A Public Policy Update

Friends in Christ, 

I write to keep you informed of the current happenings at the Minnesota Legislature with respect to education issues in general and the specific proposals that we are advancing via the new statewide parental choice advocacy network known as OAK (Opportunity for All Kids).

First of all let me just observe that, for a variety of reasons, education issues have grabbed the attention of many in the state, both inside and outside of government, in a way that has not been true in recent years. This degree of attention is by and large good and, I believe, presents us with opportunities to advance the cause of greater parental choice. Currently, there are four pieces of legislation that I’d like you to be aware of:

A) The Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act: House File (HF) 1369; Senate File (SF) 1396 

B) Education Savings Accounts for Students with Special Needs: HF 1529; SF 1313

C) K -12 Education Deduction and Tax Credits Bill: HF 798; SF 1224

D) New State Funding for Pre-School 4-year-olds (no specific bill has been introduced)

Comments: The first two bills listed are being sponsored by OAK. The first, HF 1369/SF 1396, allows establishment of scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs), donors to which would be eligible to receive a tax credit from the state. It is a very good bill and would provide substantial financial relief for parents choosing to send their children to our schools. Long-term (within the next 2 - 6 years), this holds great potential to advance the cause of Christian education in the State of Minnesota. Short-term, that is, in this legislative session, it is not likely to become law.

The second OAK bill, HF 1529/SF 1313, allows parents with special needs children to receive the funding that the state would have paid to the local public school district and with it purchase the educational services their child needs from whichever vendors they choose (public, private, religious). It is a bill that clearly puts parents in charge of their child’s educational life and reinforces the understanding that the dollars collected by the state for each child should follow that child to the school of the parents’ choosing. 

This is a bill that is moving forward and enjoys a broader range of support in both the House and the Senate than does the SGO bill. It is moving through committee hearings and stands a good chance of getting a vote in the House and perhaps the Senate. This is a bill that will not benefit as many students and families as the SGO bill, but it does help to further establish several key concepts of the parental choice movement and should be strongly supported by LCMS educators.     

The third bill listed, HF 798/SF 1224, builds on two existing programs: the tax deductions program which currently allows parents to deduct a wide range of educational expenses including tuition and a tax credit program which currently does not include tuition as an allowable expense. Under the proposed bill, various caps on both deductions and credits are raised, and, most importantly, tuition is included as an expense for tax credit calculation. This is a bill, which, in the current political climate, might have a broad enough base to become law. Again, we in the LCMS should use whatever influence we have, collectively and individually, to promote this bill as enthusiastically as possible, particularly as it treats tuition as an allowable expense.

Finally, there has been much discussion about the possibility of the state pouring many millions of dollars into funding 4-year-old preschool. Aside from the fundamental question of whether the state should, in effect, extend its system from K - 12 to Pre-K - 12, the primary “bones of contention” here are twofold, namely, who should qualify to receive these monies and who would “administrate” the program? That is, there is a difference of opinion about whether these monies should be “targeted” to disadvantaged families or whether they should be “universally” available to all families. Secondly, there is disagreement over whether funds should be given directly to parents (in the form of scholarships) who would, in turn, choose the provider they deem best for their child or whether the funds should be given to public school districts who would in turn decide how the funds would be disbursed. Depending on how these differences are resolved, these new funds will either strengthen our state’s commitment to parental choice and thus strengthen our preschools and their proclamation of the Gospel or they will move us in the opposite direction. Once again, this is a crucial issue for families and our LCMS ministries and one on which we should not be shy about expressing an opinion.

As is always the case, the most effective way of influencing these kinds of decisions is for individual citizens to care enough to express their views to their legislators. Indeed, anyone who does so is assumed to represent many more constituents who do not make that effort, and thus are given great consideration. So, my encouragement is a simple one: remember that as baptized children of God you and every member of your school community are called to be good stewards of all the blessings God has given you, including the blessing of your citizenship. Please also remember your legislators and governor in your prayers.

If you have questions or comments, please contact me at fred.hinz@mnsdistrict.org or 507-317-9634. God’s blessings as we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection!

Rev. Fredric Hinz   

MNS /MNN Public Policy Advocate