Republicans in the Minnesota House offered a K-12 Finance bill that would dramatically alter the how the state's schools are funded, change teacher seniority rules and would allow public money to be spent for low-income students to attend private schools.
The bill, released Saturday afternoon, makes a slight reduction in expected growth for K12 schools, but increases the amount of money in the state's per pupil formula.
"The debate in education this year isn't going to be about how much we spend," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington as he compared his bill to Gov. Mark Dayton's budget plan. "The debate instead will be what we fund and what reforms we make to the system."
Garofalo finds the extra funding in the per pupil formula by cutting the state aid schools rely on for integration. It also caps state special education funding at current levels, leading many Democrats to allege that it would force local school districts to raise property taxes to meet federal requirements. Garofalo says he plans to offer a bill later this session that would free up state requirements on schools with special ed students. He says that would save schools money.
Regardless, Democrats say the bill unfairly targets inner-city schools and schools treating the state's hardest to teach students.
"If you're a needy student, you're a loser in this bill," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville.
Greiling said the bill would hit urban school districts like Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth the hardest. She said those districts would lose the most under the changes in integration aid.
The bill would also create a pilot program for low income students in poor performing schools to enroll in private schools at state expense. Greiling says the so-called voucher system would allow the state's private schools to pick and choose which students to accept leaving the public schools to teach the state's most challenging students. She says the bill is too aggressive.
"It's not just rearranging the deck chairs," Greiling said. "The whole hulk of the ship is tipped over and shaken out and spewed out in a different way. We have a whole new ship and that new ship is taking from school districts that have the greatest needs and spreading it around to other districts, small schools and charter schools."
Republicans argue the voucher proposal is a pilot program for schools in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth and is aimed at helping close the state's achievement gap. The bill would also dedicate more money for charter schools and smaller rural schools.
The state's teacher's union would also lost clout if the bill becomes law. It would forbid teachers from striking over any pay increases over what the state is offering, would allow school districts to lay off teachers regardless of seniority and would enforce teachers to apply for tenure every five years. Those proposals are likely to face heavy opposition from the state's teacher's unions.
The bill will get its first hearing in the House K-12 Finance Committee on Monday morning.
Here's the bill.
Here's the spreadsheet.