Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Education Policy Conference Committee Underway. Controversial issues on the House and Senate floors kept the Education Policy conferees from convening in an orderly manner (and even after they formally convened, the action went forward in fits and starts as legislators had to had back to their respective floors to take votes), but they did get underway. The meeting was devoted to discussing the contents in each the House and Senate bills and adopting those provisions that were either identical or similar (and non-controversial) in both bills.

Things begin in earnest tomorrow as more controversial provisions in both bills will be discussed and, in some cases, adopted. Legislative leadership has set a deadline of midnight Monday (that would be Monday, May 4, at midnight) to finish work on all policy conference committees, meaning that things will be fast and furious from this point forward. Adding to the complication for the Education Policy Conference Committee is that they have decided not to meet over the weekend, making it a "ye olde twenty pounds of potatoes in thy ten pound sack" situation. In other words, "much to do, little time."

Another complication is that, paraphrasing chief Senate conferee Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), it is the goal of the conference committee to construct a bill that the Governor will sign instead of sending him a bill that may make political points but not move education forward this session. Seeing that there are several provisions in each bill that the Governor adamantly opposes, particularly the proposed changes to the state report card developed by the interim task force chaired by Senator Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake) and Representative Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato), it will be interesting to see whether a compromise with the Governor can be struck or if the provisions will have to be discarded.

All this and more will part of the discussion tomorrow. I will keep you in the loop.
What Does a Conference Committee Look Like? Sorry folks. Forgot the camera today and cannot give you a clear depiction of the physical reality that is a conference committee. So I've turned to some famous artists to give you (at least in some sense) of what's it all about.

A conference committee is very dignified, much like these Dutch Masters painted by Rembrandt. One improvement from the time of Rembrandt, however, is that there are women involved in these decision-making bodies.

It wouldn'[t be a conference committee if things didn't get a bit surreal at times. And although they probably don't get as surreal as this Max Ernst painting, there are times when I sit back and say to myself "This really isn't happening, is it?"

It's not all sweetness and light though. Sometimes a conference committee can look a lot like this medieval depiction of the Battle of Agincourt (sorry, can't find the artist's name). Unfortunately, this Battle of Agincourt usually doesn't feature oratory reaching the heights of the "St. Crispin's Day" speech in Shakespeare's Henry V.

And sometimes it just gets bloody, like in Caravaggio's "Judith Beheading Holofernes." Well, maybe not quite this bloody, but it can seem that way when the verbal daggers start flying. But somehow, in this particular conference committee, I doubt the rhetoric is going to be sharp enough to dent a tissue.

But I kid. Conference committees have elements of all of these paintings, but more than anything else, it's a bunch of folks working hard trying to make Minnesota a better place to live, work, play, and get a good education. It's rare everyone gets everything they want, but the results are usually pretty good and the process, while mind-numbingly slow at times, is as well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Back in Business. I knew it had been awhile, but I didn't realize it had been almost two weeks since I last posted. Sorry about that. First off, there hasn't been a whole lot happening at the Capitol and further, I've been a bit busy with other SEE matters.

The Capitol was pretty much an education ghost town last week, as it was rumored each day that the House was planning on taking up the education policy bill, with that event never coming to pass. The conference committee on HF 1812--the budget bill--covered the education provisions in the that bill last Thursday night, but no final action was taken as those discussions continue.

The education highlight last week was the Senate Education Committee meeting where students, teachers, and mentors from Eagan High School's Team 2220 gave a presentation on the FIRST program. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Eagan High School has done a tremendous job with FIRST, using it to enhance the state's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiative, but providing opportunities for students to apply engineering skills through projects. Shown at the left are Jim Lynch, John Condon, and Mark Lawrence--all participants in Eagan High School's FIRST program. Shown with them is a robot built by Team 2220 for a regional competition of FIRST programs held in Milwaukee in March.

For more information on both FIRST and Team 2220, follow the links below:


Team 2220:

Congratulations to all of the students, staff, and volunteers at Eagan High School who provided the Legislature with a very informative presentation on this extremely valuable program.

Moving to This Week. The House took up SF 3001 (the Education Policy bill) yesterday and managed to chew off just about seven hours of less-than-riveting debate. Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Chair of the House Education Policy Committee and House author of the bill, pared down the bill greatly early in the deliberations by excising a number of provisions in the bill that the Governor has said would produce a veto. Included in the provisions eliminated from the House bill was the changes to the school report card that center around the creation of a growth model to replace the criterion-based model that is currently in place.

One provision that Representative Mariani did not remove from the bill was that of the proposal mandating comprehensive sex education for all districts in the state. With that provision still part of the bill, about two hours of discussion and amendments were added to the proceedings. As was the case in the Senate, debate was heated on this proposal and tempers flared at several junctures during the debate. I halfway expected to look down into the House gallery and see Dr. Phil, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Drew, and Dr. Feelgood discussing the finer points of what constitutes a quality curriculum for comprehensive sex education. Efforts to significantly water down the mandate failed, but some minor changes to the effort we successful.

Conference Committee on SF 3001 will begin tomorrow. The conferees are as follows: House--Representatives Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato), John Ward (DFL-Brainerd), Linda Slocum (DFL-Minneapolis), and Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City). Senate--Senators Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury), Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), and Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake). It will be interesting to see how these proceedings unfold. Even though the House bill no longer contains what could be politely called "veto bait," the Senate bill does have a number of provisions that the Governor adamantly opposes. In a year when there is likely to be a few more showdowns between the Legislature and the Governor, some of those confrontations may come as a result of this bill. I will keep you posted as the discussions begin.

Nice Job by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association. The Minnesota Taxpayers Association's policy conference last week was quite the hit. I only attended the presentation given by Dr. Daphne Kenyon on property taxes and school funding (which was excellent although I don't agree with all of her conclusions), but the rest of the program also looked to be both interesting and timely. So, congrats to Executive Director Mark Haveman and the rest of the team at the MTA.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oh Rhett Butler! This Conversation is Giving me the Vapors! That's what it felt like this afternoon when the Senate discussed and gave preliminary approval to SF 3001, the omnibus education policy bill. Now, the bill in and of itself didn't make one catch their breath, but the hour-long discussion of the comprehensive sex education portion of the bill was enough to make one blush. The bill was debated for a little over two hours, although it seemed like an eternity at times. Of course, when one has heard every argument for and against every section of the bill three or four (or maybe even five) times, things tend to seem like they are dragging.

There was one substantive change to the bill. The "right to recess" provision inserted in the bill in the K-12 Funding Division was dropped on a 45-18 vote. If only the recess advocates had a martyr like John Peter Zenger (pictured on trial on the left), they may not only have been successful here, they may have found their way into the Bill of Rights. In an aside, I was surprised how few of my fellow lobbyists (Doug Carnival excepted) didn't know who John Peter Zenger was and how is trial spurred freedom of the press into the Bill of Rights. I would say, "What are they teaching the kids these days?" but most of the people who didn't know shared my advanced age. Anyways, thanks J.P., your persistence and the strength of your stance has allowed knuckleheads like me the opportunity to blog away. In closing on the recess riff, I can only say that if I were one of the Senators who voted to pull this provision from the bill, I would be very worried if I met up with anyone from the motley group pictured at the right. Those guys are nuts about recess!

An attempt was made to relax the Labor Day start requirement for one year, but that amendment failed on a close vote. SF 3001 will get final approval tomorrow and then head to the House, where it may be voted on tomorrow. If the House does not take it up tomorrow, it will take it up early next week and the bill will likely be in conference committee by the end of next week.

There are a number of interesting provisions in the bill and some that would be helpful for school districts and students throughout the state, but one of the keys here is that there is nothing in the bill that is absolutely essential for the good of the order. There are provisions that give the Governor the vapors (they must be going around) and it will be interesting to see if the conference committee working on this bill will endanger the entire bill with some of the more controversial provisions (comprehensive sex education, achievement gap report, report card changes). In a legislative session that has been remarkably devoid of high drama (not that this confrontation would represent high drama) it will be interesting to see if there will be some measure of shared consternation on this bill.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Presto! A Bill? Well, it's not a whole bill, but an agreement on the education funding portion of the mego-giganto-omnibus budget correction bill (HF 1812) has been reached. Senator LeRoy Stumpf and Representative Mindy Greiling, chairs of the Senate and House K-12 funding panels respectively and pictured at the right, led the working group that forged this quickly developed agreement.

An education budget agreement is usually like a meal prepared in a crockpot. It's slow-cooked and seasoned with a myriad of ingredients including a cup of boredom, a pinch of snippiness, and a heavy dash of wrangling over seemingly (but not truly) innocuous provisions. Not so in 2008. This is the microwave version--ready in minutes, if not so tasty.

Going into the session, both Houses of the Legislature promised the education community that there would be some level of supplemental assistance for school districts and they have made good at this point with the development of this bill. The bill's main funding components include:
  • A one-time appropriation to school districts of $51 per average daily membership (pupils, not pupil units). This accounts for approximately $44 million.
  • The ability to transfer up to $51 per pupil unit for 2008-2009 from the capital expenditure fund to the general fund.
  • $936,000 for kindergarten health and development screening.
There are several other helpful provisions including an increase in the lease levy beginning in Pay 2009 for the 2009-2010 school year from $100 per pupil to $150 per pupil; clarification of the ballot language for districts seeking to renew a referendum levy at the same amount as previously approved; and the elimination of the general fund subtraction for the permanent school fund beginning in the 2009-2010 school year (approximately $30 million).

The sticky part of the agreement is that $20 million of the revenue used to forge the agreement comes from revenue left unexpended in the alternative compensation fund. Along with the capture of these funds, the bill calls for a two-year moratorium on new districts entering the alternative compensation framework. These related provisions obviously fly in the face of the Governor's funding preferences and would likely be rejected.

From here, the agreement will be melded with the agreements for the other budget areas which will be formulated over the next week or so and then sent to the floor. The agreement will then go to the Governor, where it will most likely meet a veto. But let's not think about that tonight. Let's give the education budget negotiators our thanks for coming to a quick agreement and hope that this is a harbinger that some level of increased funding will find its way to school districts this session.

Time for a Pup-Date! I spent early Monday evening at the Maple Lake School Board meeting, visiting with the board and administration in that SEE member district. While there, board member Connie Munstensteiger asked me who Sunny, the wonder pup, has been doing. You may remember that I reported on Sunny earlier in the session and I am pleased to report that he's doing just great. He manages to apply his own special brand of floor wax (yes, it's the yellow kind) to the kitchen floor a few times a week and the kitchen chair legs serve as his toothpicks, but other than that, he's doing great. He's up to the mid-30 pound range at five months and he's going to get bigger (a lot bigger). He can sit, stay, lie down, and fetch at his current level of development, so, in other words, he's already halfway there to becoming an effective lobbyist. Now all he has to do is learn to beg. And beg some more. And beg some more. And really, really, really beg some more. Once he gets that down, I'll file his papers (provided he doesn't, uh, "wax them") with the Campaign Finance Board and he'll be an official lobbyist.

Rest of the Week. The education policy bill will be on the House floor tomorrow and will then in all likelihood be discussed and approved on the Senate floor on Thursday. The finance and policy packages for education will be traveling separately this session, although they may possibly meet up later in the session as alternative agreements are fashioned in the wake of the expected gubernatorial vetoes of the first round of budget and policy bills. I will keep you posted on these proceedings.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Comprehensive Funding Reform Unveiled. Mark down Thursday, April 10, 2008, as the day when comprehensive funding reform hit the ground . . . running. The House K-12 Funding Division heard HF 4178, the recently introduced legislation authored by Representative Mindy Greiling and inspired by the work of PS Minnesota. After the bill was described by staff and many of the proposal's provisions were discussed by members, the committee received public testimony. First up was long-time PS Minnesota point man, Dr. Greg Vandal (pictured at left) who has served as the Doctor/Father for this effort. Armed not only with sound policy sense when it comes to education funding, Dr. Vandal has a strong sense of justice. Representative Greiling dubbed him the "king" of PS Minnesota, but I think of Greg more as a "prince" of a guy. Greg provided a very good framework of where PS Minnesota originated and how it grew from a kernel of an idea to something that the Legislature can now get its head (and hopefully heart and hands) around.

Greg wasn't the only person with a SEE connection providing testimony today. Stillwater school board member Kathy Buchholz (at left) gave very spirited testimony, pledging Stillwater's complete support for a public school funding system that provides both adequacy and equity. Fresh off a difficult and only partially successful referendum campaign in which only one of three ballot questions passed, Kathy provided a very compelling depiction of how on-going referendum campaigns split communities apart and provide only temporary relief from the revenue shortages that result from a lack of state funding. Often times, some of the best testimony comes from parents and school board members, who experience first hand the problems that result from a lack of funding. Kathy did a marvelous job of passionately describing the plight that the Stillwater district is facing and how comprehensive funding reform is the only way to provide meaningful solutions to funding issues being faced in Stillwater and throughout Minnesota.

Next Friday, at the SEE April meeting, Representative Greiling, along with members of the House K-12 budget staff, will be presenting HF 4178 to SEE membership. This will give us a shot at gaining a greater understanding of the machinery in the bill and philosophy behind that machinery. I urge all SEE members to make arrangements to attend. This is going to be a golden opportunity.

Wednesday Night on the Road. The Rocori high school cafeteria was packed Wednesday ev evening as the House K-12 Funding Division rolled into town to discuss special education funding and some of the issues that have caused problems for school districts during this fiscal year. When the session ended in May of 2007, most thought the funding category to be worried about the least was special education, which received a funding bump of over $200 million. But in the waning days of the session, money was diverted from the proposed special education appropriation to cover a few budget holes and program requests leaving us with the knowledge that the appropriation would meet approximately 87% of the formula amount.

Added to this was a change from funding based on the second-prior year to current year funding. Previous to this school year, school districts had the opportunity to "sit" on their expenditure totals and make sure they were totally accurate before submitting them to the state. The two-year lag in funding gave both districts and the Minnesota Department of Education time to exchange and audit numbers, making the final reimbursement levels--at least in the basic formula--somewhat predictable. With funding now based on current year costs, districts have to submit their estimates sooner and if those estimates aren't accurate, they may suffer a funding shortfall.

This is what has happened during the current school year. Cost estimates forwarded by districts to the state were much lower than in previous years according to the testimony of Dr. Tom Melcher, leading to even bigger problems as a proration was applied against these lower estimated amounts. Dr. Melcher provided a clear and concise description of the problem and has been very straightforward in his attempts to remedy this situation. Much of the difficulty is due to the change to from the two-year lag to current funding and those problems shouldn't be repeated in the future.

Special education funding wasn't the only issue fielded by the panel. St. Cloud Student Services Director Elisabeth Lodge Rogers and Benton-Stearns Education District Director Duane Borgeson testified on the difficulty caused by state special education rules that exceed federal rules and statutes. Representative Greiling has long been an advocate of bringing state regulations into closer congruence with federal law and Rogers' and Borgeson's testimony provided concrete example of how the state's rule-making, when it goes too far, stacks costs onto districts.

Because the hearing was in the St. Cloud area, St. Cloud area legislators were present. Representatives Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) and Larry Haws (DFL-St. Cloud)--both pictured at the left--served in the capacity a "hosts" for the hearing. As I snapped this picture, I don't think they were talking with Holdingford superintedent John Haas. If they had been, they could have done a "Haws on first, Hosch's on second, and Haas on third" routine. All we really needed was Republican State Representative Larry Howes to make it all the more entertaining (and maybe a bit more confusing). But when you're talking about special education funding, how much more entertainment can you actually take? I mean, really.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Oddly Quiet Day at Legislature. It's a rare April day that neither house of the Legislature meets, but that was the case today. The conference committee on HF 1812--the omnibus budget-balancing bill--began its deliberations today with approximately 2 hours of discussion on several areas of funding cuts contained in the bill. The E-12 budget area was not discussed today, but will lead off tomorrow's deliberations. There is very little in terms of either education funding or policy in HF 1812, but it is one of the few areas of the budget that actually enjoys an increase in the bill. The conference committee will begin at 11:45 AM tomorrow morning and run until approximately 1:00 PM, when they will break. The conference committee intends to reconvene late tomorrow afternoon and run into the evening.

The conferees on HF 1812 are as follows:

House: Carlson (DFL-Crystal); Murphy, M. (DFL-Hermantown); Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis); Rukavina (DFL-Virgina); Ozment (R-Rosemount).

Senate: Cohen (DFL-St. Paul), Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), Frederickson (R-New Ulm), Betzold (D-Fridley), Higgins (D-Minneapolis).

Governor Goes "Lizzie Borden" on the Bonding Bill. That wasn't "Whack! Whack! Whack!" you were hearing the other day. It was more like "Scratch! Scratch! Scratch!" as the Governor took out his veto pen (red, of course) and carved about $200 million out of the bonding bill with 52 line-item vetoes. Strategically, it was probably the wiser move on the part of the Governor, as vetoing the entire bill would likely have led to another veto override (Yes, Virginia. There are projects in the bonding bill for Republican districts.).

A number of high-profile projects were given the hood and led to the gallows (mixed metaphor, maybe?), particularly the $70 million in the bill for the central corridor light-rail project to link downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. This veto could be extremely costly, as there is a considerable amount of federal money tied to this state match. The Governor also slashed $11 million for an expansion at Como Park (there goes the gorilla vote), $24 million for the new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus (there goes the remaining mammalian and reptilian votes), and $3 million for an expansion to the National Volleyball Center in Rochester (bump, set, SPIKED!).

It will be interesting to see how the Legislature counters these line-item vetoes. Like the veto of an entire bill, the Legislature can override a line-item veto with a two-thirds vote. I will keep you posted.

News stories on Bonding Bill Line-Item Vetoes:

Main Story:

Central Corridor Angle:

The New Minnesota Miracle Network. I said enough about the comprehensive funding reform efforts yesterday, but here is the press reaction.


Pioneer Press:

Associated Press (looks like the SparkNotes of the news):

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Day Has Finally Come. With a press conference today, the Legislature has stepped forward with the introduction of an earth-shattering education funding reform bill. Billed as "The Second Minnesota Miracle," the bill is based on the work of PS Minnesota and seeks to add $1.75 billion annually to the education funding formula. This is obviously a significant chunk of change and this won't happen overnight (or over many nights), but it is great to see this proposal introduced, even though it is late in the legislative session.

The press conference was attended by nearly 40 legislators, which is really saying something because both houses were in session. Legislators of all four caucuses were in attendance, although the flavor of the press conference tasted a bit more DFL than Republican. Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher (shown at right) led off the press conference, hailing the measure as needed to make certain that every Minnesota elementary and secondary student receives the funding they need to make their education both meaningful and applicable toward the next life step, whether that be a 4-year college, 2-year college or technical college, or straight into the workforce. Speaker Kelliher seemed genuinely excited about the injection of this bill into the discussion of how we can keep the Minnesota economy competitive, both now and in the future.

Kudos should go out to all of the members of the task force that took the PS Minnesota recommendations and molded them into the bill that was introduced today. Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), who chaired the Senate delegation to the Education Finance Task Force, is shown on the left providing the Senate's perspective on the process used to develop this bill. While the House has been more aggressive in promoting the cause of comprehensive education funding reform, once the Senate named its task force membership, they showed its share of enthusiasm in joining the House's lead. In order to achieve this massive (putting it mildly) goal, both Houses of the Legislature and the Administration are going to have to fully embrace the notion that the current system must be fixed and funded. And this doesn't pertain to just this Governor and set of legislators. This is going to involve an on-going effort that will most likely take two or three bienniums to fully implement, meaning it will require support in both the short and long terms.

Again, I don't think enough can be said about the leadership of Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) is keeping this concept alive and kicking when it looked like the minister was on the way to preform the last rites and the undertaker was on the telephone. Representative Greiling kept on pushing and kept the discussion going.

Text of the bill--HF 4178/SF 3828--can be found at the following link:

The bill will receive its first hearing on Thursday, April 10, at 9:00 AM in the House K-12 Funding Division. The hearing will be held in Room 5 of the State Office Building. Senate members of the education funding task force will also be at the meeting.

Time to Reflect. Many may not realize where this whole effort started, but it was a joint meeting of the SEE Executive and Legislative Committees in July of 2004, shortly after the education funding task force appointed by Governor Pawlenty had released its report. National education funding experts John Myers and Bob Palaich were in attendance at that meeting and helped provide a framework for the discussion of the report's findings and what some possible next steps could be in the analysis of the report.

SEE enlisted Myers to analyze the report and in December of 2004 released his findings. Primary among Myers' findings was the call to dig more deeply into the methodology used by Management Planning and Analysis (MAP), the consultant used by the Governor to analyze Minnesota's education finance system; "unpack" the data; and provide a price tag to the MAP work.

At this point, SEE was joined by AMSD and MREA in enlisting John Myers, along with the staff and Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates, to do this extremely important work. As the Executive Director of SEE, I cannot express enough gratitude to AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist and then-MREA Executive Director Jerry Ness along with their respective boards for joining with us to complete this work. Without their timely cooperation, the effort that became PS Minnesota would have been stillborn.

John Myers completed the analysis and calculated that the gap between the current funding level and the needed funding level was approximately $1 billion in general education revenue using the methodology advocated by the Governor's own consultant. This report was released in December of 2005 and legislation introduced during the 2006 session called for the creation of a legislative task force to perform further study and come up with a set of funding recommendations that would create an adequate and equitable funding system.

The effort to successfully create a task force failed in 2006, but this Myers' study also demanded further validation. The effort that produced that validation was PS Minnesota, an expanded consortium of educators that once again enlisted Myers and his band of number crunching and multiple regression analysis loving cohorts to perform an even wider set of analytical tools to the Minnesota's education funding data. As expected, even when using different analytical tools, the $1 billion number (for general education alone) describing the gap held up. The completed study was presented to the 2007 Legislature and a task force to develop legislation to embody the data was successfully included in the 2007 omnibus education funding bill.

Which brings us to April 7, 2008, when the aforementioned press conference was held. I cannot stress enough how every SEE member should be proud of their involvement in this effort. Others may in the end claim credit for this effort, but those of us who were there will always remember sitting in a hotel meeting room on a sunny July day and putting this effort in motion. I can honestly say that I have never been prouder of this organization for the leadership that it has shown and the principles it continues to espouse as it spearheads this effort.

The legislation that was introduced today is not perfect. There will be changes. There will be resource questions. There will be challenges. But adequate and equitable education is a goal worth pursuing and it may be time for the faint of heart to take a later train. The rest of you, check your bags, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Interesting Week Ahead. I know I've been saying that almost every week, but this week does promise to provide a few wrinkles in what has largely been an uneventful session. A press conference has been scheduled for tomorrow (Monday, April 7) to announce the legislative response to the PS Minnesota report. The legislative task force members who met last interim have developed an initial bill that seeks to incorporate a number of the policy viewpoints proposed in the PS Minnesota final report. I had the privilege of discussing some of the broad framework goals with House staff and several of the task force members and I think this initial effort will prove to be interesting.

The House K-12 Funding Division will hear the bill on Thursday, April 10, at 9:00 AM in Room 5 of the State Office Building. I am sure there will be data runs available.

The House K-12 Funding Division will also be hitting the road on Wednesday evening for a hearing on special education policy in the Rocori School District. The hearing will be held at Rocori High School starting at 7:30 PM. The address for Rocori High School is 534 5th Avenue North in Cold Spring. House hearings tend to last an hour-and-a-half, so if you're in the area, it might be worth your time to roll on by and see what the presentation entails.

Elsewhere in the Legislature this Week. Final procedural votes on the budget balancing package will take place in the Senate on Monday with the conference committee perhaps beginning its work by week's end. It will be interesting to see how the Legislature approaches the negotiations on the omni-humungo-wider than the Great Missouri-budget balancing bill. With all of state government entailed in the bill, I anticipate that there will be work groups for each subject area within the budget and that these smaller groups would forward their recommendations to the conference committee members. I doubt that there will be that much difference between the House and Senate, but there obviously is quite a chasm between the Legislature and the Governor. Again, I will keep you posted as things take shape.

Nice Work MASA/MASE! MASA/MASE always put together a great conference and the spring conference last week was no exception. The keynotes were great. The break-outs were great. But what I found especially inspiring was the closing luncheon, at which two titans of education leadership in Minnesota's history were recognized for their contributions to Minnesota's tradition of education excellence. Pictured at right are former US Senator Mark Dayton and former US Representative and Minnesota Governor Al Quie, who each received recognition for their courage, determination, creativity, and tireless support for education throughout their careers, both in their careers as elected officials and as members of the public-at-large.

Quie was recognized by MASA, while Dayton was recognized by MASE for their work. Listening to each of them, one can hear the passion they both possess and how highly they regard the education community. Coming full circle with the first portion of this post, as we move ahead with the principles laid out in the PS Minnesota report and try to make those principles real with solid and tangible legislation, we need to constantly remember the efforts of those who have gone before us and how we need to continue to enlist them and utilize their viewpoints and perspectives as we work to make the dream of a quality education for all of Minnesota's students a reality.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Here I Sit. It's 8:30 PM on Thursday night and I am seated here in the luxurious lobbyist room at the Capitol listening to House debate HF 1812--the omnibus budget balancing act. We have passed the "thirty mark" in terms of amendments and there appears to be no end in sight to the discussions that will take place this evening. Several of the amendments have passed, but most have suffered the ignominy of straight party-line defeat.

Whenever there is a bill that encompasses all of state government, you are going to see a wide range of amendments and we've seen everything this afternoon and evening from compensatory funding, cap-and-trade carbon emission limits, the California car exhaust laws, and the birth control pill RU-486. As we sit here right now, compensatory funding is being flogged by the Republicans in an attempt to spread the revenue differently and, guess what, it isn't going to pass!

The Senate passed its version of the omnibus budget balancing package earlier today with far less fanfare. It was such a snoozer that the bill was approved on a voice vote (seeing it was a motion to pass and final passage, a roll call was not necessary). There were a ton of roll call votes there as well (28 amendments were offered), but the House has a heavier load limit on amendments it seems, meaning that we're sitting here watching a barrage of suggested changes to the bill.

I've been blogging for awhile here and in that time, we're surpassed the 40 amendment mark. If there are many more amendments, I swear that Lasse Viren will be offering them. Don't know who Lasse Viren is, check it out here:

The Senate has adjourned for the week, meaning the process will go like this. The House will pass the omnibus budget bill this evening. It will be reported to the Senate next Monday, where the language the Senate debated earlier today will be amended to the House bill jacket. The House bill jacket with the new language will then be returned to the House. There will be differences in the bills, meaning there will be a conference committee beginning early next week.

Bonding Bill to Governor. The bonding bill is now before the Governor and the Governor has several options in dealing with the bill. The Governor can either sign the bill as it is, which is unlikely because the bill is approximately $100 million above his budget target. He could line-item veto projects of which he disapproves and bring the total amount spent down to his target. The other alternative, currently the most likely option he will pursue, will be to veto the entire bill. Can the bill be overridden? Good question. There are obviously a lot of projects in the bill that affect Republican legislators. Whether or not those individual Republican legisalators would vote for an override remains to be seen, especially given the fact that we are seven weeks out from the constitutionally mandated adjournment date of May 19.

Again, I will keep you posted as things unfold.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Interesting Conference on the Horizon. The Minnesota Taxpayers Association will be hosting what appears to be a very interesting conference on Friday, April 25, beginning at 9:00 AM and running until 2:00 PM. The conference is slated to be held at the St. Paul River Centre located at 175 West Kellogg Boulevard in downtown St. Paul. The theme of the conference is "Emerging Challenges to Fiscal Stability for State and Local Governments." The conference will include some very notable speakers and cover a fairly broad range of topics of interest to policy makers and business leaders throughout Minnesota. A link for the conference is below.

MTA Conference:

For the education community, the most interesting presentation will be given by Dr. Daphne Kenyon, the principal for D.A. Kenyon and Associates in Windham, New Hampshire, and a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Dr. Kenyon' s presentation on property taxes and school funding should be extremely interesting and policy nerd that I am, I am looking forward to it. I have linked Dr. Kenyon's latest Lincoln Institute Policy Focus Report below. It was published in December, 2007, and is available in hard copy for $15 or as a free download. To access the free download, you must register on the Lincoln Institute website (I imagine the only spam you'll receive is policy wonk spam, which is probably mentally nutritious.).

Daphne Kenyon, "The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma (free registration required for download):

Brainerd Visits the Capitol. They came clad in life-jackets (or personal flotation devices) wearing buttons that said "Save our Schools" and they were set on making a case for greater school funding. The failure of the referendum in Brainerd last fall has put an undue amount of pressure on that district. I believe the district is cutting nearly 8% of its general fund budget and that is going to put a noticeable dent in one of the finer E-12 education systems in Minnesota.

I had the honor of addressing this group of parents, school administrators, business and civic leaders, and (most importantly) students. In my brief remarks (Me? Brief? Ha-ha-ha!), I stressed the importance of the comprehensive funding reform contained in PS Minnesota, but also pointed out the fact that it is going to be awhile before comprehensive funding reform will be developed and implemented.

The bad joke I like to use is this one: A father gathers the family around the table in the middle of August and says to his family, "I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that this Thanksgiving, we are going to have the biggest turkey we've ever had and the trimmings are going to be something else. It is going to be an absolute feast like we've never had before." The family applauded wildly, but littlest child asked "Well, what's the bad news?" The father replied, "We're eating pork-and-beans until Thanksgiving."

It is important--exceedingly important--that we look ahead toward the goal of comprehensive funding reform. But we also have to realize that starving the system in hoping it will live to reach the goal would be short-sighted. We need long-term goals that meet the needs of all students in Minnesota and adequate funding in the short-term to make certain the system is still recognizable when we get there.

Senate Bill Clears Tax Committee. SF 3631 (Stumpf), the Senate omnibus E-12 funding bill, passed the Senate Tax Committee today and is on its way to the Senate floor. The language of SF 3631 will be amended to the Senate's omnibus funding and budget correction bill SF 3813 on the floor later this week (or early next week), but will also remain on the floor as a possible vehicle for a late-breaking education funding bill which could be passed in the wake of a Governor's veto of the more comprehensive contents of SF 3813 (or whatever the House File number will be). Stay tuned for that.

There were two amendments added to the bill in the Tax Committee. The first deals with the referendum language that aims to correct the misperception that voting to renew an existing referendum levy will cause a tax increase. Under the Senate's version, the ballot would simply add a statement to the effect that "By voting for this, you are voting to renew and existing levy at the same per pupil amount as previously approved (I don't have the exact language in front of me). A second amendment provides districts receiving sparsity with $80/PU in levy authority for Pay 09 (FY 10) to pay for transportation costs. I'm not saying this amendment is dead (heck, nothing is ever dead in the Capitol this time of year), but I thought I heard Chopin's Opus 35, Number 2 (Yes, that would be the funeral march), playing right after the amendment was approved.

That's it for today (or tonight). Don't hesitate to contact me with your comments are questions.