Many people turned out for the December 6th Policy Hour.

December’s Policy Hour featured three early childhood lobbyists: Valerie Dosland and Patrick Lobejko of Ewald Consulting, and Sonnie Elliott of FaegreBD Consulting. We also heard from Ben Horowitz of the Minnesota Budget Project. Many aspects of the 2017 legislative session are still unclear, but these experts shared the information they do know and some ideas about how legislators might proceed.

Budget Forecast
The November budget forecast reported a surplus of $1.4 billion for the FY 2018-2019 biennium. For more information about the forecast and what it means, read this post from the Minnesota Budget Project. Governor Dayton will present a proposal based on that number. When the February budget forecast comes out in a few months, legislators will use that information to form their budget proposal.

While a budget surplus is more positive than a deficit, many legislators and experts are cautious about spending because of uncertainty about the future. Possible changes at the federal level with the incoming Trump Administration may impact state funding and policies. Additionally, economic history suggests a recession may be coming soon.

Election Impact
State election results led to a larger, but not veto-proof, Republican majority in the House of Representatives. House Republicans gained seats in suburban and rural communities. The state Senate flipped from Democrat to Republican control. With the shift in the Senate, there is also a slightly different committee structure. Below are the chairs of committees most relevant to early education policy.

Committee Chairs in the House
Rep. Jenifer Loon: Education Finance
Rep. Sondra Erickson: Education Innovation Policy
Rep. Matt Dean: Health and Human Services Finance
Rep. Joe Schomacker: Health and Human Services Reform
Rep. Mary Franson: Subcommittee on Childcare Access & Affordability

Committee Chairs in the Senate
Sen. Carla Nelson: E-12 Finance
Sen. Eric Pratt: E-12 Policy
Sen. Michelle Benson:  Health and Human Services Finance and Policy
Sen. Jim Abeler: Human Services Reform Finance and Policy

Legislators will be assigned to committees soon.

Special Session
Lawmakers discussed the possibility of a special session throughout the summer as a way to pass tax and bonding bills, but it did not happen. With the recent news about MNSure premium increases, talks of a special session have resurfaced. It is possible they will meet in December to address some or all of these issues. If legislators do meet and spend money during the special session, that will change the outlook of funds available for the regular session.

Early Education
Many Policy Hour attendees acknowledged that Minnesota has made great progress on early learning in the recent past. It has been one of the main priorities for Governor Dayton, which has brought positive attention to the issue. Many Minnesotans understand that starting early is important. Now we are trying to figure out the best way to implement early education and how to fund it.

It is unclear right now what might or might not happen for early education this session. Presenters mentioned several factors to consider:

  • The Legislative Task Force on Access to Affordable Child Care must submit a report with recommendations to the governor by January 15.
  • There is a Subcommittee on Childcare Access and Affordability in the House of Representatives. This committee may work on the Task Force recommendations or take on other issues.
  • Minnesota is not yet in compliance with the federal reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant and must pass legislation to make necessary changes. This topic is likely to come up.
  • With the Republican majority picking up rural seats, there may be more attention to issues in those areas. The report from the Center for Rural Policy and Development may play a role.
  • Senator Carla Nelson, now the Senate E-12 Finance Chair, is a supporter of Early Learning Scholarships.
  • Republican legislators have discussed changing or eliminating Pathway II Scholarships to allow more funds to be parent-directed.
  • There may be changes to Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten to improve some aspects of its implementation or include more mixed delivery opportunities

There are many unknown factors, and it is nearly impossible to predict which direction the session will take. Some are expecting small spending targets from the GOP majority, which would limit the amount of new money for programs. Valerie noted that predictions for legislative session aren’t like looking into a crystal ball. It’s more like using a Magic 8 Ball, and the answer is usually, “I don’t think so.”

Construction on the State Capitol Building will be completed, allowing for more public access to the proceedings this session. Senate Republicans will now move their offices from the State Office Building to the new Minnesota Senate Building. Policy Hour presenters encouraged people to visit the Capitol and connect with legislators. Another option is to take advantage of the Easter/Passover break in April, when legislators return to their districts. Either way, it is essential for policymakers to hear that early education is a priority for their constituents.

Policy Hour is provided by Minnesota’s Future Coalition.