Senate E-12 bills provide quality investment

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, May 2, 2015

It’s been another busy week at the Capitol as we have just three weeks remaining in the 2015 Legislative session. On Wednesday the Senate passed both the education finance and policy bills, moving them into conference committee with the House. The Senate’s Education Finance Bill has several important provisions that will send more money directly to schools in our district.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

The Senate’s bill includes a 2 percent increase in the formula over the next two years. This adds up to an additional $57 per student each year for schools. The Senate also addressed the growing need for more facilities maintenance funding. The average age of school buildings in the state ranges from 40 to 50 years old. Over the next biennium the Senate’s E-12 Finance Bill invests $31 million to aid school districts in maintaining and repairing their aging buildings. This is a real need for districts across the state, particularly in rural areas where budgets, and tax bases may be smaller. This investment will also allow schools to focus their regular school funding on classroom needs and not building repairs.

Investing in early childhood education is also a priority this year. Research shows that when kids are better prepared for kindergarten, the benefits last throughout their educational careers. The Senate voted to invest $65 million in the Great Start School Readiness program, which provides a flexible early learning model for schools to help teach 4-year-olds across the state.

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The bill also includes an addition of $10 million to the compensatory funding pilot grants program. Albert Lea Public School District is part of this program and will be receiving an extra $470,000 each year for the next two years. Compensatory funding is given to school districts based on their percentage of students on the free or reduced lunch program. The additional revenue is used by districts to help increase students achievement and test scores; advocates for the program say it has helped close the achievement gap in several school districts.

The Senate Tax Committee rolled out its Omnibus Tax Bill this week. The bill includes several provisions that will help provide targeted tax relief for middle-class Minnesotans, including targeted property tax refunds. The bill decreases the percentage increase required for homestead property taxes, therefore helping farmers and rural landowners in our corner of the state. It also calls for a $54 million increase to the base for local government aid. This is an incredibly important program that helps fund services and utilities for small towns and cities and generally helps suppress local property tax needs. The Senate has also included an additional $222 million to the program to make up for cuts to LGA during the state’s lean years. This investment in our towns and cities is in stark contrast to the House’s plan — which makes a significant cut of $84 million to the program.

I am especially proud that my Workforce Housing Tax Credit Program made it into the bill. This program addresses the significant demand for more market rate, workforce housing in Greater Minnesota. It provides incentives to developers by offering a tax credit for qualifying investments in a workforce housing project.

In the coming weeks the Senate and House will have to work out the differences in their finance proposals in order to come up with compromises that will be the budget for the next two years.

If there are any other issues you’d like to see addressed please feel free to contact my office at 651-296-9248.


Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin is the senator for District 27.