Today we finished up the House bills. I know I said that yesterday, but we really did finish them today. One of those last House bills was mine, HB 446, “Medicaid Restricted Account Amendments.” It passed 62-0. It basically amends Utah’s Medicaid Restricted Account in order to meet the requirements for the money coming our way from the federal stimulus package by designating unspent general fund money appropriated to the department for the Medical program as non-lapsing funds for fiscal years 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11. As background, the stimulus package (Federal Funds – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) provides states with a temporary increase in the federal match of state dollars for the Medicaid program. In order to quality for this extra federal match states have to maintain eligibility standards, methodologies and procedures that were in place July 1, 2008. Another requirement is that no amount of money attributable to the increased federal match may be directly or indirectly attributable to an increase or deposit into a rainy day fund of the state.
The purpose of this legislation is to amend our Medicaid Restricted Account for 3 budget years to make sure that no federal matching money the state receives as a result of the stimulus package gets deposited into our Medicaid Restricted Account which might be viewed as a type of rainy day fund. The funds will be non-lapsing and will stay with the department for the use of the Medicaid program. Utah could receive over 35 million in the next 2 fiscal years. The link for this bill is:
As we move to the Senate bills an interesting thing is starting to happen…we’re seeing bills hit the House floor that have never come through a House committee meeting and so we hear them on the floor for the first time. That can be kind of overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating because there is not enough time to ask all the critical questions and talk through the reasoning behind the bill and the goals it intends to achieve. One such bill today was HB2. While this was a House bill it also never was heard in the Education committee so it hit us brand new this morning. The title is, “Minimum School Program Budget Amendments,” and it contains much of the work completed by the Education Appropriations Committee, which we had already voted to support in our majority caucus.
However, there was some language in the bill that dealt with funding for charter schools that was concerning. It would prohibit the expansion of charter school capacity for the 2010-11 school year, for instance. While this bill addresses a one year freeze for 2010-11 only, it will be most onerous on the schools who are in the middle of the application process to expand, like Spectrum Academy or Legacy Prep in North Salt Lake, but are having their funding frozen even though the Minimum School Program funding remains in place for both charter and traditional public schools. This bill brings up many issues related to funding for charter schools within the umbrella of the public school system. It also speaks to the need for a bigger discussion that hopefully can take place during interim regarding levees, local replacement dollars etc.
I’m inclined to be biased towards charter schools because in our area I see the good they do, the needs they meet for students and parents, and the way they enhance in a variety of unique ways the student learning experience.
It is my suggestion to the Senate sponsor, Sen. Stephenson, that the bill be amended to either:
1. Provide that schools who have their enrollment procedures in place, or maybe approved, by March 9, 2009 be allowed to receive their funding for capacity expansion for 2010-11, or
2. Extend the date for the capacity expansion freeze to 2011-12.
Sen. Stephenson does have a Substitute version of HB2. It can be found at this link:
I’d love the feedback from any brave souls who can make it through lines 58-202 and analyze that information as to the affects it will have on charter schools!