April 9, 2021

The Omnibus Bills Are Out: Where Do the Senate and House Agree (Or Disagree)?

By Krista Kaput

This week, the Senate and House released their final education omnibus bills—a comprehensive policy and finance bill in the Senate, and a finance bill from the House that complements a policy-specific bill released last month. These bills package all the K-12 policies and budget items legislators hope to pass after three months of hearings

With the House controlled by the DFL and the Senate controlled by the GOP, the bills differ a lot, though there are a few notable areas of agreement. Here, we give an overview of the issues we’ve been tracking most closely. 

General Education Funding 

The general education funding formula provides basic per-pupil funding and is the largest source of state aid for districts. The House bill would increase the per-pupil amount by 2% per year, and would also create a process for automatic increases tied to inflation in the future. The Senate, however, is proposing to hold per-pupil funding constantat about $6,600 per studentand not provide an increase.   

Given that it’s a budget year, and that the difference between the House and Senate proposals represent hundreds of millions of dollars for the biennium, this will likely be the most debated item. For context, in the previous two-year budget, the Legislature agreed to a 2% increase

Teacher Licensure 

The House and Senate are miles apart on teacher licensure. Previously, we blogged about the harmful changes included in the House policy omnibus bill. Most notably, the bill would remove 8 of 12 pathways to obtain a Tier 2 license, making it harder for teachers to enter the profession based on experience and coursework. Further restricting Tier 2 licenses will force candidates to pursue more traditional pathways to the classroom, and could have a negative impact on the state’s efforts to increase teacher diversity. We know that Tier 2 teachers are far more diverse: 25% of those working on a Tier 2 license are teachers of color, compared to just 9% of active Tier 3 and 4 teachers.  

The Senate takes a very different approach, actually making it easier for districts to hire Tier 1 and 2 teachers by removing requirements to first seek a Tier 3 or 4 candidate.

Teacher Diversity Across the Tiers

PELSB 2019-20 Teacher Assignment Data, Received March 2021

College and Career Readiness Measures

Minnesota has stark disparities in access to rigorous coursework, but a lack of good data to shed light on successes and areas for growth. The House and Senate both include language to address this. The House’s bill would add new college and career readiness measures to the state’s World’s Best Workforce system looking at students enrolled in AP, IB, PSEO, and concurrent enrollment, as well as AP and IB passage rates across student groups. This would give parents and educators more actionable data to better support student access to advanced coursework, but unfortunately, it is not reflected in the Senate bill.

That said, there is still room for progress on the issue: Both bodies include a provision to monitor the percentage of students who are on track for graduation after 9th grade. This new measure would count a student as “on track” if they earned at least five credits and received no more than one failing grade a semester in a core class—reading, math, science, or social studies. Research has shown that students on track after 9th grade are much more likely to have good grades later in high school, graduate on time, and enroll in postsecondary education. 

School Discipline 

Minnesota’s current approach to school discipline has resulted in disproportionate suspension rates for students of color and students with disabilities, and while there is growing bipartisan interest in addressing the issue, the approaches still vary. The House omnibus bill includes several provisions that would improve school climate, strengthen parental involvement, and ensure that students have due process, including: 

  • Expanding on a prekindergarten ban—which was passed last session—on suspensions by now requiring it to be from prekindergarten through third grade, 
  • Requiring schools use nonexclusionary discipline practices before removing a student from school and clarifying grounds for dismissal, 
  • Expanding parental notification rights for when a parent’s child is suspended, and 
  • Creating guidance for schools on restorative discipline practices. 

In a measure of major progress, the Senate also includes a ban on K-3 suspensions. There is still a need for negotiation because the Senate creates an exception for when a student “poses a safety threat”—a subjective measure that is broader than the House exception for students who pose an “ongoing threat.” They leave out some of the other positive measures from the House, and add a provision requiring new teachers to be notified of a student’s disciplinary history. This provision could have negative implications for students.

Charter Authorizer Quality  

All parents want what’s best for their kids and should have the power to choose the right school for their children from a range of high-quality options. To ensure quality, charter schools have an extra layer of accountability through “authorizers” who review school performance and ensure they are meeting their mission. These authorizers are overseen by the state to ensure they are doing their due diligence, but that oversight process has significant room for improvement.

The House and Senate both adopted matching language to address this. If the language makes it through to final passage, it will create a clear timeline for authorizers on corrective action, set guardrails for charter schools to have a better relationship with their authorizer, and raise the overall quality of charter authorizers. 

Special Education Funding & Policy

Special education remains dramatically underfunded at both the federal and state level. The House bill includes a funding increase that would reduce districts’ “cross-subsidy”—essentially their unfunded but required cost—by about three percent per year for the next two years. 

Unfortunately, the House also includes a harmful provision that would radically alter the way special education funding works for students whose families choose to send them to charter schools, creating arbitrary caps on reimbursement from their home district. The changes could undermine access to effective services for students with the highest needs in our state. 

The House and Senate both include language to ensure effective COVID-recovery interventions for students with IEPs, but the Senate does not address broader funding questions. 

Lunch Shaming 

All students deserve to have a school meal without punishment or shame. Unfortunately, lunch shaming still happens too often in Minnesota schools. Both bills would prohibit schools from denying school meals to students when they have an outstanding balance and forbid other types of lunch shaming like bans on participating in graduation ceremonies, extracurriculars, and field trips. However, the Senate’s omnibus has more specific language about what constitutes lunch shaming and is derived from a bipartisan bill that was supported from a broad coalition of organizations, including EdAllies. 

Compensatory Revenue 

Last spring, the Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report on Compensatory Revenue, a $551 million pot of money that is allocated to districts based on the concentration of low-income families in their schools. While the Senate bill doesn’t touch on the issue, the House takes some first steps to improve how this money is allocated. Most importantly, it removes a counterproductive funding cap for high-poverty schools. Right now, schools max out on their allocation when their student body reaches 80% students in poverty. The House also requires more funds to go directly to the schools that generate the funds, and that they be used for evidence-based practices.

Other Lingering Debates

Both bills also contain funding that would help to increase teacher diversity—Grow Your Own and Come Teach in Minnesota grants—but the House also includes a slate of other provisions to increase teachers of color that will need to be hashed out. 

What else is the Senate prioritizing? Literacy is one of committee Chair Chamberlain’s top priorities: he dedicates $6 million for LETRS training that would provide professional development to teachers on the science of reading. The bill also includes language that would increase access to postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO), eliminate the use of seniority when determining teacher layoffs, and require districts to provide mentorship for teachers. 

On the House side, the bill contains targeted funding to increase advanced coursework opportunities for students of color, bachelor’s degree exemptions for World Language and Arts teachers, adds “Indigenous Education” as a requirement for high school graduation, and increases several other funding streams, including English Learner funding. 

What’s Next? 

The House and the Senate will have to come together in a conference committee—made up of members from both bodies—to compromise and come up with a final bill that will be sent to the Governor for his signature. They are likely to land somewhere in the middle on funding, and policy issues will remain contentious going into these final negotiations. We’ll continue to track the process and identify areas for action.