Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Day One in the Books. The House and Senate convened this morning and I am happy to report that things went off without a hitch.  Two new legislators were sworn in:  Senator Karla Bigham, who replaces former Senator Dan Schoen in Senate District 54, and Representative Jeremy Munson, who replaces former Representative Tony Cornish in House District 23B.  Outside of the comments of several DFL Senators over Lieutenant Governor/Senator Michelle Fishbach's dual role in Minnesota government, it was an acrimony-free session (and it is a stretch to call those comments acrimonious).

There was one committee meeting of note as the House Tax Committee received input from the Department of Revenue and House staff on the issue of conformity with the changes brought about by the passage of the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  Several interesting documents were handed out that show how the Federal changes will impact Minnesota individual and business taxpayers and I will link those documents once they are posted online.  One point that was stressed was if no changes are made, Minnesota taxpayers will be forced into a situation of great complexity that will require a lot of additional work--and confusing work at that--to complete tax forms.  One thing that has to be mentioned--and this is where there will likely be some political sparring--is that Minnesota is currently not in complete Federal conformity on a number of policy points.  One that leaps to mind is the estate tax, where the Federal exemption is much larger than that allowed under Minnesota law.  Minnesota also has a number of credits and deductions that are not allowed on Federal returns.  Balancing all of these items out will likely be a challenge, but it could open the door for a number of different approaches and vehicles to deliver tax relief to Minnesotans.

Bill Introductions.


SF 2455--Clausen--Requires training in identifying dyslexia for teachers renewing their licenses.

SF 2465--P. Anderson--Includes sexual exploitation in the definition of sexual abuse prevention in a health curriculum.

SF 2466--Little--Creates enrollment preference for students living in or near Castle Rock Township.

SF 2477--Lourey--Creates funding category of enhanced debt service for school districts in unique situations.

SF 2487--Nelson--Provides for an academic balance policy.

SF 2492--Clausen--Requires Commissioner of Education to develop child abuse awareness posters.

SF 2500--Goggin--Modifies provisions on the transportation of nonresident districts in resident districts.

SF 2506--Wiger--Allows districts to automatically renew existing referendum authority by board approval.

SF 2507--Wiger--Increases safe schools levy.

SF 2508--Wiger--Establishes school facilities improvement revenue.

SF 2522--B. Anderson--Modifies Monticello ISD 882 special education revenue adjustment.


There were no additional E-12 education-related bill introductions from the bill introductions that were pre-filed on Friday, February 9, and described in the Monday, February 12, edition of this blog.  Scroll back to that entry to get a description of the bills introduced in the House prior to the regular session.

Curious Move.  On the floor today, the conference committee was announced for HF 947, a seemingly innocuous piece of legislation that calls for a clarification in the calculation of general education aid.  I am scratching my head wondering what this could be about.  The Senate changed one phrase in the bill last year, but the House did not concur with the change and a conference committee was appointed (the same conferees that served on the omnibus E-12 funding bill conference committee and who are serving on this conference committee again this year).  Stay tuned.

Here are the conferees:



School Safety.  Given the horrific event in Florida last week, school safety is bound to be discussed both inside and outside the education-related committees this year as the solution to this problem requires a very broad discussion.  Kerri Miller had a very interesting program on her show on MPR this morning.  I didn't catch it all, but what I did hear was very interesting.

Below is a link to the show:

Here are links to the organizations run by her two guests:

Monday, February 19, 2018

On Your Marks.

The legislative session gets started tomorrow and it's difficult to determine at this point whether it will be a sprint or a middle-distance race.  It can't be a marathon because it's starting in the second-to-last week in February instead of the first week of January, but given the somewhat compressed timeline, we may be dealing with the problem of trying to fit ten pounds of potatoes into a five-pound sack.  The deadlines have not been set, but there is conjecture that both legislative bodies would like to have their bills out of their last committees and on the floor by the Passover/Easter break, which begins on March 30.  That would leave about six weeks after the Legislature would return to finish its work.  This scenario is simply spit-balling on my part and we'll know more in the next week.

There will likely be some wrangling on the Senate floor tomorrow, where DFLers will probably contest Senator/Lieutenant Governor Michelle Fishbach's status as holder of two offices.  A court decision dismissing the lawsuit contesting her dual role was dismissed last week, but that won't put the issue completely to bed.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the session grinds on.

An issue of primary importance to all sides is that of federal tax conformity.  Given the massive Federal overhaul of the tax system in December, it has caused a number of issues that complicate a complete conformity with the newly-minted changes by Minnesota.  A lot of the problem deals with the change in Federally Adjusted Gross Income that results from the changes at the national level.  Because it is a high-tax state, many Minnesotans are losing a considerable deduction due to the capping of the Federal state/local tax deduction at $10,000.

Here's a very good primer on how the issue may play out from Sunday's Minneapolis StarTribune written by two guys who know what they are talking (or in this case writing) about in former Minnesota Finance Commissioner (among other high-profile jobs) Peter Hutchinson and former Minnesota Revenue Commissioner John James.  

Link:  Tax reform: For Minnesota, the federal act is a hard one to follow.  This item is definitely worth reading as it lays out the major issues the Legislature and Governor will face in resolving this issue.

After that, the main issues that seem to be bubbling up are the bonding bill and a bill to prevent opioid abuse.  This article by Tim Pugmire from MPR outlines some of issues that appear to be on top of the legislative heap.

Link:  Penny-a-pill funding for opioid abuse now in question

Interesting Article.  I sometimes overlook issues from my myriad of magazine subscriptions and I clearly missed the boat by not looking more closely at the October issue of The Atlantic.  Here is a really great article that hits at the heart of one of the primary missions of our public school system and how that mission may be eroding.  Anyway, take a look.

Link:  Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Upcoming Special Education Discussion.  The amount of money districts are expending from their general funds to pay for special education costs continues to increase.  There is a new special education formula that is causing consternation.  The number of students identified as needing special education services is rising.  Looks like this calls for an extended legislative discussion and it appears that discussion will take place.

The growing cross-subsidy (currently estimated at $715 million) is of primary concern to districts throughout the state as revenue coming from the general fund to pay for special education costs hamstring what districts can do.  You can only spend a dollar once and a dollar going toward special education can't be used to preserve existing general education programs or create new ones.  This isn't the fault of local districts or special education students and parents.  There simply isn't enough revenue in the special education formula to stem the tide of revenue being drained from district general funds.

There are also concerns with the new special education formula that was established in 2013.  The state is in a period of transition from the cost-based formula to a census-based formula and that has caused changes in the distribution of revenue among school districts.  While nearly all school districts are receiving more revenue, there appear to be some distributional issues and predictability problems for some districts and cooperatives.

The problems related to special education funding have a long history in Minnesota's education funding system and this year, the Legislature appears to be preparing to grapple with a number of these issues.  HF 2846 authored by Representative Drew Christensen aims to tackle several issues related to special education through the creation of a working group comprised of stakeholders.  It is rumored that the Senate will take a different approach and instead of having a stakeholder-centric working group will propose a working group comprised of legislators.

Both approaches have met with success in the past.  The Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue program was developed by a working group that was largely made up of stakeholders while the changes in teacher licensure were developed by a working group composed solely of legislators, proving there is no single way to accomplish change legislatively from the composition of working groups.  Those promoting a legislative working group over a stakeholder working group believe there may be a delay in seeing changes enacted if there is not legislative buy-in in the development of a working group's recommendations.  This should be an interesting discussion to follow.

There will also bills introduced to either increase special education funding for all districts or target revenue toward districts with the highest levels of special education cross-subsidy.  I will have my eyes peeled for those introductions early in the legislative session.

A MASBO-initiated working group has been discussing a number of special education-related issues throughout the interim and the viewpoints developed by this group should contribute greatly to the discussion surrounding special education during the 2018 legislative session.

The Problem from the Monticello Perspective.  A district with a very distinct complaint about the new special education funding formula is SEE's own Monticello.  Representative Marion O'Neill has introduced HF 2877 to remedy the funding issue being faced by the Monticello district.  Below is a link to a Fox9 story (starring Monticello Business Manager Tina Burkholder) that describes the issue.

Link:  Special education funding change costs Monticello Schools $1.6 million

School Shooting Concerns.  The horrific shooting in Florida on Wednesday is a sad reminder that we have to re-visit the issue of school security.  I would guess that bills will be introduced in 2018 to increase the safe schools levy and to increase the number of support staff in school districts.  MPR put this story together in the wake of Wednesday's tragedy and it features comments from Faribault superintendent (and SEE Treasurer) Todd Sesker.

Link:  After Florida shooting, Minnesota schools double check security

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Special Election Recap.  Both sides of the partisan aisle held serve as they retained the seats previously held by a member of their party in Monday's special election.  Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham bested former State Representative Denny McNamara in the race to replace Dan Schoen in Senate District 54 by 530 votes, which translates to a percentage margin of about 3 3/4 percentage points.  This is a bit below former Senator Schoen's winning margin in 2016 in a district that was carried narrowly by President Trump.

On the House side, Jeremy Munson defeated Melissa Wagner by just under 20 percentage points (59.21% to 39.93%) to keep that seat in the Republican column.  Munson's winning percentage was about 7 percentage points less than former Representative Tony Cornish's level in 2016 in a district that Trump won handily.

As with every special election nationally over the past year, the numbers are sliced and diced to determine whether there is a "Trump effect" in the results.   While most races nationally have gone the way of the Democrats (or have shown a marked increase in the Democratic vote total in races they have lost), that wasn't the case here.  Recent Minnesota polls have shown that President Trump's support in rural Minnesota has not eroded to the extent it has in other parts of the country, which calls into question whether 2018 will be a "wave" election in Minnesota.  It's way too early to determine what the November races will look like up and down the ballot and we have a legislative session beginning next week that may frame the messages both parties will put before the voters.  So I'm not placing any bets one way or the other.

Here's the MinnPost article regarding Monday's special elections:  Special election results: keeping the status quo at the Minnesota Capitol

Speaking of MinnPost.  MinnPost staff has been putting together a number of great articles on education over the past few months.  Recently, reporter Erin Hinrichs wrote an interesting article that shows Minnesota is spending less on programming for gifted-and-talented students than a number of other states.  While the graphs accompanying the story are a little confusing, it's a good article.  I think one thing that isn't mentioned is that both in Minnesota and nationally, the pressure of achievement testing on school districts probably absorbs a lot of money that could be put into gifted-and-talented programs.

Here's the article:  Minnesota is less likely to offer gifted programming than other states, report shows

Good Article on "SEE Country."  A person knows they are getting old when the daughter of a contemporary is writing great articles in a publication.  Greta Kaul wrote the following piece of MinnPost on the population explosion in East Central Minnesota.  For those districts that are SEE members, this isn't really a surprise as outside of stagnant growth during the housing bust, student populations have been growing in a number of districts (and growing rapidly in some of them).  This has put a lot of pressure on voters to pass bond levies to house all of these new students.  The other angle on this that I always like to point out is that even though overall population (and by extension, numbers of students) has been growing, growth of value-intensive commercial and industrial property has not.  A lot of that has to do with the change in the economy from being based on manufacturing to being more heavily based on service industries.  While that trend may be changing a bit and East Central Minnesota has a strong and diversified economy, it is unlikely that the region will ever be the home to large "smokestack" industries, which means that the burden on homeowner taxes will remain considerable when compared to the region within the 494/694 beltway.

Kudos to Greta for this great article:  Why Central Minnesota’s population has exploded over the last few decades

Last, but not Least in Today's Wrap-Up.  The transition from the now-defunct Minnesota Board of Teaching to the newly-established Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board has not been without a few bumps.  There has been some concern expressed over the Board of Teaching's decision to tackle the responsibility of developing rules that were outlined by the 2017 legislature and handing that work product off to the new board when it began its work on January 1, 2018.  Now the new board is working to fill its Executive Director position.  Here is an article that describes the three finalists and provides some comments from stakeholders about them.

Link:  State board overseeing teacher licensure reopens its executive-director search

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Joint Property Tax/Education Funding Hearing.  The House Education Funding Committee and House Property Tax Division held a joint hearing today to discuss HF 2495, Representative Steve Drazkowski's bill that would move debt service levies away from net tax capacity toward referendum market value.  Representative Drazkowski has worked tirelessly over the past few sessions to relieve the property tax burden on agricultural property, especially as that tax burden relates to school bond questions.  One of the primary differences between net tax capacity and referendum market value is that agricultural property is not included in the calculation of referendum market value.  The primary vehicle that has been established to alleviated the tax burden on agricultural property is the agricultural bond credit that was part of last year's tax bill.  That provision reduces the tax burden on agricultural property that is attributable to school bonded debt by 40%.  While that has brought real relief to owners of agricultural property, Representative Drazkowski wants to go further.

There's no question that owners of agricultural property carry a considerable burden on school bond issues, especially in school districts where agricultural property comprises an overwhelming percentage of a school district's total property wealth.  One of the problems that eliminating agricultural property from the tax base through the transition from net capacity to referendum market value is that there will be a shift in the tax burden from agricultural property to other types of property--mostly homestead property and commercial-industrial property--and that could make it more difficult to pass bond issues in a number of school districts.  To combat this tax burden shift, HF 2495 proposes an adjustment in the referendum market value tax base that would reduce the burden imposed by the operating levy and establishes a very high equalizing factor for the debt service equalization program.  There is ample time to work on this legislation, as the effective date would be for taxes payable in 2021.  Given the potential costs of the bill (and the fact that without these costs the shift in tax burden the bill would be extremely difficult to pass).

Here is a link to the language of HF 2495--Delete-all Amendment

Here is a link to the other documents posted on the Education Finance Committee web page.  There is a spreadsheet showing the change in tax burden resulting from all of the changes in HF 2495, but it is somewhat difficult to explain.  I will be receiving an electronic copy of the spreadsheet and will try to alter it to make it easier to understand (Me make something less complicated?  There's always a first time.)

Link: House Education Funding Division Homepage

Before I move on, I want to commend the House for holding a joint committee hearing on equalization.  Like I have remarked in the past, I can go back about 10 hard drives and try to find the letter I wrote to then-Education Funding Chair Representative Becky Kelso urging the creation of a joint committee comprised of members of the Education Funding and Property Tax Committees to work on equalization issues.  One of the on-going problems with the equalization issue is that it is often an policy "orphan" in that the tax committees believe it is education policy and should come from the education target and the education committees believe it is tax policy that should be accommodated in the tax committee target.  Thus, I have watched the game of policy hot potato for my 28 years of working on this issue and whether or not there is ever a formal committee to deal with equalization policy (and other elements of how the property tax system interfaces with the education funding system) is ever established, for one day, we at least got to see the two hands of the issue working together simultaneously.

Trauma-Informed Schools.  There have been a number of interesting education stories hitting the airwaves and newsprint these days.  One of the more compelling is this story from National Public Radio's Weekend Edition about the effects of trauma on students.  Take a listen.  It really shows how the need to address the needs of children is crucial if learning is to take place.

Link:  What Do Asthma, Heart Disease And Cancer Have In Common? Maybe Childhood Trauma

Monday, February 12, 2018

Back in the Saddle Again.  We are one week from the beginning of the 2018 legislative session and so it's time to dust off this oldie-but-goodie, buckle up, and get ready for the fun.

You go Late Great Gene Autry!

Bill Introductions.  The House of Representatives' rules allow for the introduction of bills prior to the session and over 160 bills were introduced on Thursday, February 8.  Among this plethora of proposals are 21 (Blackjack!) E-12 education-related bills.  Here are the introductions with the link to the bill language embedded in the bill number for each introduction.

HF 2724--Jurgens--Prohibits school lunch providers from shaming students and requires school lunch plan requirements to be posted on district websites.

HF 2734--Quam--Allows school districts to access the personnel files of prospective teachers from the district in which they are employed.

HF 2737--Erickson--Creates cross-reference directory of provisions relating to school district flexibility.

HF 2738--Erickson--Instructs Commissioner of MDE to create a standard child abuse prevention poster.

HF 2744--Garofalo--Reduces minimum required pupil transportation distance from 2 miles for secondary school students and 1 mile for elementary school students to 1 mile and half-a-mile (5 blocks) respectively.

HF 2750--Bahr--Modifies exemptions from compulsory attendance laws relating to service in the military.

HF 2752--Garofalo--Creates enrollment preference for charter school applicants living near Castle Rock Township.

HF 2768--Jessup--Includes sex trafficking prevention in the child sexual abuse prevention curriculum.

HF 2772--Drazkowski--Modifies provisions relating to transportation of nonresident pupils within resident district.

HF 2777--Fenton--Expands grounds for revocation, suspension, or denial of a teaching license.

HF 2794--Davnie--Makes PELSB and BOSA members mandatory reporters of physical and sexual abuse.

HF 2795--Loon--Establishes various standards for teacher behavior including background checks and a teachers code of ethics.

HF 2825--Gruenhagen--Allows certain nonpublic students in grades 10 through 12 to participate in career and technical education programs offered through post-secondary enrollment options.

HF 2836--Ecklund--Modifies taconite assistance aid area.

HF 2841--Layman--Provides grant for the Children's Discovery Museum of Grand Rapids

HF 2843--Daniels--Modifies charter school admission lotteries.

HF 2845--Loon--Clarifies appropriation for the Rock and Read program.

HF 2846--Christensen--Establishes special education working group.

HF 2859--Erickson--Requires state assessments to be administered in May of each school year.

HF 2860--Erickson--Requires MDE to review charter school and district curricula.

HF 2877--O'Neill--Modifies Monticello school district special education aid adjustment.

Podcast of Note.  I will be tossing out a few additional items in my blog that highlight both state and national education policy.  An interesting item I came across as a result of listening to a story on National Public Radio is the podcast Have You Heard put together by Dr. Jack Schneider of the College of the Holy Cross and freelance journalist Jennifer Berkshire.  The podcast has a left-of-center bent, but it's extremely informative and covers a wide range of education issues.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Session Ends . . . Or Did It?  We're having some fun now!  Anyway, the gavels went down in the House and Senate last Thursday morning at about 3 AM with all of the budget bills and the tax bill passed.  The Legislature also passed a preemption bill that would prevent any local unit of government from setting a minimum wage or other employee benefits in excess of what is prescribed in state law for private sector employees.  This legislation--vetoed by the Governor--was passed in reaction to ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul that set minimum wage and family leave laws above the state minimums.  The Legislature sweetened the preemption bill with several provisions that the Governor wanted to see passed--including family leave for state employees--in an attempt to get him to sign the bill, but it was to no avail.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until yesterday, when the Governor signed the bills he intended to sign, but then pulled out the line-item veto pen.  The line-item veto is not covered in most civics classes, so here's a short description.  The Governor has the power to zero out appropriations in funding bills.  He cannot simply reduce the amount.  He has to eliminate the entire appropriation.  We'll get to how that has complicated matters in a minute.

Needless to say, the Governor was not totally pleased with the way the session ended.  I think if you talked to a lot of legislators in both the majority and minority parties, they probably had similar sentiments.  But it appeared that in the spirit of compromise, everyone took what they could get, brushed up their talking points, and prepared to take things on the road to explain all the good things and assure their respective bases how things would be different next year.

Blois Olson--editor of Morning Take (to which everyone should subscribe)--posted all of the Governor's signature letters and his veto message on the preemption bill in a special edition of his blog last evening.  Here is a link to the Governor's letter that sums up his approach to the entire bill-signing process, outlining his concerns over a number of provisions that made it into the final budget bills and the tax bill.

Dayton Letter to Legislative Leaders

In it, the Governor zeroes in on a number of provisions in the tax bill that he finds troubling:  the tobacco tax break, the changes to the estate tax, and freezing the statewide commercial/industrial property tax that goes into the state general fund.  His language on these items is very straightforward.  I was hoping (against all hope as it turns out) that the Legislature would not do eliminate the automatic inflator on the tobacco tax and use that money for debt or referendum equalization.  Same goes with the estate tax changes.  If those tax decisions were reversed, there would be money available for equalization, so maybe we aren't done lobbying quite yet.

The Governor also voiced his displeasure with the changes in the tiered licensure system approved as part of the E-12 bill.  It is unclear from the letter what aspects of the licensure changes he objects to, but most of the criticism of the proposal zero in on the lowest tier, which is currently inhabited largely by community experts.  Education Minnesota had a very public posture in the Twitterverse over the weekend voicing objections to some of the changes in the bill, but like the Governor, I am unclear as to what exactly the organization wants to change in terms of specifics.

Given the special session has ended and the Governor wants changes, he came up with a novel approach to forcing another special session by line-item vetoing the appropriation for the legislative branch.  This raised the hackles of legislative leadership immediately and they are pledging to take the Governor to court over what they view as a violation of the separation of powers in the state constitution.

This is going to bring up some interesting angles.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto is currently suing the Legislature for allowing counties to seek auditing services outside her office.  She has lost at her first two court stops, but intends to take her suit to the state Supreme Court.  Now the Legislature will be suing the Governor over his decision to zero out their appropriation and, for lack of a better term, cease their operations effective July 1, 2017.  I have no idea how things will turn out, but it will be interesting to see if both sides research how the Legislature was funded in the early years of the state when there was little, if any, general state taxing authority and the appropriation for the Legislature was extremely small.  So dust off the history books and burnish your arguments on constitutional law and whether constitutions are "living" documents, because we are going to find out.

Musical Tribute to the End of Session.

As the session closed, some were feeling like the late James Brown.

Some were feeling like the late Johnny Maestro of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Most of us were feeling like the late Gerry Rafferty of Stealers Wheel.

And those of us who were hoping for something that didn't make it feel like the late Marcel King and are sad, sweet dreamers.

And right now, it's a ball of confusion.

I will keep you up-to-date as things develop.  Regional meetings start next week.

TRA Left Unaddressed.  There was optimism during the waning days of the legislative session that the TRA issue would be tackled and that school districts would receive money outside the basic formula to deal with an increased employer share suggested by the TRA staff.  Instead, nothing was done on the issue.  No increase in employer share.  No increase in employee share.  No change in cost-of-living adjustments.  No new funding for any of the above.  In other words, an all-pro punt.  Let's hope they didn't shank it.