Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Senate Committee Chairs Named.  Given the plethora of analysis in the wake of the election, I resisted putting in my own one-and-a-half cents, but needless to say things changed dramatically in Minnesota with the Republicans taking control of the State Senate.  Just yesterday, the new Senate leadership headed up by Majority Leader-designate Paul Gazelka of Nisswa announced its committee structure and the chair-designates for each of those committees and subcommittees.

The good news for SEE members is that all of the key players on education and tax policy are familiar with SEE's positions on tax fairness and education funding issues.  That certainly doesn't ensure a complete adoption of SEE's platform (a lad can dream), but the learning curve will not be as steep on the finer points of the organization's mission

Here is a story from Minnesota Public Radio outlining the Senate Republicans' new committee structure and the chair-designees.

Republican Committee Chairs

National Education Policy.  Education did not receive a lot of attention during the Presidential campaign and with the election of Donald Trump, things are foggier than they would have been had Hillary Clinton won.  A Clinton administration's policies toward education would have likely been an extension of what was established under President Obama, which for the most part are variations on the same theme first embarked upon during the administration of former President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41 for those of you keep score at home).  The only inkling of where President-elect Trump's education policy will go comes in the area of charter schools and school choice.  Early indications are that policy may tilt that way.  To what extent is anyone's guess.

All I know is Diane Ravitch is a bit worried, as reflected in this article from The New York Review of Books.

When the Public Goes Private, as Trump Wants: What Happens?

Whether or not Ravitch's concerns are premature remains to be seen.  

Here is an article from The New York Times that provides some light on President-elect Trump's statements on education from the campaign trail, but there's a lot of open policy space left on issues that have yet to be touched upon.

Where Donald Trump Stands on School Choice, Student Debt and the Common Core

And, as I am writing this, President-elect Trump has chosen Betty DeVos to be his Secretary of Education.

Trump Chooses Betty DeVos for Secretary of Education

Here is a link to Betty DeVos' biography on Wikapedia:

Betty DeVos Biography

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Two Days in a Row!  There were so many ideas rolling around in my head last night, I didn't get them all down in cyberspace, so here are a couple of additional items.

Ted Kolderie Charter School Piece.  Minnesota education reformer Ted Kolderie had a really insightful piece in the Sunday Minneapolis StarTribune.  In the piece, Kolderie attempts to steer a middle-ground between the anti-charter school lobby and those who believe that charter schools are the answer to all of Minnesota's (and the nation's) educational woes.  He also urges getting back to the original focus of charter schools, which was to launch innovative instructional practices in hopes of finding methods that can be exported to the school population at large.  

Kolderie also touches on the Innovation Zone program promoted by Education/Evolving and MASA and adopted by the Legislature several years ago.  This legislation has allowed a select number of districts to be relieved of some state mandates and think outside the box on the delivery of instruction and assessment.  The article also looks at the teacher-led school movement and how that might contribute to innovation as well. 

It's  a very good piece and certainly worth the read.

How to Improve Public Education? All of the Above.

Presidential Education Platforms.  There hasn't been much discussion of education policy in the Presidential race, but ABC news published this short item two days ago outlining the differences that exist between the candidates.  The major difference emanates from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's greatly expanded set of school choice options, especially for students in failing schools.  While the details are murky (seeing that Federal contribution to public education hovers at less than 10% of total revenue nationally).  Would the portability proposed by Trump only apply to Federal funds or would states be required to have state (and perhaps local) revenue follow students who choose an option other than their local school district?

Here is a link to the article.

Clinton's and Trump's Plans to Help Education Differ Sharply

Monday, September 12, 2016

Election Update.  Election year means election coverage and MinnPost has put together a list of the 25 most-watched legislative races this go-round.  Given the uncertain nature of this year's presidential race, there could be more than 25 seats that will be in play.  We've seen this before in Minnesota when a non-traditional candidate (and I think it's safe to call Donald Trump a non-traditional candidate without having it seem like an insult) threw a wrench into standard voting patterns.  We have eight weeks until election day and we will certainly see a plethora of activity between now and then.

Here is the MinnPost article on their legislative races to watch.

The 25 legislative races to watch in Minnesota in 2016

One really solid Twitter user to follow for election news is former Republican party communications director Michael Brodkorb.  Michael does a really great job at finding below-the-radar items and he's balanced in the items he posts.

Here's a link to his Twitter feed.

Michael Brodkorb Twitter Feed

Litigation Update.  SEE Past-President Scott Hansen asked me at our Executive Board meeting last week if I had been following the school adequacy lawsuit in Connecticut.  I hadn't and I was happy that Scott clued me in.  For those of you who weren't aware, Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled last week that Connecticut was "defaulting on its duty" to provide a quality education to all of the state's students.  If his comments would have stopped there, it would have been one thing, but Judge Moukawsher's ripped into Connecticut's funding system and a variety of other quality-assurance measures which he deemed totally inadequate, especially for students in racially- and economically-diverse school districts that are typically among the lowest funded school districts in the state.

While differentials in available revenue was the impetus for the lawsuit, many observers believe that the comprehensive ruling has more to do with tepid reform efforts that purportedly aim to close academic achievement gaps.  What is odd here is that Education Week gave Connecticut a B- grade for its overall system with a B+ in funding adequacy measures and a B in funding equity measures in its 2016 Quality Counts ranking.  Like Connecticut, Minnesota was accorded a B- grade in the annual rankings, but its funding grades were a D for adequacy and a B+ for equity (Frankly, I don't think Education Week understands our equity issues in Minnesota very well, at least when it comes to property wealth differentials).

So, would a legal challenge have a chance in Minnesota?  Difficult to tell and I always remind people that litigation is an iffy proposition even with a glaring case of inadequate or inequitable funding.  That said, I have been sitting in MDE's Assessment Advisory Committee that is charged with reviewing the state's plan to comply with the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The task ahead of that Committee is daunting, but as I have listened and participated it has gotten me wondering about how we concentrate almost exclusively on the achievement gap (which is extremely important) while ignoring the opportunity gap (which is also important).  

At the last meeting, the inclusion of science in the battery of state-measured tests was included.  Proponents believe that only when something is tested does it become important to students.  My response then (and my opinion has only strengthened since) is that we only measure about 40% of the curriculum now and it's all important to students, especially for those non-college bound students.  Adding another test for a hard academic subject while continuing to overlook the importance of career and technical education and other subject matter that falls under the "applied knowledge" category will only educationally pauperize a large number of students further.  But to maintain costly career and technical education programs and higher technology requires an investment of revenue in these programs that has been sorely lacking over the last two decades.  

One barrier to successful litigation in Minnesota is that the Legislature and successive gubernatorial administrations have created an array of categorical programs that attempt to address demographic differences that exist in Minnesota and geographic challenges that a number of small rural districts face.  To be successful, it appears any litigation would have to be an effort that would encompass all Minnesota districts contending that the basic revenue provided to all districts is well below what it needs to be in order to provide all children with quality educational opportunities.  Given our D grade in funding adequacy and the clear need to provide a broader array of student learning opportunities, maybe litigation is in order.

Here are links related to the Connecticut case:

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

School is Back!  Alice Cooper sang "school's out for summer," but I always expected a follow-up like "school's back for fall, winter, and spring" but none was coming.  He's still recording, so maybe it's in the works. 

For some folks, it's been more than a week, but most school years commenced yesterday.  I imagine phones were ringing steadily in a lot of districts as parents were trying to get their kids to the right bus stop at the right time and schools were virtual beehive with kids trying to find their way to class on time.

So welcome back everyone.  I hope to be posting more as the legislative scene will be heating up now that we are past Labor Day.  There's a lot going on and the SEE program year has started.  Don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments about what's happening on the campaign front and I'm always happy to come out to member districts to participate in legislative forums or meet with school boards and district administrations.

Plug for Early Childhood.  I'm certain Governor Dayton will be pursuing more money for his pre-kindergarten program during the 2017 session and this article from The New York Times from a couple weeks back may be cited as the Governor tries to make a case for greater investment in the project. 

The Good News about Educational Inequality (Oddly worded title).

Charter School Scrutiny.  There's been a considerable amount of national attention aimed at charter schools this summer.  I'm not going to post a link to the profanity-laced story on John Oliver's HBO Last Week Tonight (this is a G-rated site after all) that aired last month, but I will post this story from The American Prospect.

The Great Diverson

The article concentrates on the city of Boston, but what portions of the article are applicable to issues relating to charters nationally. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Primary Dust Has Settled.  We now have the formal match-ups in the legislative races after Tuesday's primaries eliminated challengers in a number of legislative districts.  The highest profile primary saw Minneapolis neighborhood activist Ihlan Omar defeat 44-year legislative veteran Phyllis Kahn and former Minneapolis School Board member Mohamud Noor by slightly over 10 percentage points in the three-person race (41% for Omar and just under 30% for both Kahn and Noor).  While this race garnered the most attention in statewide pre-primary discussions, just to the west of this district, another refugee--Fue Lee--defeated 10-term incumbent Joe Mullery by a 56%-44% margin.  The biographies of both Omar and Lee are very inspiring and history buff that I am, I see these events in the same light as breakthroughs by other immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.  While both of these candidates face general election opposition, it is expected both will win in November and the perspectives they will bring to the Legislature will certainly be new and interesting.

Two other incumbent legislators--these from SEE country--were also unseated in the primary, as Senator Sean Nienow and Representative Tom Hackbarth were defeated by Mark Koran and Cal Bahr respectively.  Both Nienow and Hackbarth were denied the endorsement of their local Republican party activists, which made for an uphill battle in the primary.  Nienow was defeated by a 64%-36% margin, while Hackbarth came out on the short end of a 57%-43% vote spread.

There were several other primary battles in the heart of SEE country, as House Speaker Kurt Daudt staved off a challenge from Alan Duff, winning his race by a 72%-28% margin.  In House District 15A, House Education Reform Committee Chair Sondra Erickson defeated challenger Tom Heinks by 74% to 26%.  There was also a primary in the Senate District 15 to replace the retiring Senator Dave Brown, with GOP-endorsed Andrew Mathews defeating former Princeton School Board member (and SEE rep) Dan Whitcomb by a 64% to 36% margin.

Here is a of story on the primary results:


All results available here:

Secretary of State Unofficial Primary Results

So now it is on to November.  One of the interesting things about Minnesota this election season is that it appears three of our Congressional Races--the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th--will be receiving national attention.  Get ready for lots of ads (and I am sure most of them will be of one candidate extolling the virtues of their opposition).

I plan to be busy during the election season and hope to get out and visit with as many candidates as I can.  Obviously, I will clear that with local SEE members before I do that and I welcome any invitation by SEE member districts as they stage legislative fora or schedule visits with candidates.  My goal is to elevate discussion of our tax equity message and the need for funding adequacy during the campaign season.

ESSA Panel Begins Its Work.  MDE has convened the ESSA Accountability Advisory Committee with a seven-meeting schedule taking place between early August (first meeting was August 2) and November.  The goal of the meetings is to develop a broad-based set of accountability measures that will fit with the requirements of the new federal law.  I am serving on the committee and I will be polling many of you to garner ideas of what our organization would like to see included (or not included as the case may be) in Minnesota's network of accountability measures.

Reading List Suggestions.  Avid reader that I am (and it's so much fun not to be reading spreadsheets and bills so far this summer), I've been catching up on some interesting books over the summer.  One thing I've been trying to do is make sense of the current political climate, so I've delved into some off-the-beaten-track tomes to try to get a better handle on things.  Here are a few suggestions:

This is a book from the late-1990s that was updated to include the results from the 2000 Presidential Election, but it documents the movement of the white working class away from the Democratic Party.  Teixeira leans left in his sensibilities, but what he outlines in this book eerily portends what we are seeing in 2016.  Four stars!

Here's a link to the book:  America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters

This is a very interesting book that outlines the causes of the economic meltdown of the late-aughts and provides some insight about what might have been done to alleviate the effects of the collapse in housing prices instead of what was done.  If you have econophobia, mathophobia, or are allergic to academic jargon, the book can be a bit of a slog, but it is interesting.  As those of you in SEE districts recall, the collapse of the housing market was especially keen in your districts and this provides some insight as to why.  I'll go 3 1/2 stars on this one.

Link:  House of Debt

Conservative Professor of Political Science at Hillsdale College D.G. Hart provides a very interesting history of the involvement of evangelicals of both the left and right in his From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.  Like Teixeira's book on the white working class, this book provides solid history.  While Teixeira's book looks at elections since the 1970s, Hart's work goes back much further in American political and social history to map the effects that evangelicals have had on our political process.  4 stars all the way.

Link:  From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin

How About Reading Something More Fun?  I am now living with a published author, as my wife Randi has had a short story published in the recently-released collection Cooked to Death.  Color me proud!  Without sounding biased, I just want to say this is a really great collection of works by local mystery writers.  Having been to a reading and perusing some of the other stories on my own, this is a great set of little mysteries all revolving around the theme of food (and murder!).  Like all great works, it's available at Amazon.

Here's the review from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:  Cooked to Death Review  (Note that my wife's story is mentioned).

Link:  Cooked to Death

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Busy Month of July.  July has been hot in Minnesota, but there's been plenty of action on the education front since I last wrote in late June.  The two working groups--one on teacher licensure the other on school discipline--have begun their work in earnest and will be moving along throughout the interim. 

The teacher licensure group met once in mid-June and once again in mid-July.  At the July meeting, testimony was taken from the Board of Teaching, the Minnesota Department of Education, the Board of School Administrators, and Board of Architectural, Engineering, Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, Geoscience, and Interior Design (AELSLAGID) (Now that's an acronym).  The testimony was very straightforward by all of the groups as they each outlined their duties and where they fit in the scheme of educator licensing.  The notable exception (playing the Sesame Street "which of these things is not like the other game") was the AELSLAGID.  That group--headed up by Executive Director Doreen Frost--was brought in to describe how a single licensing board could work with a variety of different vocational groups.  I believe this plays to the possibility of having one educator licensing board (or agency) that would subsume all of the duties currently spread between MDE, the Board of Teaching, and the Board of School Administrators.  One group that has yet to be called upon in the licensure discussion is higher education and bringing them into the discussion will be crucial if this effort is to meet with success.

Here is a link to the Legislative Study Group on Educator Licensure.  It is the July 21, 2016, meeting:Legislative Study Group on Educator Licensure

The Student Discipline Working Group met in mid-July.  After sorting out several housekeeping measures, the group heard reports on the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act and statistics relating to the number and types of students who have been removed from school setting under the purview of the act.

Here is a link to the Student Discipline Working Group on the MDE web page:  Student Discipline Working Group

Grant Possibilities.  The guidelines for applying for a number of the grant programs that were approved in 2016 are making their way to the MDE open grants page.  Here is the latest:

Support Our Students Grant Program

The link for that grant is at the bottom of the open grants page.  This grant program requires a local match (50% for the first four years and 75% for the last two) in an attempt to bring more school social workers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, school nurses, and chemical dependency counselor into school settings.  The bill that created the grant program was authored by Senator Susan Kent and Representative Alice Hausman.  The grants, as explained somewhat above, would run for six years.  This is a competitive grant program and school districts and cooperative units are eligible to apply.

The expansion of the pre-kindergarten program will not be run on a competitive grant basis, but will instead be awarded on the ranking of free or reduced price lunch percentage in a school district along with the availability of three- or four-star childcare programs in the district.  Here is a list showing which districts and charter schools applied.  Who gets funded and for how much will be announced on August 1, 2016.

Status Report on Pre-Kindergarten Funding

Kansas Still in a Tizzy.  Kansas has been the site of a lot of school funding litigation over the past two decades.  In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state's education funding system was unconstitutional and required an infusion of additional revenue distributed more fairly to meet constitutional muster.  The court's dictate was met over the next two years, with over $750 million in new revenue being approved for public schools.

But things began to fall apart--in large part due to the financial crisis--and a group filed to re-open the Montoy lawsuit (what got the ball rolling earlier in the decade) to remedy the reneging on the Supreme Court's decision of 2005.  That motion was dismissed.

In absence of a decision to re-open Montoy, a new lawsuit (Gannon v. the State of Kansas) was filed in late 2010.  After four years in the courts, the Kansas Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and found the education funding system to be unconstitutional.  As in the case of Montoy, the Kansas Legislature tried to remedy the situation, but as late as May, the Supreme Court has refused to sign off on the Legislature's work, leaving the system unconstitutional.  

I found this article from The New York Times to be interesting, as it pointed out a somewhat new angle in the underlying opposition to public education funding.

NYT article on Kansas Education Funding

Special Session Rumblings.  After a number of fits and starts, it appears that a special session to clean up unfinished business from the 2016 Legislative Session may take place in mid- to late-August.  I think the one item everyone agrees on is the need to re-pass a tax bill.  As you recall, that was vetoed in May due to a one-word mistake (albeit a very costly one-word mistake).  What makes the tax bill extremely important to a number of SEE members is the Agricultural Bond Credit that would provide a direct-to-taxpayer credit to owners of agricultural property worth 40% of the property tax burden attributable to school debt service.  That would be a big plus to both farmers and the districts with high concentrations of agricultural property.

Summertime Means Road Time.  Just a reminder that I'm always available to come out to board meetings and the like during the summer months.  I'm especially interested in getting out to meet legislative candidates, so if you are having events including these candidates where my presence might be helpful (or at least tolerated), don't hesitate to contact me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Regional Meetings Complete.  Our round of regional meetings ended on Monday so we are now in full preparation mode for the 2016 election season and the 2017 legislative session.  At this point in time, the chances of a special session are dwindling by the day and the Brexit vote last week has probably injected just enough uncertainty into the budget forecast to make legislators increasingly wary of moving forward.  In the absence of a session, the opposing viewpoints will be played out writ large during the campaign season.  One of the ironic things of the session is that the bill that was probably deemed least likely to pass this year--the omnibus supplemental budget bill--passed while the three bills that on the top of the pre-session priority list--the tax bill, the transportation bill, and the bonding bill--did not.  It will be interesting to see how that is framed moving forward.

The primary points brought up by regional meeting participants dealt with both funding and tax fairness.  School districts throughout the state are in cut mode once again and the main reasons for that are the failure of the general education basic formula to keep pace with inflation over the past decade and the continuing cross-subsidy of state-mandated special education costs from school district general funds.  Those will be two items we will be concentrating on in the year ahead along with our traditional commitment to tax fairness.  We did have the opportunity to promote referendum and debt service equalization during the 2016 session along with the agricultural school bond credit that was part of the vetoed tax bill.  All of those property tax-related items will also be part of our 2017 platform.

Thanks to all who participated in the regional meetings.  It's great to hear from the many voices that comprise the organization.

Teacher Licensure Task Force Begins Its Work.  The legislative task force that will take the recommendations contained in the Legislative Auditor's 2016 report on Minnesota's teacher licensure system.  Today's meeting centered on the main recommendations in the report and provided a broad outline of how it will proceed.  The task force members are as follows:


Representative Sondra Erickson, co-chair
Representative Jenifer Loon
Representative Drew Christensen
Representative Jim Davnie
Representative Carlos Mariani
Representative Barb Yarusso


Senator Chuck Wiger, co-chair
Senator Kevin Dahle
Senator Greg Clausen
Senator Gary Dahms
Senator Eric Pratt
Senator Karen Housley

One item that was mentioned today in Ms. Randall's testimony that hasn't gotten a lot of attention to this point is the incorporation of the duties of the Board of School Administrators into a single board that will also deal with teacher licensure.  While that suggestion was contained in the Legislative Auditor's report, the focus on the teacher licensure part of the equation kept further discussion in the background.

Here is a link to the Legislative Auditor's Report:  Minnesota Teacher Licensure

Book Recommendation.  One great thing about the legislative interim is there is less reading of bills and spreadsheets and more reading of books.  Here is a title--The End of Power by Moises Naim--I came across and found particularly interesting and insightful.  It outlines how institutions have eroded over the past few decades and how that changes the way the world works in terms of politics, education, and business.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon:  The End of Power

As an added bonus, here is an interview with Moises Naim from the Agenda with Steve Palkin.

Congrats to Rockford!  This MinnPost article is almost a month old and I should have gotten it up sooner, but MinnPost reporter Erin Hinrichs featured the STRIVE program at Rockford high school that has helped students get back on track academically and prepare for their next step.