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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Latest from the Front.  Not a lot of progress toward the calling of a special session last week.  The parties will be meeting again this week, but things seem to have come to loggerheads.  The Governor and the Senate want a bigger bonding bill, but getting a bonding bill larger than the $800 million package passed by the House the last night of session may be difficult.  Without a bonding bill, there will be no tax bill and everything goes onto the bottom line for next session.  

It's difficult to know the mindset of the Governor and legislative leadership at this juncture.  Because the biennial budget has already been set, nothing had to happen this year and it is a little surprising that the only major piece of legislation to pass and be signed into law was the omnibus supplemental budget bill, which seemed to be rank below the tax bill, bonding bill, and transportation bill in terms of the priorities laid out prior to the legislative session.  In a letter to legislative leadership in early June, the Governor outlined his concerns and listed items he wished to see (probably to be read as "required to be in bills in order for him to call the session").  Included on this list were bonding projects for the medical school at the University of Minnesota, reinstatement of the tax exemption for the Minnesota State High School League, requirement that private insurance companies cover services provided related to autism, and a variety of other items.  

One surprise on the list is the reinstatement of the $1.7 million appropriation given to the Minnesota Department of Education in 2013 to develop an online reporting system for special education-related paperwork.  The Minnesota Department of Education directed this appropriation to the Odyssey Fund at MNIT instead of having it cancel back to the general fund after it remained unexpended after the 2013-2015 biennium.  The Governor's budget requested additional revenue to augment the initial appropriation in developing the online reporting system.  Not only did the Legislature not provide the additional funding this past session, they removed the $1.7 million from the Odyssey Fund and added it to the bottom line for the use in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  This was done in HF 2902, introduced by Representative Jenifer Loon and added to HF 3813, the omnibus education funding and policy bill.  I have followed the online reporting system debate since its inception and I don't think it really addresses the special education paperwork problem, but I find it a bit surprising that the Governor has it on his to-do list as a requirement to be met before he will call a special session.

One item I would like the Governor to consider adding to his list would be funding for the University of Minnesota's agricultural school to develop a Creeping Charlie that rabbits will eat.  I have a plethora of both in my backyard and it would be nice if I could create a synergy there.

I will continue to monitor developments surrounding the special session debate.  If I were to put odds on it, I would guess it is less than 50/50 that a session will be called, but that could change tomorrow.

Article on Teacher Preparation from The Economist.  If you are looking for a valuable magazine subscription, let me suggest The Economist.  A little pricey at slightly over $100 per year, but always a set of interesting articles.  It is a British magazine, but it covers American politics and policy quite thoroughly and last week's issue contained this article relating to teacher preparation.  It doesn't contain anything earth-shattering (most educators have heard a lot of these solutions before), but it was good to see them reported in one place in concise terms.

Teaching the Teachers

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Special Session Update.  Don't worry.  No special session yet, but negotiations appear to be taking place that would facilitate a session once a compromise has been reached.  With that in mind, I guess an appropriate song would be The Youngbloods' "Get Together" from the late-1960s.  Love beads optional.

School Finance 101 on International Spending/Achievement Comparisons.  One thing I really enjoy when reading Dr. Bruce Baker's School Finance 101 blog is that he never pulls any punches.  Baker writes passionately and today's entry on how the comparisons on spending and achievement are misleading when discussing the academic progress of schools in the United States.  The entry is based on a study published by the Shanker Institute and there is a link in the entry to the entire text of the report.

Here you go: School Finance 101 for June 8, 2016

I strongly recommend that you sign up to follow Dr. Baker's blog.  Whether or not you agree with his findings, you can't help but respect his enthusiasm and everything he writes will make you think.

Around the Web and Around the World.  I came across this item from about an educational experiment taking place in Poland that would allow for "open" textbooks.  Interesting in that an era when discussion tends to push toward greater uniformity, the Poles are heading in a different direction.

Link:  Polish Educational Changes

Kudos to my Hometown!  It's graduation time and I wanted to congratulate my hometown for raising $56,000 for scholarships awarded to a number of graduating seniors.  It's also important to note that a local manufacturer--Gemini Corporation--funded two $100,000 (that's not a typo--it's $100,000) scholarships for seniors Bjorn Pearson and Matt Moskal as they enroll in engineering studies at the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota respectively.  It's great to see a business step up in this and contribute in a very concrete manner to the education of promising students.

Here is an article from the Cannon Falls Beacon about Gemini's connection with the Cannon Falls school district:  Gemini Industries/Cannon Falls School District article

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Wait Turns into the Weight.  The suspense is over and the Governor has vetoed the tax bill, ostensibly over one word (an "or" instead of an "and" that would have cost the state $101 million in receipts from charitable gambling), but I think everyone knows the drama goes deeper than that.  The messy end to the Legislative Session left a few loose strings--particularly bonding and transportation funding--that the Governor believes need to be tied up.  Some contend the Governor is using the veto to leverage some of his priorities to be included in a special session bonding and spending bill while others contend he is simply vetoing the bill because of the costly one-word error.  Whatever the reason or reasoning--and this will be undoubtedly hashed to death by political analysts for the next few weeks (and perhaps months)--if there's no special session, the election season has become a much spicier stew.

One very troublesome aspect of the veto for SEE is that the provision that would provide a considerable property tax break on agricultural property will not take effect.  That provision would have provided a property tax credit attributable to 40% of the burden on agricultural property for school district bonded indebtedness and was a priority of the organization.

Republicans will contend this is a petulant ploy by a Governor who wants to spend more money and Democrats will counter that the Republican House were primarily responsible for the clumsiness at the end of the regular session and the tax bill mishap could have been avoided and other bills could have been constructed more smoothly if there hadn't been a logjam of activity in the last 48 hours of the session.  Kris Kristofferson sang "Who's to Bless and Who's to Blame" and the voters will decide that.  In the meantime, the "wait" that pervaded the end of session now has turned into a "weight" for both sides as they try to generate arguments that will turn the balance to their side.  I guess that's why I have chosen--in the spirit of keeping the music going on the blog--to feature one of the great songs from the 1960s by The Band.  You've got it and here it is, The Weight, live from the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969 (I wanted to go, but my mom needed the '62 Fairlaine that weekend).

Here is a story on the tax impasses from MinnPost:  Tax Bill Veto

Speaking of the Election.  Filings have closed and the initial slates of Republican and DFL legislative candidates are complete.  There will be a number of high-profile primary elections on August 9 that will decide the November match-ups.  Here are the links from the Secretary of State's Office for the Senate and House candidates at this point in the process:



Education Wrap-Up.  MinnPost has a new education reporter--Erin Hinrichs--and she does a really got job summing up the major education provisions in this year's omnibus supplemental budget bill.  Find it here:  MinnPost Education Story

Last, but not Least (and not the Last Time We'll Hear about this):  There's no question Donald Trump--now the presumptive Republican nominee for President--has stirred up a lot of dust this year and has left a lot of prognosticators, veteran and otherwise, scratching their heads this year.  Here is an interesting story from the recent issue of The New York Review of Books where a group of political analysts contend that early indications from the campaign showed Trump had staying power and that around January, his nomination had become, if not a fait accompli, expected.  Here it is, complete with charts and graphs:  Why Trump Was Inevitable

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dust is Settled (For Now).  I've taken a couple of days off to scour through the education articles (Articles 24 through 34) of the 599-page omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  I outlined the appropriations a couple of days ago, but there is some policy in the bill as well, including changes to testing policy, the addition of a civics test, changes to teacher licensure (and hopes that more will be if the offing), and several provisions dealing with student discipline.  There will be a couple of important working groups meeting over the interim that hopefully will bring reform to teacher licensure (and the creation of a single entity to deal with the issue) and student discipline.  Along with the election, it all adds up to a busy summer.

Process Breakdowns.  I don't know how many of you watched the last night of the legislative session live, but things disintegrated at the end.  It's important to remember this is a human process and when the stakes are high (or at least perceived as high), people are going to push things to the limit (and in this case beyond).  That doesn't mean the process shouldn't be cleaned up.  Given the complicated decision-making process that surrounded the omnibus supplemental budget bill, the Legislature may want to revisit how the budget is assembled in the non-budget year.  And given the time crunch at the end of the session, the Legislature may also want to look at somehow putting tighter deadlines into the joint rules to govern how the end of session unfolds.  Of course, rules can only do so much and given this is an election year with divided government (and a lot of political turmoil nationally) and a fair amount of difference between the parties philosophically, I just think this is how the stars lined up.

We will know in a few weeks whether or not there will be a special session.  Clearly, the Legislature was close on the bonding bill, but one has to ask if that closeness was due to the time constraints the Legislature faced when they crafted the final attempt.  Given the opportunity to step back and re-do both the transportation and bonding bills, things might take on a different hue.  Throw the election into this and it just might be too much to handle if things go on this long and all eyes are focused on one or two bills.

Thanks to All.  I just wanted to close this entry with a hearty thanks to legislators, legislative staff, my fellow lobbyists, SEE members, and all the readers of this blog for the help and support throughout the session.  In the spirit of the music I've been using to sum up things over the past couple of weeks, here we go once again with the great Sam and Dave with the appropriate sentiments.