfortunately the progress was just to make sure that cross subsidy did not grow,” Meyer said.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s latest information, the current state and federal education funding shortfall is $22.8 million for Osseo Area Schools, Meyer added.
After the presentation, school board members provided feedback on the proposed platform.
Board Chair Mike Ostaffe said he doesn’t support the first priority because he doesn’t think it is the school district’s place to tell the state to increase its budget.
“I really can’t support linking it and taking away the power of the legislation to set it,” Ostaffe said.
In response, Meyer said, “State constitution does mandate that the state does provide for education across the state. Right now we know that we have a significant shortfall in the rate of inflation over the last ten years, and that is part of where this priority comes from.”
Boardmember Jackie Mosqueda-Jones and Superintendent Cory McIntyre said they would like to see another bullet point under the learning opportunity gap priority about creating incentives and alternatives to attract, develop and retain teachers of color.
After Boardmember Heather Douglass and McIntyre expressed that the mental health of students should be a top priority for the district, Boardmember Kelsey Dawson Walton suggested moving mental health resources into a priority of its own instead of keeping it under a school safety umbrella.
“Mental health should be a top priority — we can’t close the achievement gap without them feeling comfortable and safe where they are,” Douglass said.
Meyer said he will take the feedback and make adjustments to the 2020 legislative platform and bring it back to the board for approval at the next regular meeting scheduled for Jan. 28.