State commissioner says “everything will be on the table” to solve budget deficit

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter told members of the Big 4 group that the state budget is out of whack from the pandemic. He urged schools, counties, cities and township leaders to all pull together to get out of the shortfall.

Schowalter is looking at a $2.3 billion deficit in the state budget this year and a $4.7 billion structural gap, starting in July 2021. Luckily, he said, the state has $2.4 billion in budget reserves and will need to look at how to best use any federal COVID-19 funds. The budget is not only a numbers exercise, he said, but also a statement of values and vision.

“Everything will be on the table,” Schowalter said, “including past options of shifts, unallotments, along with cuts.”

He is expecting the state revenue forecast in early December to shed more direction on what the state needs to do. “We’re approaching the pandemic response carefully, knowing the state is not going to have a large kitty for any kind of response moving forward.”

When asked specifically about funding the recommendations from the School Finance Working Group, Schowalter said those recommendations will have a difficult reckoning. Since the group work began when the state had a surplus, some recommendations may no longer have the financial supports needed.

He said the overall budget situation will be similar to when Gov. Mark Dayton got the state out of the deficit: “We’re all going to be put in uncomfortable positions. Ultimately, we all have to pull together and find a way through it.”

The Big 4 group is comprised of MSBA, the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties, and the Minnesota Association of Townships.

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School Finance Working Group set to release recommendations on October 1

The School Finance Working Group is close to ending a year-long mission as it prepares to adopt a final report and recommendations by Thursday, October 1.

On September 19, the Racial Equity and Student Support subgroup presented their recommendations – which focus on closing achievement gaps, increasing the number of educators of color, and funding programs that address education equity.  

The subcommittee’s proposals include:

  • Racial Equity Aid of $480 million in state aid beginning in fiscal year 2023;
  • At least 20 hours of training and support for Education Support Professionals (ESP), as well as minimum starting pay for ESPs of $20 per hour for a total of $13 million each year;
  • Increase American Indian Aid by $26.2 million in fiscal year 2023;
  • Trauma Incentive Aid of $20 million through grants to address the racial discipline gap;
  • Student Support Personnel Aid of $485 million to increase student support staff in schools. Funding would equal $477 times the number of students, with a floor of $240,000. Intermediate districts and cooperatives would receive $100 times the number of students enrolled in their member districts; 
  • $40 million in scholarships to attract and retain teachers of color by increasing the funding for teacher loan forgiveness program and student teacher stipends.  

The Working Group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, September 24, and adopt its final report on October 1.

Visit the MSBA Advocacy Tour website to access the School Finance Working Group webpage and 2020 Advocacy Tour PowerPoint Presentation to view additional recommendations from this group.

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Federal Weekly Update

Lawmakers are Close to Government Funding Deal 

With the House reconvening earlier this week, both chambers of Congress are now in session with just 12 days to go before current funding for the federal government expires on October 1. Lawmakers must pass legislation, before this date, to avoid a lapse in funding and a shutdown of federal government operations. Democrats and Republicans in Congress have largely agreed, at least informally, to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to avoid this scenario. A CR would temporarily extend current funding levels for the federal government, including funding for federal education programs, for a yet to-be-determined date. Negotiations on this forthcoming legislation are taking place behind closed doors and primarily hinge on the length of the CR—Republicans favor a CR lasting through December 18 while Democrats would like it to run through February 26 of next year. Text of an agreement has not yet been released but is widely expected to emerge in the coming days to allow enough time for votes beginning as early as next week. As of Friday evening, some media reports were suggesting House and Senate negotiators reached a tentative deal through Dec. 11. MSBA and NSBA will release additional details once negotiations are finalized.

COVID-19 Relief Talks Still in Motion 

Another round of pandemic relief legislation, one that would likely contain significant additional emergency funding for the K-12 community, has been stalled since the summer. Congressional Democrats largely favor a $3 trillion legislative package while Congressional Republicans favor a package falling somewhere between $500 billion and $1 trillion. Earlier this week, President Trump voiced support for pandemic relief totaling about $1.5 trillion—a key signal that the White House is softening its position to get a deal. The President’s remarks were largely in response to a new bipartisan proposalthat was floated this week in the House that proposes $1.5 trillion in new funding to respond to the ongoing pandemic. Despite the President’s support, Republicans in both the House and Senate have not given this proposal a welcoming response and have reiterated their support for a bill closer to one with a $500 billion price tag. As these negotiations continue, MSBA’s and NSBA’s advocacy team will continue to work to ensure that lawmakers understand the emergency funding challenges of the K-12 community and pass legislation that meets these significant needs. 

Administration Update

FCC Announces New Opportunity for E-Rate Funding

The FCC’s Wireline Bureau announceda second E-Rate application window for funding year 2020. Schools will be able to purchase additional bandwidth for this academic year to address higher than expected digital learning demand associated with instructional changes caused by the pandemic. Applicants may only seek support for on-campus category one Internet access and/or data transmission services. The second filing window will begin when the FCC publishes the Orderin the Federal Register and will end on October 16. Interested schools should, therefore, act quickly to take advantage of this opportunity. 

USED Unveils Per-Pupil Expenditure Data Explorer 

On Wednesday, September 16, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) launched a new websitethat publishes how much money each school spends per student. Known as a Per Pupil Expenditure (PPE), these data are a reporting requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but there is not currently a centralized place where this information is available. USED’s new website seeks to address this issue and increase transparency of PPE data moving forward. The related data explorer on this website provides a breakdown of federal, state, and local funds that compose PPE for each school and district beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The tool only has data from 20 states currently but USED anticipates more being added as additional data is made available for this purpose in the future. NSBA is exploring this site and doing an analysis of how the data is being compiled to insure its giving an accurate picture of PPE data. 

USED Plans to Provide ESSA Title IV-A Waivers

On Thursday, September 17, USED published a noticeindicating that it plans to provide SEAs waivers for various requirements of the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant Program (Title IV-A of ESSA). As part of USED’s response to the ongoing pandemic, these waivers would cover the current 2020-21 school year and would allow SEAs to provide comparable flexibility for school districts related to the Title IV-A needs assessment, content-area spending requirements for the grant program, and allow for a greater share of these funds to be used for technology infrastructure. More information on these waivers can be found here

Recent Legislation

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Governor Walz orders flags flown at half-staff in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Governor Tim Walz today ordered all United States and Minnesota flags be flown at half-staff at all state and federal buildings in the state of Minnesota immediately tonight until sunset on the day of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s funeral, to honor her life and legacy. Justice Ginsburg died September 18, 2020, at the age of 87.

On August 10, 1993, Justice Ginsburg was sworn in as a U.S. Supreme Court justice where she served for 27 years as the second woman, and first Jewish woman, to serve on the Supreme Court.

Individuals, businesses, and other organizations are encouraged to join in lowering their flags in honor of Justice Ginsburg.

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Governor Walz orders flags at half-staff in honor of Minnesotans who have lost their lives to COVID-19

Governor Tim Walz has directed all flags at state and federal buildings in Minnesota to be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, September 19, 2020. He has directed flags to fly at half staff on the 19th of every month through 2020 to remember, mourn, and honor lives lost due to COVID-19.

Access Governor Walz’s full proclamation.

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Federal Weekly Update

Congress Grapples with Government Funding Deadline

Lawmakers began returning to the Capitol this week after spending the past month in states and districts as part of the annual Congressional summer recess. As they return, legislators face a fast-approaching deadline at the end of the month marking the end of the current 2020 federal fiscal year and the beginning of a new one. While the House, which remains on recess until next week, has passed a majority of appropriations bills needed to fund the federal government past September 30, the Senate failed to pass comparable legislation this year. Therefore, lawmakers will need to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) which is stopgap legislation that extends current funding levels for federal programs, including education, for a still to-be-determined later date. 

Congressional leaders from both Chambers, along with representatives of the Trump Administration, have signaled they plan to pass a “clean” CR—legislation that will not contain additional elements beyond simply extending current funding—in the dwindling number of legislative days left prior to the September 30 fiscal year deadline. By structuring the CR in this way, lawmakers hope to reach agreement ahead of this deadline to avoid a shutdown of government operations. Negotiations are underway and are primarily centered on the length of time the CR will cover. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has said he supports passage of a CR until the end of December. Senior House and Senate Democrats, however, reportedly favor extending this temporary funding until early 2021—the start of a new Congress. 

Senate Fails to Advance “Skinny” Pandemic Relief Bill 

While the House remains on recess until next week, the Senate formally reconvened on Tuesday, September 8. For the past few months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been working to craft a legislative proposal to address the ongoing pandemic that could garner the support of his caucus. This week, the Majority Leader unveiled Senate Republicans’ formal pandemic proposal—a counteroffer in response to the House-passed HEROES Actin May which totals over $3 trillion in emergency aid. The Republican’s proposed relief package is considerably scaled back from previous proposals floated over the summer and aims to provide approximately $105 billion in education related aid—in addition to a slew of other relief measures totaling just over $500 billion—to address the ongoing pandemic. NSBA had concerns over this proposal due in part to its focus on diverting taxpayer funds to private education and away from public schools as well as additional concerns over funding related issues.

On Thursday, September 10, the Senate failed to advance this legislation by a 52-47 margin vote. All Senate Republicans, except for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), voted in favor of this procedural motion, while all Senate Democrats opposed the move. This failed vote is yet another setback for pandemic relief negotiations in Congress that have been stalled since the summer. Given that Congressional leaders largely appear committed to passing a “clean” CR, and with the November elections quickly approaching, the likelihood of additional pandemic relief legislation, at least in the near term, is increasingly unlikely. Nevertheless, NSBA’s advocacy team will continue to work to ensure that lawmakers appreciate the significant emergency related funding needs of the K-12 community, particularly as the school year gets more fully underway across the country. 

Administration Update

USED Scraps Proposed Equitable Services Rule 

Late last Friday, September 4, a U.S. District court struck downa proposed interim final rule from the U.S Department of Education (USED) that aimed to shift a greater share of CARES Act resources to non-public K-12 schools. This week, USED confirmed that, in light of this ruling, this proposed rule is no longer in effect. Earlier this summer, NSBA strongly challenged this proposed interim rule and applauds the court decision and USED’s reversal on this issue.

Recent Legislation

  • H.R.8193To require the Secretary of Education to ensure that local educational agencies establish full-time title IX coordinators to improve oversight, data collection on sexual harassment, student survivor support, and for other purposes. Sponsor:Rep. Meng, Grace [D-NY-6]
  • H.R.8187To authorize grants to establish a national education protection and advocacy program to enforce the rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and for other purposes. Sponsor:Rep. DeSaulnier, Mark [D-CA-11]
  • H.R.8182To direct the Secretary of Education to establish a grant program to make grants to the parents of students served by local educational agencies that will not provide in-person instruction in a manner consistent with school year 2019-2020, and for other purposes. Sponsor:Rep. Bishop, Dan [R-NC-9]
  • H.R.816221st Century Community Learning Centers Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 Sponsor:Rep. Wild, Susan [D-PA-7]
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Governor Walz orders flags flown at half-staff in honor of September 11

In observance of the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and in accordance with a proclamation issued by the President, Governor Tim Walz has ordered that all United States flags and Minnesota flags be flown at half-staff at all state and federal buildings in the state of Minnesota from sunrise until sunset. Individuals, businesses, and other organizations also are encouraged to join in lowering their flags in observance of the anniversary.

“September 11th is a solemn day of remembrance across the state of Minnesota,” said Governor Walz. “On the 19th anniversary, we lower our flags in honor of the Americans who were lost, who were injured, and who saved lives on that tragic day. We recognize the incredible heroism of our nation’s first responders and we reflect on the unwavering spirit of the American people.”

In respect for the victims of this tragedy, Governor Walz proclaimed Friday, September 11, 2020, to be Patriot Day and a Day of Service and Remembrance in the State of Minnesota. Governor Walz encourages all Minnesotans to observe the National Moment of Silence at 7:46 a.m. Central Daylight Time, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation will light the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis with red, white, and blue.

Access Governor Walz’s full proclamation.

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School Finance Working Group meeting streaming live today at YouTube

The Minnesota Department of Education’s School Finance Working Group is scheduled to meet virtually at 4 p.m. today (Thursday, September 10) to review the draft report of a reform package proposal.

Today’s meeting will be livestreamed on the School Finance YouTube channel. Join the live stream once the meeting begins at 4 p.m.

Visit the School Finance Working Group webpage for more information about this group.

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Federal Weekly Update

Congressional Update 

A Daunting September Lies Ahead for Congress 

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have been on their annual August recess for the past several weeks. When they return, they will face the daunting challenge of finding consensus on how to fund the federal government past September 30—the last day of the current federal fiscal year. It seems unlikely that a budget agreement that both houses and the Administration can agree on will pass prior to that time. While the House has passed most of its funding bills, the Senate has not passed comparable legislation this year. Therefore, it is most likely lawmakers will need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to extend current funding levels, including those for K-12 education programs, for an as yet to-be-determined period of time beyond the upcoming September 30 deadline. Congressional leaders and the White House appear to agree on the need for a CR but are still negotiating its duration. 

Complicating matters further, Congressional leaders and the White House are still tepidly negotiating a forthcoming emergency relief package as an additional response to the ongoing pandemic. The Senate will reconvene next week, and Republicans are expected to formally introduce and vote on a “skinny” legislative package containing their pandemic relief priorities. While an initial draft of the legislation was floated informally last month, the final details are still being worked out among the Senate Republican caucus. Despite this modest progress, both parties remain far apart on the size and scope of the next relief package. Given the upcoming federal fiscal year deadline, it is possible that lawmakers pair both must-pass pieces of legislation together to get agreement on both issues. As these efforts unfold NSBA’s advocacy team will be working to ensure that Congress appreciates both the ongoing and emergency funding needs of the K-12 education community. 

Administration Update

USED Says Additional Accountability & Assessment Waivers Unlikely 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) issued waivers temporarily absolving all 50 states and territories from federal accountability and assessment requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for the last school year. Since that time, several states have sought similar waivers for the current 2020-21 school year for the same purpose. On Thursday, September 3, USED sent a letter to all chief state school officersunderscoring the importance of these assessment and accountability provisions in ESSA and stressing that states “. . . should notanticipate such waivers being granted again.” Instead, USED’s letter encouraged states to ‘rethink’ their existing assessment systems and left open the possibility that states could still shift how the results of their assessments are used for school accountability purposes. While the letter is not an unequivocal rejection of all state waivers of this sort in the future, it nevertheless indicates the direction USED is likely to go with regards to assessment and accountability, at least in the near future. Several civil rights and education groups applaudedthe sentiments contained in the letter. 

USDA Extends School Nutrition Waivers 

On Monday, August 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended several flexibilitiesfor school nutrition programs through the end of the year. This decision is a reversal of sorts for the department which, as recently as August 20, contended that they lacked the authorityto provide these flexibilities for schools despite the ongoing pandemic. After considerable bipartisan pressure, USDA will now allow summer meal program operators to continue to serve free meals to all school children through December 31 of this year. 

FEMA Announces Restrictions on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Funding Coverage

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)announced it will no longer pay for some safety measures related to COVID-19 that it previously covered — including PPE and sanitation supplies — unless they are considered an emergency protective measure as of Sept. 15. Additionally, FEMA will only provide stockpiling funding for a 60-day supply of PPE from the date of purchase. Previously, a specific date was not given. It is possible that districts that ordered PPE and were counting on FEMA reimbursement may be able to get it if they submit the relevant paperwork before the deadline. NSBA has joined other education groups in opposing this move as it shifts costs of responding to the COVID emergency onto school districts.

FCC Extends E-rate Gift Rule Waiver 

In March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waived the E-Rate program’s gift rules until September 30, 2020. On Thursday, September 3, the FCC extended this waiver through December 31, 2020. This temporary regulatory change will allow E-Rate program participants to “solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for telemedicine or remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak.” NSBA supports this decision and is continuing to urge the FCC to use its emergency authority to help more students acquire broadband access. Throughout this year, NSBA has worked with the Homework Gap Coalition to urge Congress to provide a minimum of $4 billion in emergency funding for the E-rate program to ensure that all students have access to broadband at home.

Recent Legislation

  • H.R.8150To direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a study with respect to safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and for other purposes. Sponsor:Rep. Mucarsel-Powell, Debbie [D-FL-26]
  • H.R.8126To direct the Secretary of Education to establish a program to assist certain schools with respect to the implementation of wraparound services, and for other purposes. Sponsor:Rep. Lee, Susie [D-NV-3]
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Federal Weekly Update

Congressional Update 

Delays Continue for COVID-19 Relief 

Efforts to provide a new round of COVID-19 relief legislation have been stalled for the past several weeks. Lawmakers have largely left Washington, D.C. for their annual August recess and are not expected to return until mid-September barring a breakthrough in pandemic negotiations. In this context, Congressional leaders from both parties, along with the White House, continue to be at odds over the size and content of a future legislative package to provide pandemic relief. On Thursday, Speaker Pelosi and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows spoke by phone to discuss potentially restarting these negotiations more formally. According to reports, this call was not productive. 

The White House, and some in Congress, favor a piecemeal approach which would prioritize smaller pieces of legislation where agreement already exists—such as on extending unemployment assistance—but House Democrats have mostly remained firm in their commitment to a comprehensive package addressing a slew of issues created by the pandemic. While additional emergency K-12 education funding is one area where agreement appears to exist, discussions are still fluid regarding the potential conditionality of this funding. As this delay continues, the 2021 federal fiscal year is fast approaching (October 1, 2020). This deadline has the potential to re-focus stalled efforts to negotiate a new COVID-19 relief package by forcing lawmakers to combine this must-pass legislation with a forthcoming relief package. If no deal is reached, it is likely a continuing resolution would be introduced to prevent the government from shutting down prior to the election.

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