Members of the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools Board of Education and administrative team met virtually with local legislators Feb. 1 to discuss the district’s legislative platform and initiatives.
District 55 State Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, District 55B State Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, District 56 State Sen. Lindsey Port, D-Burnsville, and District 56A State Rep. Jessica Hanson, D-Burnsville, all tuned into the Zoom meeting which covered topics like mental health support for students, school funding, incentivizing and retaining teachers of color, unfunded mandates, closing the digital divide and more.
The three main objectives on the district’s 2021 legislative platform are COVID-19 relief and support, stabilizing educational funding and supporting innovation and reducing mandates.
Funding for the upcoming school year was a main talking point during the meeting as many factors that will determine the district’s budget are still unknown due to the pandemic.
The district proposed on its platform that the greater of the 2019 or 2020 pupil counts be used to determine funding. PLSAS student enrollment is down 262 students from its budgeted number, approximately $2.6 million of expected revenue the district won’t see, said Executive Director of Business Services Julie Cink.
A funding concern addressed by Board Director Mary Frantz is whether the state will fund distance learning students differently than traditional learners.
“I’m completely committed to making sure that we do not reduce funding for a single student,” Port said. “This was not a vacation for teachers and the idea that we would cut funding or fund distance learning students differently is absolutely ludicrous to me. I fully support actively funding all of our students regardless of which learning method works best for them.”
For the last six years, the state has adjusted its funding formula for school districts to keep up with the rate of inflation. Cink asked if districts could still expect an increase in their 2021-2022 budgets amid the pandemic, but Pratt said the increase may be challenging to uphold given the state’s own deficit.
Hanson said legislators and stakeholders must continue to discuss an overall innovative funding model.
“We obviously know that the way we fund education is a constant struggle and we’re constantly battling to figure out how do we stretch these dollars to where they go and how do we know they're going to where they’re supposed to go or where they’re intended to go,” Hanson said. “You guys have been through a lot this past year, adjusting and making things work. There's got to be some flexibility in how some of the standard rules apply this year because there's been so many changes,” she added.
With education as a significant portion of the state budget, Port said she had some concerns it would “be on the chopping block in one form or another.”
She encouraged board members, teachers, parents and other stakeholders to share their stories with legislators to help them advocate for education funding.
Frantz noted the importance of funding education which she sees as the foundation for attracting young families to the state and retaining them, building businesses, growing companies and other opportunities.
“When you fund education it's like putting a seed in the ground and it really does help just about everything else,” Frantz said.
Initiatives being taken by legislators in line with the district’s platform include:
- Albright’s co-authoring of a bill that would return trades programs to high schools allowing community colleges to focus on workforce development.
- Port’s co authoring of a bill in the senate “to create more grants that can be used in different ways by school districts but to incentivize and keep teachers of color because we know that’s a huge problem in Minnesota and it starts at the high school going into college recruiting teachers building that sort of relationship there, but also how are we keeping them in our school districts once we have them,” she said. “Those Incentives need to look different in different parts of the state.”
- A bill being introduced in the house to increase funding for social workers and school counselors, which would help support student mental health needs.
- Pratt said he is actively working to separate functional behavior assessments and individualized education programs, which would allow special education teachers more time with their students.
Superintendent Dr. Teri Staloch said that the meeting fostered conversation between the district and legislators and provided the board with direction on how to best engage with them amid the pandemic.
The joint meeting with Minnesota legislators and the PLSAS school board can be viewed on the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools YouTube channel. The district’s 2021 legislative platform can be viewed by visiting the School Board webpage on priorlake-savage.k12.mn.us