Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interesting Show on NPR. Krista Tippett is the hostess of the National Public Radio show "Speaking of Faith." Every now and then, she puts the spiritual side of the human condition aside and concentrates on a different subject. Last Sunday morning as I was tooling around after church, I caught her interviewing Dr. Mike Rose, a professor of education at UCLA. Rose has devoted a lot of energy to both critiquing the "testing" movement and showing how effective classrooms are fostered. I found the interview to be extremely enlightening on a number of levels and thought I would post the link here, along with a link to Dr. Rose's blog and his latest book (which was featured during the interview).

Interview with Dr. Mike Rose, "The Meaning of Intelligence": http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2010/meaning-of-intelligence-2/

Monday, August 30, 2010

Federal Jobs Bill Funding Coming to Minnesota. The application has been sent and the dollars will be coming. As most of you know, Congress approved $10 billion in aid to local school districts earlier in August. The Minnesota Department of Education submitted the appropriate paperwork to begin the process of distributing the $167 million--Minnesota's share of the $10 billion--to school districts (and intermediate districts and special education cooperatives) throughout the state.

The formula by which the revenue will be distributed is a bit tricky, but not all that convoluted. To determine the amount each district would receive, the state calculated the amount of state revenue distributed to districts through two basic funding formulas, the general education formula and the special education (basic and excess minus tuition amounts) formula. The amount of state aid for each district was tallied and a percentage of total state aid was determined. This percentage was then multiplied times the $167 million and the product is the amount of revenue each district will receive.

Most SEE districts will be, as expected, below the state average award amount of $206 per student (Average Daily Membership and Not Weighted Average Daily Membership) and there should be no mystery as to why. SEE districts generally fall (well below in many cases) the state average in per pupil revenue generated through the general education formula. Because this formula dictates nearly 87% of the distribution of the federal revenue, it should be no surprise that SEE districts fall where they do on the distribution spectrum. Because special education costs in the metropolitan area are higher than outside the metropolitan area, there is a bit of a bump for the metropolitan area when the special education formula is factored into the distribution. However, because transportation sparsity is much higher outside the metropolitan area, that balances out the distribution effects of the special education formula.

All levies--even the levy portion of equalized levies--are eliminated from the calculation of the distribution percentage. In other words, if you receive equalization aid, that counts as state aid for the calculation of the distribution percentage. If you no longer qualify for equalization, you get no calculation "value" from your referendum. The same goes for the equity levy, transition levy, alternative compensation levy, and total operating capital levy.

I would like to echo MASA Executive Director Charlie Kyte's comments praising MDE Assistant Commissioner Lori Grivna for her hard work on this issue. Since joining the Governor's staff last year, Grivna has done an exemplary job communicating with education groups and we were certainly in the loop on this item from the get-go thanks to her hard work.

Below is a link to the MN Post article regarding the program and a link to the MDE website with the spreadsheet describing the total revenue and per pupil amounts that districts will be receiving. It should be noted that allowable purposes for expenditure of the revenue are still being developed, but it is expected that there will be flexibility with these dollars provided they go for the intended purpose of preserving existing jobs or establishing new positions.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brace for the Stop. I've been playing around with words lately (Who? Me?), trying to come up with some playful rhyming on Race to the Top. Like Lace for the Fop or Chase for the Slop. Mace for the Cop or Face for the Strop. I don't think Governor Pawlenty was playing with words when he informed the press that Minnesota was not going to apply for Phase 2 of the Race to the Top competition, throwing us all out of the vehicle as he slammed on the brakes.

He didn't mince words with his explanation of why the state won't be proceeding in Phase 2. He pretty much laid it at a pair of feet; one foot belonging to the Legislature and the other foot belonging to the teachers' union. From my perspective, I don't see how we could have been seriously considered in Phase 2, as we fell considerably short of qualifying in Round 1 and there were too many applicants between us and the likely cut-off point for available funding.

At any rate--and I don't say this glibly as in some "pox on both houses" snarkiness--it makes for great political theater. Recriminations, counter-recriminations, and so on and so on and so on. Let's see if this has any legs on the campaign trail, because that's where we'll hear about it next.

Here are the stories:

More Federal Legislation. No here is some federal legislation that everyone should like. Senate Bill 1652, chief-authored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would phase in full-funding for special education. The bill was introduced last August, but with all of the talk regarding the stimulus package and Race to the Top, it hasn't garnered much attention. This is a bill that the entire education community across the nation should support and support vigorously.

In the next few months, especially as ESEA/IDEA reauthorizations get underway, it will be important for us to contact our congressional delegation and urge them to support Senate Bill 1652 and other measures that aim to increase federal special education funding.

Representative John Kline (R-Minnesota CD2) is also intimating that he will suggesting similar legislation as ranking minority member of the House Education and Labor Committee. Race to the Top is all well and good. It contains a lot of reforms that are sensible and likely to occur on a wide scale within the next decade. At the same time, it would be nice if the federal government were to fund its existing mandates before it chases off in an entirely new direction.

Here's hoping we can build a coalition that can provide school districts throughout the country with needed revenue. Every dollar that goes into special education creates a dollar's worth of space in a school district's general fund. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Nice Little Spot o' Ink for our Good Friend. Senator Kathy Saltzman scored a nice mention in Lori Sturdevant's column on Sunday. Sturdevant mentioned Senator Saltzman, along with Senators Stumpf and Bonoff, as three legislators who were coming forward with solid reform ideas. Congrats Kathy!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Arizona Voters Pass Proposition 100. Arizona has been a center of controversy lately, with the tightening of immigration and the repeal of bilingual education, but on Tuesday, the state's voters approved a temporary sales tax increase to avoid cuts to education and human services. Arizona is facing about $862 million in proposed budget cuts to education, social services and public safety had the measure not passed. The temporary sales tax increase--a one percentage point increase from 5.6% to 6.6% for the next three years--will generate an estimated $918 million in its first year. The projected margin of victory on the ballot question was 64% to 36%.

Kudos to Arizona voters for thinking "inside the ballot box" and getting this done for the students in Arizona. Minnesota voters don't have access to this type of revenue-raising tool, making one wonder what would happen if they did. I'm not big fan of the initiative/referendum process, but the uneven K-12 funding over the past few decades that has led to both adequacy and equity problems has me re-thinking my position.

Robin Hood! Saw Robin Hood last weekend (Action packed Pee-Wee!--name the movie where that line appeared, but I digress) and I highly recommend it. Nothing like a little medieval sword play to get one's blood going a bit. What made me chuckle though (and it only made me chuckle) is that our organization used to be viewed as the "Robin Hood" of education funding. Outside of my uncanny resemblance to Russell Crowe, it's hard to believe that we were once considered that and that kind of gave me pause. There is still an equity issue in this state and we have to continue to pursue policies that close the funding and opportunity gaps and make certain that every student in Minnesota has access to the high-quality education that is going to be necessary to compete in the 21st century global economy.

The arrows we will use will be rhetorical ones and we have to be careful about who we aim at. One of the problems we have had over the years is that we are sometimes less than circumspect in our language. We need to be indignant. There's no excuse for the inequities in property tax effort and referendum revenue levels that exist due to the erosion of the value of equalization. Further, the failure of the general education amount to reflect inflationary pressures has caused a huge problem for those districts who can't pass a referendum. We need to remain on the two-track strategy of ensuring the basic funding levels of education are sufficient to meet the needs of an ever-changing student body and that property tax effort on referendum levies district-to-district on a per dollar basis are much more equitable than they are currently.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Other Education-Related Items. The omnibus education funding and policy bill may have gone the way of the dinosaur (2010 style), but a number of other items of interest to the education community did pass. Here's a brief synopsis with links to each bill:

Special Session House File 1--The omnibus budget balancing bill. The education portion of the bill is found in Articles 3 and 4 (pages 8 through 23) . Article 3 contains the aid payment shift changes and the early recognition shift. Article 4 contains the forecast adjustments.

Senate File 2918, Chapter 359--The pension bill. Small benefit increases for one fund (MSRS), but the bill is devoted to bringing greater integrity to the existing funds and backing them off of the precipice.

House File 3263, Chapter 356--A bill about speed limits in work zones, it was amended on the Senate floor to contain a provision exempting school buses from having to use child restraint systems (booster seats).

House File 3329, Chapter 395--A bill that provides the Metro Deaf Charter school with cash flow assistance (because all of their money is state aid and all of their students are eligible for special education, the change in the aid payment schedule from 90%/10% to 70%/30% would put them out of business) and adjusts the debt service appropriation upward to reflect the drop in property wealth resulting from the downturn in the housing market. The drop in statewide property wealth creates a greater aid entitlement as property wealth divided by the first and second tier equalizing factors creates an a levy percentage. The lower the levy percentage, the great the amount of aid (Got that? Hard to describe without a blackboard.).

House File 2227. Chapter 398--A bill that creates a Commission on Service Innovation that will seek ways to improve collaboration between governmental units. The Minnesota Association of School Administrators are included on the commission in Article I. Also contains the language of SF 2496 (Rummel-DFL-White Bear Lake) that seeks to incorporate greater use of research in determining course of state government programs.

Senate File 2511, Chapter 319--A bill that creates a collaborative governance council that will provide legislative recommendations on how collaboration between governmental units can be improved.

Senate File 2908, Chapter 396--A seemingly unrelated bill concerning nursing home rates that become the last-minute vehicle for the statewide physical education standards and Healthy Kids Rewards Program after the omnibus E-12 funding and policy bill went down earlier Sunday evening.

I'm sure I'll find more as the weeks wear on and don't be shy about pointing out other bills you think should be included.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One Last Effort. Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) gave it one last shot, but it was for naught as a scaled-back version of the omnibus E-12 funding and policy bill was rejected (well, not exactly rejected) this morning.

The special session was called at 12:01 AM and the budget-reconciliation package was expected to be the only piece of legislation discussed. In order for any bill to be passed the same day it is introduced--regular or special session--is for the rules to be suspended. The reason for this is that a bill can only get a reading once per day without a rules suspension. All bills must have three readings in each house and those readings are given when the bill is: (1) introduced and given a number, (2) when it comes out of its last committee, and (3) when it is voted on for the final time on the floor of a chamber. The process is then repeated in the second chamber.

After passing the budget reconciliation bill, Representative Greiling moved to suspend the rules (which requires a two-thirds vote). The motion garnered 85 votes, five votes short of the 90 necessary to suspend the rules.

This is really unfortunate and I didn't get a good reason from anyone why the Republicans voted en masse to oppose the motion. It is rumored that some were ticked off because of the way the budget deal fell together, but there was really nothing in this bill worth opposing at this juncture. The contents of the bill were very non-controversial and the only thing that even approached any measure of concern was a provision relating to testing and the fact that a cut score was not established in the end-of-course testing requirements for math (I need to get clarification on that provision, so don't take that one to the bank).

As reported last evening, the only changes to education funding in the budget balancing bill was the change in the forecast number for the debt service equalization program and the adjustment of the shift from 73%/27% to 70%/30% for the next fiscal year. The shift was not codified and will be discussed again next session in--guess what?--the 2011 budget balancing bill.

I hope to be using the blog a lot this summer. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions or issues you think the blog can help address for your district or the organization as a whole.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dead Ed. It now appears that the education bill constructed yesterday is now totally dead. As I reported a couple of hours ago, the Senate voted to reject the conference committee report and send it back to conference committee for amendment. The primary objection in the Senate was the inclusion of the language allowing school districts to renew existing referendum levies and at the same amount and term by school board decision. There's going to be a lot finger-pointing in the next few days regarding who is to blame for the unraveling of the bill, but it's hard to pin too much blame to anyone. This is what happens when something, if not exactly slapdash, is pieced together by amendment without the benefit of having the provisions vetted during a full-blown conference committee process.

It appeared that although the referendum renewal language would cause some consternation, it would at least make it through the Legislature and find its way to the Governor for a possible veto. As the day wore on, it became apparent that the Governor planned to veto the whole bill because of its inclusion and some last minute maneuvers were attempted to salvage the rest of the bill. Unfortunately, while there were some elements to the bill that had required a considerable amount of work and were clearly "finished product," the lack of synergy between the House and Senate began to show and the components weren't available to put together a bill that both sides felt comfortable passing.

I'll have more at another time.

The Legislature has adjourned the regular session sine die. By state constitution, the Legislature could not meet in regular session past midnight. However, a budget deal was has been struck just a short while ago and there will be a short special session later this morning. The deal will be reflected in a bill similar to the one passed last evening, which sets the K-12 aid payments schedule at 70%/30%.

More to follow.
Education Conference Committee Now on Senate Floor. New venue, same discussion. Senate Education Funding and Policy Chair LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls) presented the bill and discussion has ensued. A memorandum has been distributed from the Minnesota Chamber and the Minnesota Business Partnership that opposes the provision du jour, that being the ability of school districts to renew an expiring referendum levy by board resolution. Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) has just finished a rousing speech in support of the bill, but that wasn't enough to fend off a motion by Senator Claire Robling (R-Jordan) to send the report back to conference committee.

EGADS!!!! The Senate has rejected the conference committee report and have, on a vote of 38-24, approved the aforementioned Robling motion.

The two bones of contention were the referendum renewal language and the lack of the what several were referencing as a lack of serious reform.
House Passes E-12 Conference Committee Report. The motion to send the E-12 conference committee report back to conference failed and after about an hour-and-a-half of debate, the bill passed by a vote of 77-53. A lot of the debate centered around the provision that allows school boards to renew an existing referendum levy for the same amount and term of the question without going before the voters. This led to a very animated discussion about taxpayers' rights (School districts are the only local unit of government that has to go before the voters for basic operating revenue, but that rarely gets mentioned in the discussion of taxpayers' rights.) and the on-going problems with education funding in Minnesota.

I believe one of Representative Greiling's strongest points is that in the absence of the adequate and equitable funding provided by the "New Minnesota Miracle," we have to resort to these measures that basically continue to "kick the can down the road." If we got away from the referendum as a primary engine of basic education funding, a lot of these questions would evaporate, but that's the state of the system we are in right now. All in all, it was a positive discussion that accurately highlighted the difference of opinion on education policy in Minnesota and the nation. That said, we have to get this bill signed and we are one step closer to that with the passage of the bill by the House.

I'll let you know what happens in the Senate, which will take up the bill in about an hour.
Education Conference Committee Report Hits House Floor. HF 2072, the omnibus E-12 funding and policy conference committee has just hit the House floor and Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) has just moved to send it back to conference committee. That motion will likely fail, the bill will pass, and then be sent to the Senate, where it will likely pass as well. The inter-body friction that has plagued the negotiating process over the past few years is still present, however, and I never take anything for granted.

The finance centerpiece of the bill is the board authority to renew an operating referendum for the same amount and term as the existing levy. It's not a controversial proposal, but that doesn't mean it hasn't generated opposition. The Governor is on record as being skeptical of the provision as he sees it as eroding the taxpayers' ability in a school district seeking to renew a referendum to have a serious discussion of that question. That is not the case, as there is a reverse referendum mechanism in the provision that would force a district to put the renewal on the ballot as opposed to renewing at the board level.

Here's what needs to happen--assuming the bill passes the Senate and I am assuming it will--to get the Governor to sign this bill. If you have a referendum up for renewal before July 1, 2016, it is absolutely imperative that you contact the Governor's office once the bill passes the Legislature and urge (nay, demand) him to sign the omnibus education funding bill.

I will be providing more insight as the bill proceeds through the process today.
Education Accord Reached (at least within the Legislature). As I reported in my last entry, the House and Senate education leaders did manage to get together and met at 5:30 AM to present a conference committee report. Just a couple of highlights before I get some sleep and come back and watch the debate this afternoon. Included in the bill are:
  1. Language allowing school boards to renew an existing levy for the same amount and term is included in the conference committee report.
  2. Charter school reform provisions that tighten up a number of regulations relating to charter schools, but also allows them to own buildings.
  3. Language that clarifies the third-party billing statutes and promotes greater use of the program.
The big question now is whether or not the Governor will sign the bill. It does not contain the reform provisions he sought and he is not enamored with the board renewal language as it pertains to the referendum. There are, however, a number of provisions that came from the Minnesota Department of Education addressing a wide range of subjects. The question remains if these relatively non-controversial provisions are sufficient to blunt his other concerns about the bill. My guess is the floor debate later today will answer many of these questions.
Some Movement on an Education Policy Bill. As I write, there are several possible vehicles moving between the House and Senate that could serve as possible vehicles for an omnibus E-12 education policy bill. The House passed HFs 3329 and 2702 and the Senate then passed HF 2072 with a seemingly non-controversial amendment.

Whether or not these bills will serve as vehicles remains to be seen. Vehicles start in the body of origination (Senate for SFs and House for HFs) and then are passed to the other body, where they can be amended with other provisions. If the provisions are agreed upon in the other body prior to the amendment, the body in which the bill originated can simply move to concur with the amendments and you have, in effect, a conference committee without conference committee meetings.

It remains to be seen what will be included in any agreed-upon amendment that can pass both houses. As many of you know, the bodies are far apart on the reform initiatives advocated by the Governor as part of his Race to the Top recommendations. The House has the language that would allow board approval of an expiring referendum levy. Given these differences, there may either be synergy that would fit the bills together or (hopefully not) a gap that is too wide to be traversed successfully in the truncated time frame under which we now operate.

Stay tuned.
Legislative Reaches a "Hemispheric" Agreement. It's shortly after 2 AM Saturday night/Sunday morning and the House and Senate have put together another "hemispheric" agreement housed in HF 3834. I say "hemispheric" because everyone talks about "global" agreements around here that include the Legislature and the Governor. Seeing this one only includes the Legislature, it can only include one hemisphere of the globe.

The conference committee has just gone into recess (it will fun to watch them play dodge ball this late) to meet with the Governor.

The legislative agreement contains a bit of a surprise for the education community, as the state aid payment shift is increased in the next fiscal year from 73%/27% to 70%/30%. Combined with early recognition of property taxes, the total hit to K-12 reaches nearly $2 billion. There is no education policy in this bill and no tax increases.

The legislative agreement looks pretty much like veto bait. The language of the health and human services bill the governor vetoed yesterday is contained in this legislative agreement. The conference committee working on HF 3834 has not finished its work yet, so it will be open for amendment. It will be interesting to see if the members come back with amendments after meeting with the governor.

Governor Signs Pension Bill. After a bit of saber-rattling and a veto threat, the Governor did sign the pension bill right under the wire. The bill contains only a miniscule increase for one fund, but does raise contribution rates for both employees and employers and brings greater--and much needed--integrity to the state's pension system. I will have a summary of the bill available for distribution at next Friday's meeting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Latest Development. HF 3834 appears to be a vehicle bill of some sorts that will be put together in conference committee this evening. Both the House and Senate have waived their rules prohibiting material not being in the bill as it went into conference from being included in the final agreement. What is interesting to note is that both K-12 funding division chairs, Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) and Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls), are members of the conference committee. This could mean that some pre-agreed education items may be part of the package that goes back to the Legislature for final approval either later tonight or sometime tomorrow. As is the case, I will report when I know more.
No Deal in Sight. Harvey Mandel seems to have put away all the suitcases and sent all the models home, because at this point, it looks like the game show has been changed to "No Deal or No Deal." It's the middle of a lovely Saturday afternoon and while it's not exactly a graveyard here in St. Paul, it's hardly a beehive either.

The Senate is in recess. Majority Leader Pogemiller made it clear that the Governor and legislative leadership are in negotiations on a global budget solution and without tipping his hand, I didn't take from his comments that we're anywhere near getting that at this point. The Senate will likely return this evening and clean off any work it may have in front of it, but it might not be a whole lot of work. At the same time, it's hard for anyone to go anywhere, because something always seems to be afoot. A lot of that activity turns out to the rumored activity, but you have to be active to combat rumored activity (did that last sentence make any sense?).

The House is currently on the floor handling what appears to be relatively minor bills (If there is such a thing. I've been around here long enough to know that every bill is major to somebody.).

Education Bill. Right now, prospects for some type of education bill remain murky. I have talked to staffs in both houses and vehicle bills do exist to get some type of pre-confereed bill--a bill that would only contain measures that both bills agree to--through both houses in the same form. Such bills are usually non-controversial. As I've said a lot this week, there are a number of really vanilla provisions that would be nice to see passed, if for no other reason that they won't take up any discussion time next session. Again, I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 14, 2010

House Done for the Day. It's just after 4:30 PM and the House of Representatives just adjourned for the day and the Senate likely won't be far behind. That pretty much ends the chance of any earnest negotiations toward an education bill today. I have talked to legislators in both Houses and there will be an attempt to put something together in that regard. It likely won't be a huge bill, but there are a few provisions that are both non-controversial and helpful that would be helpful to school districts.

I will let you know as it happens.
I Know There's Nothing Going On. Apologies to Anni-Frid Lyngstad--one of the A's in ABBA--for playing with the song title of her only hit "I Know There's Something Going On," but the play on words seems to accurately describe the nature of the game beneath the Capitol dome as we enter the last seventy-two hours of the 2010 Legislative Session. All work has to be done by 12:00 midnight Sunday evening/Monday morning as bills cannot be passed on the last day of the legislative session in its second year. Add to that, the Legislature has tried to avoid meeting on Sunday (although its happened with greater regularity the past few years) and you can see we're in a severe time crunch.

The Governor vetoed the legislative budget-balancing bill because it contained the tax increases I outlined the other day. The Governor is now on his way to Lake Winnibekabenacmilicagoma (I think that's the one) for the fishing opener. Let's hope he's got five-bar cell phone coverage there, because my guess is he'll be on the phone a bit. The gap right now in the debate springs from the tardiness and uncertainty surrounding the approximately $550 million in federal aid that hasn't showed up in Minnesota yet. That necessitated the inclusion of the tax provisions in the legislative package and, as he has said about 662,987 times before (at least it seems like that many), the Governor simply isn't going to increase state taxes.

That's left everything in limbo and Chubby Checker hasn't hit the dance floor yet. In other words, there's less happening here than at a shuffleboard tournament.

Education Bill Uncertain. Lost in the budget negotiations is the fact that the chances for an education bill look iffy right now. Both the House and Senate have passed education-related bills, but the problem is, none of them are companions. This makes it impossible to set up a traditional conference committee. For something to happen, the Legislature will have to resort to taking a bill currently in possession of one house that was sent from the other house, negotiate an amendment that would serve as a conference committee report and have the same bill then approved by both h0uses in the exact same form. In other words, no amendments. This has been used in the past, but the temptation to amend will be there and hi-jinks can be the order of the day when the opportunity presents itself.

One provision SEE supports and has been watching closely is the House provision that allows school boards to renew expiring referendum levies by board vote instead of having to go back before the voters. If there is no bill, that provision obviously goes to the bone-pile and that would be unfortunate. To avoid this, I would urge all of you to contact your legislators--especially if they are on an education or tax-related committee--and tell them to:
  1. Pass an education bill, and;
  2. Have the final education bill contain the language of Article I, Section 11, of HF 3833 as passed by the House on May 12, 2010.
There is still time for this to happen, so if you are so moved, your involvement would be greatly appreciated.

I'll be back later as things take shape on this and other issues.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Education Bill Passes House. It was pretty much a party-line vote and one would think from the debate that the fate of western civilization hinges upon either the creation or rejection of an alternative path to teacher licensure, but HF 3833, the House version of the omnibus education policy bill passed last evening by a vote of 86-47.

What was surprising was the fact that there were only a thirteen amendments offered (five passed, eight failed). That made the words/amendment ratio fairly high and a lion's share of the verbiage went toward two subjects: Race to the Top and the aforementioned alternative licensure provision.

Race to the Top was injected into the debate relatively early with an amendment offered by Representative Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) to prohibit the Minnesota Department of Education from re-applying for the Race to the Top competition. That amendment failed on a vote of 25-105. A little later in the proceedings, Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) offered an amendment that pretty much contained the provisions outlined in HF 3799--Representative Garofalo's bill that proposed the Governor's Race to the Top application guidelines--but that amendment was divided to single out the "core curriculum standards" in the amendment. After that portion of the amendment failed on a vote of 41-90, Representative Garofalo withdrew the amendment. These votes show how muddled the whole Race to the Top support and opposition is. Cultural conservatives hate national curriculum standards and hate may be too tame a term. At the same time, cultural conservatives tend to like the teacher tenure and licensure aspects of Race to the Top. On the other end of the political spectrum, many (except for notably those legislators in the urban core) don't like the teacher changes, but offer some measure of support for other reform initiatives. Sprinkled in amongst all positions is a bit of angst over the federal government's desire to go in this particular direction when federal programs like special education and Title I are so grossly underfunded. All in all, it looks like the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is going to be an interesting one.

The amendment that provided the most verbal fireworks--and I don't use that term as any belittlement of the heartfelt speeches given on both sides of the issue--was the alternative teacher licensure provisions developed by the House K-12 Education Policy Committee offered as an amendment to the bill by Representative Randy Demmer (R-Hayfield). As a refresher, remember that last Friday, there was an effort to remove these provisions from HF 2431, the then-House E-12 Omnibus Education Funding and Policy Bill, in the House Ways and Means Committee. After that effort failed, an entirely new bill--HF 3833--was introduced with every provision of HF 2431 except the alternative teacher licensure provisions. That bill passed the Ways and Means committee late on Friday evening after a brief, yet polite, exchange regarding the "wha' hoppened?" angle to the change and a failure to re-insert the alternative teacher licensure provisions back into the bill.

I was surprised that more wasn't made on the floor last evening regarding the Friday's unorthodox maneuver, but the debate stayed squarely on the merits (or weaknesses, depending on one's perspective) of the alternative licensure provisions. Not much changed since Friday, and the amendment failed on vote of 65-68.

After that, there was discussion on several amendments. I want to thank Representative Connie Doepke (R-Wayzata) for offering an amendment that would have eliminated the maintenance-of-effort provisions in the safe schools levy for school counselors and other support staff. Unfortunately, that amendment failed on a voice vote. Maybe next year!

The final vote came shortly after that point (there were three more amendments, two of which failed) and the bill passed 86-47. It's now onto the Senate!

Monday, May 10, 2010

House Debating (and Soon Voting on) HF 2037. It's been a little over three hours of debate and House Majority Leader is wrapping up the debate and we'll be seeing a vote in a few minutes (It passed by a vote of 71-63). The House debate was much more spirited than the Senate debate, although the same points were made over and over and over and over again. Job killer or job saver?

It's not going to make a whole lot of difference because this bill is D.O.A. Anyone else here remember that early 1970s macbre masterpiece "D.O.A." by Bloodrock (pictured at right), a Dallas-Fort Worth area hard rock band (remember when it was called "hard rock" and not "heavy metal?"). That song, which was banned because of its musically graphic depiction of a victim of an airline crash slowly dying. That song clocked in at a little over four minutes, which is less time than the Governor will mull over his options on this bill. It's dead and serious work begins yet again.

In another matter, the education policy bills may be up tomorrow on the floors of both houses. As was the case today, I will keep you informed.

EDIT: Just been told education policy up in the House tomorrow and Senate on Wednesday.
HF 2037 Passes Senate. As promised, here's the result of the vote on HF 2037--the legislative majority caucus' budget-balancing package--on the Senate floor The final vote was 34-33.

Link (the roll call has yet to be posted, but shoudld be available shortly): https://www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=Senate&f=HF2037&ssn=0&y=2010
And. . .We're Off! I mentioned HF 2037 in one of my Saturday entries and it has now formally become the Senate's (at least the Senate DFL's) budget-balancing proposal. It was heard in Finance on Saturday and was referred to the Senate Tax Committee this morning, where a conditional tax increase was attached to the bill. The tax proposal attached to HF 2037 would create a new fourth tier on the income tax for single filers making in excess of $130,000 and families making more than $200,000. The new tier would be set at 9.15 percent, which is 1.30 percentage points higher than Minnesota's current top rate of 7.85 percent. The tax increase would be suspended if Minnesota had a budget surplus of $500 million at the end of the next biennium.

It is being discussed on the Senate floor as I write. It will likely pass today and if there is time left tonight, the House will take it up. It will likely pass there as well, but will meet a brick "veto wall" in the Governor's office. The text should be available shortly and I will post it as soon as it becomes available.

Below is the text of the DFL News Release (in bold and in blue--I hope you all have color monitors).

Minnesota Legislature

State Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller
235 State Capitol, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155-1606
E-mail: sen.larry.pogemiller@senate.mn

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher
463 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155-1606
E-mail: rep.margaret.kelliher@house.mn

May 10, 2010

Minnesota legislators propose balanced-budget solution

Moving quickly to create a solution to the state’s historic fiscal crisis, DFL lawmakers today unveiled a plan to solve the state’s $3 billion budget deficit.

Just last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unilateral budget-borrowing plan from last summer was illegal, presenting the Legislature with a $3 billion budget problem to be solved in the final days of the session. The justices noted that the governor willfully signed all of the Legislature’s spending bills, while vetoing the funding solution to pay for them. Now, with the governor’s illegal actions voided, lawmakers are taking action on a balanced-budget solution.

“This is a budget that meets the governor, but does not compromise Minnesotans’ most important priorities – our kids, families, and communities,” said Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

“The state of Minnesota is facing two very serious fiscal challenges,” said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis. “We have an ongoing structural deficit which was brought to a head when the Supreme Court threw out the governor’s unilateral budget
cuts. We are also facing an ongoing cash crunch that could result in the state being unable to pay its bills in a matter of days. The balanced-budget solution presented by the Legislature today addresses both of these issues and puts the state on more stable financial footing.”

Given the state’s dire financial situation, the Legislature’s budget plan includes more than $2.5 billion in spending reductions, including adoption of the same level as the governor’s unilateral budget cuts and K-12 borrowing. However, unlike the governor, the Legislature’s plan includes a way to repay the debt created by borrowing from Minnesota schools. The proposal would create a fourth-tier income tax on the wealthiest Minnesotans, which will generate more than $400 million in new revenue in the current biennium.

“A recent Minnesota Department of Revenue report showed the wealthiest Minnesotans pay a significantly smaller share of their income in taxes as compared to low- and middle-income Minnesotans,” said Senate Tax Chair Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “Our plan would not only ensure that our schools get paid back, but also increase the fairness of our revenue system.”
In total, the Legislature’s plan would cut $5 in government spending for every $1 raised in new revenue.

“We can’t make false promises to our schools,” said Senate Finance Chair Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. “The governor has borrowed money from our students he simply can’t afford to pay back.

We are proposing a budget plan that honestly and responsibly balances our books, while protecting our schools from the deep cuts imposed by the governor.”

Underscoring the seriousness of the state’s financial situation, Gov. Pawlenty this week issued an emergency Executive Order in an attempt to keep the state from defaulting on its bills. In the order, the governor cited Article XI of the Minnesota Constitution which requires the state to balance its budget. However, the governor failed to note the same article also requires the State Auditor, when the state is out of money, to raise property taxes on every business, landowner, and homeowner in Minnesota in order to pay back its borrowing.

Without a balanced-budget plan in place, the constitution could require a statewide property tax increase. If the state’s current debt service had to be covered by property taxes, the average property tax payer would experience a 6.7% property tax increase.

“The choices are stark: we can make our tax system fairer and stabilize our budget, or face real cuts to schools and large property tax increases,” said House Finance Chair Rep. Lyndon Carlson.

“The Supreme Court’s decision did not cause this fiscal crisis, it simply revealed the governor’s plan to kick the can down the road has failed,” said Sen. Pogemiller. “The governor’s inability to make the hard decisions at the right time has put our state in a perilous position, and it’s time for all sides to come together on finding a balanced solution to this crisis.”


Setting the Stage for the Last Week. It was all on the front page of the print edition of the Sunday Minneapolis StarTribune. The synopsis for the coming week, especially as it relates to the education community, was all right there in black-and-white. The top of the fold declared: "State's bad teachers rarely get fired" and below and slightly to the right of that article was the story "Nine days left to find $3 billion." Kind of sums it all up as we roll into the last week of the legislative session.

The article regarding the firing of teachers is a StarTribune exclusive available only in print (I guess the new StarTribune business model is "don't give everything away for free," which hopefully will save them from drowning in a sea of red ink), so I can only summarize it here. The article pretty much echoes the headline, it is extremely hard to fire tenured teachers. I realize that's a little "dog bites man" for those in the education community, but it certainly highlights the recent discussion on tenure changes as part of Governor Pawlenty's proposed legislation to limit tenure and include these changes in Minnesota's Phase 2 Race to the Top application. So run out to your local Oasis Market or Kwik-Trip and see if they have any copies left of the StarTribune Sunday edition.

The article on the challenge ahead of the Governor and Legislature in the final week doesn't shed a whole lot of new light on the subject, but does accurately outline the parameters of the impending discussion. Lots of spicy repartee.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Postscript of Saturday. Flags and posters were waving as another anti-tax rally round its way to the Capitol grounds on Saturday. Looks like about 1,000 people (give or take a hundred) are there. No one dressed in Revolutionary War outfits, which is always a disappointment to me.

The tone is probably set for the next week and that tone would have been set regardless if it were half a million people on the Capitol grounds. The Legislature will likely send some revenue enhancements (aka tax increases) to the Governor next week and they will be summarily dismissed.

Teacher Health Care Package. I've been told that the teacher health care pool which has passed the Legislature several times over the past few sessions only to meet with a gubernatorial veto will meet a similar fate in the coming week. The conference committee on SF 915 (with most of the work completed last session, but re-constituted earlier this session passed both the Senate and House by votes of 42-23 and 77-53 respectively. It should be noted that these vote totals are slightly lower than the numbers in favor of the bill last session. Whether that denotes a change-of-heart by legislators or the fact that provisions that earned support in one body or the other were dropped in conference committee is unknown, but right now, the numbers are not sufficient in either body to override the expected veto.
Hello, Goodbye. Hum with me now! Somehow this Beatles' nugget (released as a single in November 1967 and included on the Magical Mystery Tour album) is the appropriate song for the day, as the Legislature is saying "hello" to new approaches every day and "goodbye" to another failed try to reach a compromise in a year where compromise is sorely needed.

The latest episode took place yesterday, as HF 2431--the original House omnibus education funding and policy bill--became HF 3833. It was hardly an example of political legerdemain, but the transformation to a new omnibus bill provides an interesting tale. HF 2431 was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday morning (5/7). During the proceedings, an amendment was introduced to delete the section relating to alternative teacher licensure, especially as it relates to programs like Teach for America. That amendment failed on a close vote and subsequently, the committee voted to pass the bill to the floor. Needless to say, some members and interest groups were not happy that the amendment failed and the bill was allowed to proceed on its merry way.

The level of consternation regarding the failure to remove the alternative licensure piece that so troubles some people reached a magnitude that called for a rather unorthodox maneuver. Rather than bring HF 2431 back after a committee recess, an entire new bill--HF 3833--was introduced sans the alternative licensure provision. The new bill was introduced during session on Friday and was then heard in the House Ways and Means Committee last evening shortly after 10 PM. Because the committee was in recess throughout the day and had never adjourned, it was still in possession of HF 2431 and had not reported it to the floor after the committee's decision to pass it to the floor. After the committee approved HF 3833 (on a close vote and after an attempt to attach the alternative licensure language), HF 2431 was laid on the table.

In shorthand, HF 3833 is now the House omnibus education funding and policy bill and it will be heard on the House floor early next week.

Another bill to watch is HF 2037, which contains the first serious legislative attempt to reconcile the budget deficit in the waning days of the session. Of interest to the education community, HF 2037 codifies the 73%/27% funding shift, which has been a high priority of the education community from the beginning of the 2010 legislative session. Whether or not there would be an aid loss as a result of an automatic "shift-back" to 90%/10% as a result of not codifying the shift remains open to question (I'm among the lonely crowd that contends that while it would require a huge "balloon" payment on the part of the state, schools would still get their total aid entitlement--call the Supreme Court, they're not busy.), codifying the shift, while pinching cash flow, would at least provide school districts with solid planning estimates.

HF 2037 is a work-in-progress and rumor has it that revenue increases will be added to the bill when it is discussed on the Senate floor on Monday, May 10. Any revenue increases ensure a Governor's veto (and any override is unlikely), but at least things are moving in earnest toward a resolution of the budget problem.

The House floor session on Friday evening was also very interesting. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) offered the Governor's unallotment package from past June as an amendment to a budget bill. The amendment failed on a vote of 27-105. Of course, everyone knew that the Governor's actions from last year weren't going to be approved that easily (Hey! We've still got a week to go!) , but, again, at least progress is being made toward a solution.

There are going to be a ton of statements, political and otherwise, made in the week ahead, but it appears that an agreement can be reached on the budget.

As I reported yesterday, the prospects for passage of an education funding and policy bill that the Governor feels comfortable signing remain iffy, but it now appears that at least a bill will find its way to the Governor's desk. The Senate has much of what the Governor was seeking in terms of legislative changes deemed necessary to initiate a viable application for the second phase of Race to the Top, while the House does not. The differences between the House and Senate on this project will likely be the major stumbling block in the attempt to reach an agreement. Even if agreement cannot be reached on the education reform package, there are a number of very helpful--if not major--provisions relating to special education and other programs. Here's hoping that at least something can be passed and signed.

Monday will be the kick-off to 168 hours of madness, as there will be one week left to strike a budget deal and pass a raft of policy bills. It can be done, but it certainly isn't going to be a week full of mellow days and easy nights (does anyone else remember those two cheap wines by T.J. Swann called "Mellow Days" and "Easy Nights." Kool-aid filled with alcohol as I recall.)

Stay tuned. I'll be blogging continually through the last week in an attempt to keep you up-to-date on all that's happening (and not happening) at the Capitol.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet? I have to admit that one of my favorite guilty pleasures is receiving my daily dose of Bill Griffith's "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strip in my e-mail in-box every morning. For those of you who are not familiar with Zippy, one of his trademark phrases is the one depicted at the right: "Are we having fun yet??" My response today is, "Yes! Absolutely yes!"

The Supreme Court decision declaring the Governor's unallotments of last June to be illegal was the first monkey wrench thrown into the machinery, but it looks like the whole ape house has decided to empty the tool-box in the past 24 hours and things are, to be polite, a bit messy.

The education policy bills in both houses have run into some serious difficulties, as differences over the alternative teacher licensure provisions have arisen and clearly threaten the passage of any (let me repeat that, ANY) education bill from passing. That would truly be a tragedy. As in the case of many education funding/policy bills, there's not a lot of earth-shattering things in this year's bill. BUT, there are a number of provisions that would be extremely helpful to school districts throughout the state including the crucial provision that would allow school districts to extend an existing referendum at the same amount by a vote of the school board. This provision has not been universally hailed at the Legislature, but given the tough economic times ahead, it may be crucial and critically important for school districts who have a levy renewal coming up in the next few years. No district in the state can afford to go backwards by losing their referendum revenue, if it's a dollar or a thousand dollars. If there's no education bill, this provision, and many like it, are DEAD!

This shouldn't be allowed to happen. We need a bill and to ensure that happens, we need to contact legislators and insist (make that INSIST) that the Legislature pass an education bill (preferably bills) that rewards the hard work of legislators, legislative staff, and the education lobbying community who have worked together to pass a number. There's a lot of good that can still happen, but it should not be allowed to get caught up in the politics of the education aids payment shift and the debate over alternative teacher licensure.

Speaking of the Shift. The Governor wants it codified in statutes at 73%/27%. The House wants it codified at 73%/27%. The Senate? Hard to say at this point, but let's just say they are not wild about the idea. It's hard to say what their objections are, although there are legitimate reasons to object and the step should not be taken lightly. The problem for school districts is that they have set their budgets for next year (a feat in itself) and are looking for stability for planning purposes. Codifying the shift (or at least setting a static ratio for the next few years in chapter law) would provide school districts with the measure of certainty that they need. When there's little or no new money, it's always helpful to have the dollars you are expecting to be delivered in a predictable manner. Hopefully, this gets done and the fear of the 17 percent funding gap that may occur when we slide back to the 90%/10% aid payment schedule in current law.

As with so much of the proceedings at the Legislature these days, stay tuned.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Slightly Quieter, Still Confusing. The Supreme Court has ruled, but the decision kicked enough dust that it's a little hard to see how everything is going to work out in the next ten days. The state is now facing a budget deficit for the remainder of the biennium of approximately $3.5 billion and that's a lot of ground to cover in 10 days. Bills have introduced that would take care of all but about $550 million. For education, the only thing that is on the table is what most of us have wanted to happen all session: the formalization of the aid payment shift and early recognition of property taxes. That provision was introduced by the Governor and is contained in HF 2431, but the Senate has resisted (putting it lightly) making a commitment toward this end.

Needless to say, things are going to have to start happening fairly fast and with so many possible routes to the end, my guess is the path to the finish will be a bit serpentine.

The Latest Complication. The House version of the omnibus education funding and policy bill was slated to be heard last evening in the House Ways and Means Committee, but it was scratched at the last minute. It appears that the House majority is divided over whether or not to include alternative teacher licensure in the bill. Such a move would strengthen the state's position in the Phase 2 Race to the Top competition and would make the House look less at odds with the Governor in that quest. As it stands now, the House is bearing the brunt of a lot of criticism with its stance against including portions of the Governor's suggested changes to Minnesota education policy that I outlined yesterday in its bill.

A number of House members worked on crafting a compromise today that may be discussed when the Ways and Means Committee takes up the bill tomorrow (Friday). I will keep you posted.

Senate Action. The Senate Tax Committee discussed SFs 3063 and 3064 today. They are two of the three education-finance related Senate bills (as distinguised from SF 3189--the Senate's education policy bill that contains several of the Governor's policy recommendations) any of which could serve as a vehicle bill for the Senate's education finance (and perhaps) policy provisions.

What would not be surprising is if both Houses pass policy bills and that all of the finance provisions--from all budget areas--would be rolled into one "global" agreement. Those types of agreements usually run up until the end of session, so I doubt I'll have much to report on that until next week.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

So What Else Happened Yesterday? Back to the description of the proceedings of May 4. I was talking about the Senate policy bill, but it also has to be pointed out that the Senate has three (yes, count 'em, 3, tres, a trio) education funding bills and they were all heard in the Senate Full Finance Committee yesterday and will be heard in the Senate Tax Committee later this week. The bills are SF 3028, SF 3063, and SF 3064. These bills are all being used as vehicles and, in two instances, have nothing to do with the original language in each respective bill.

Here's the shorthand on what the bills contain now:

SF 3028: Reductions in a number of education programs ranging from magnet school grants to the Perpich School for the Arts.

SF 3063: Changes in the Alternative Facilities Program, making Wayzata eligible and reducing aid by approximately $7 million to Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. Revenue will stay the same for each district, but aid will be replaced with levy.

SF 3064: Seven fund transfers for various districts.

Again, I don't know why the Senate chose to have three different funding bills. It's always nice to have a couple of bill "shells" available if a body wants to start loading up bills and sending them to the other body in a frantic rush to get things done. It certainly adds an element of confusion to the end of session, but it's not a Gordian Knot in any way. It all boils down to which vehicle the Senate decides to use when combining their education funding provisions and how they go through the system. Truth be told, none of these bills may figure in how the Senate puts its bill together, as some of the larger budget issues--particularly the payment shift--may find their way into a wide-ranging budget bill that addresses appropriations and policy across a wide range of government service areas. This possibility becomes even more likely given today's unallotment decision by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile. . .back in the House last night. The House Tax Committee took up HF 2431, the House omnibus K-12 Funding and Policy Bill last evening at about 11:15 PM and things were spirited. The only substantive change to the bill was the insertion of a reverse referendum mechanism to the provision that allows school districts to renew an existing referendum by board resolution (at the same amount). The Governor opposes that provision and it's not in the Senate bill, but the House appears committed to pushing this as hard as they can. It's a good provision and it would be extremely helpful to a number of SEE districts. We need to convince the Senate to accept it in conference committee.

The rest of the House Tax Committee proceedings disintegrated into an edgy discussion of the New Minnesota Miracle article of HF 2431. Of course, a number of Republican legislators who did their best during the eight years they controlled the House to provide formula increases to school districts don't cotton to the assertion that schools are underfunded by the amount--$1.8 billion when fully implemented--that's outlined in this iteration of the New Minnesota Miracle. But as has been pointed out by numerous studies and less formal analysis, the failure to keep up with inflation over the past 20 years is well documented and undeniable. The other point leveled against Representative Greiling was her failure to describe how she planned to "pay for it" when it begins to get phased-in in FY 2014. It's a good question, but it's really irrelevant and putting a new formula into law, even if it is never fully implemented, is not unprecedented. Representative Greiling simply is trying to put the framework in place. It's not a perfect formula framework, but it's the boldest step forward the education community has seen in many years in terms of a commitment to major formula change and funding adequacy. Procuring this funding is going to be a challenge, but it would be impossible if the suggestion weren't put forward and seriously pursued.

I'm here tonight to cover the House omnibus K-12 Education Funding and Policy bill as it moves ot the House Ways and Means Committee for its final stop before it hits the House floor, where it will likely be debated and voted upon on Friday.

UNALLOTMENT DECISION! The Minnesota Supreme Court has spoken (or written or dictated, okay, you get the picture) and the news is, if not startling, (and not good for anyone at the Capitol who thought the 2010 Legislative Session was going to come to an orderly end (more likely an odorly end now) going to have a major impact on how relations between the branches of government are conducted in the future, both immediate and long-range. The 4-3 decision that ruled the unallotment of a relatively small appropriation dealing ($5.5 million) with a program that delivered meals to elderly and poor clients with special dietary needs. By extension, it is assumed that all other actions taking unilaterally by the Governor after the end of the 2009 session in respect to correction of the budget deficit would face a similar fate.

As background, we all need to recall that the Governor signed all of the budget bills (although he did apply some line-item vetoes, most notably a nearly $1 billion reduction in General Assistance Medical Care) and then vetoed the tax bill passed by the Legislature that would have provided sufficient funding for the legislative appropriations. The court decision, in a nutshell, is that the unallotment statute is meant for unforeseen budget crises and that the Governor's action in vetoing the tax bill after signing the budget bills creates a foreseen budget shortfall that needed to be addressed through either a special session or the implementation of other measures within the Governor's purview, particularly the previously-cited line-item veto.

For my part, and I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I think the court got this right. The actions taken by the Governor last spring marginalized the Legislature and marked yet another step in the drift toward the establishment of more power--at both the state and federal levels--in the office of the Executive Branch. I always joke that the "How a Bill Becomes a Law" page in civics text books needs to be revised, but we do need to maintain and protect the framework of checks-and-balances that exist between the branches of government. What we have here today is probably going to be studied for years as an example of how each branch of the system played a role in coming to this decision and it should be instructive to anyone who is a student of government.

We may end up in the same vicinity, budget-wise, where we were after the Governor's unilateral actions last June, but the process by which the budget correction decisions are made need to respect the relationship that exists in the policy development and implementation processes and the proper role of each branch of government in those duties. This will be interesting, but it won't be fun.

What happens next? The Governor is urging the Legislature to adopt his budget and to formalize a number of the actions he took last June, including the delay of state aid payments to school districts and the requirement that school districts recognize a larger portion of their property tax collections in the previous fiscal year. This would create a $1.8 billion one-time cash-flow adjustment that would solve over half of the $3.5 billion problem the state faces as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

The education community is four-square behind the legislation that would formalize the school funding shift at 73%/27% and the early recognition of property tax revenue. It's not new to us, as it's been employed a number of times since the late 1970s and while it isn't the best of policies, it sure beats a cut to the funding base. This measure is part of the House Omnibus E-12 Funding and Policy bill, but the Senate has not included it in its education funding bills (more about them later).

Needless to say, we're going to be up to our collective eye-balls in work for the next ten days and I don't know if everything can get done by the constitutionally-mandated adjournment date of Monday, May 17. As a reference, I'll just point to the picture at the top of the page, taken on the St. Croix River back in the 1880s. We already had a logjam at the Legislature prior to today's decisions, but the Supreme Court added a few extra logs. The question that will be flying around for the next few days is "Where's the dynamite?"


MN Post (includes link to decision): http://www.minnpost.com/

Long Day's Journey into Fright (Ooops! Night.) Tuesday was one of those May traditions as education lobbyists got to park themselves from 8:30 AM until midnight in a variety of rooms following the various education bills that are moving through both houses of the Legislature.

The day started in the Senate with the presentation by Senate E-12 Education Funding and Policy Division Chair Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls) of SF 3189, the Senate's omnibus policy bill. The Division met for about three hours, broke for floor session, and then returned after session and met until about 10 PM. Much of the discussion in the bill centered around provisions relating to the impending Phase 2 Race to the Top application that is being prepared by the Minnesota Department of Education.

As many of you remember, Governor Pawlenty verbally scalded Education Minnesota after we were not among the top scorers in the first round of the competition. In an effort to strengthen our Phase 2 application (among other things), the Governor laid out a number of provisions he believed the Legislature must pass before anymore effort would be put into the Race to the Top process by his administration. Among the Governor's recommendations are:

  1. Teacher Quality and Effectiveness
  2. Align teacher preparation standards with K-12 student standards.
  3. Require that candidates for college teacher preparation programs pass the basic skills test prior to entry into the program.
  4. Strengthen teacher preparation in elementary mathematics and require teaching candidates to pass a math content exam.
  5. Require teaching candidates to complete at least one course online and also learn how to teach an online course to their students.
  6. Use student performance data to monitor the effectiveness of college of education teacher and administrator programs.
  7. Incorporate national standards for effective school leadership, such as the standards developed by the National Institute for School Leaders, into the licensing standards for principals.
Proposals addressing most of these areas found their way into SF 3189 and both discussion and amendments flew around Room 112 as the various sides of the argument had at each other. I say various sides because the support or opposition to a number of these amendments was more varied than usual. Sometimes cultural conservatives would align with liberals on the same side against the middle. Other times, it would be the more traditional liberal/conservative split. Both liberals and conservatives varied greatly from one item to the next. Some legislators who love the more robust teacher training and evaluation don't like the idea of a national core curriculum. Some who like the federal government basically mandating more rigorous training of teachers and greater control by administrators and school boards in the assigning of teachers think there is federal overreach in other suggested parts of the application. In other words, it's all quite confusing and it's obvious that no one is completely happy with the process. Some folks are happier than others, but most everyone has found something to not like in both the process and the content of the proposal.

Most of the amendments offered to the bill came from legislators aiming to soften or eliminate a number of the proposals aimed at teacher-training, evaluation, and assignment. All but a couple of these amendments were defeated, leaving the legislative changes sought by the Governor intact. Still, Commissioner Seagren was quoted as saying this constitutes a "good start (emphasis mine)," meaning we've got a ways to go. Further, seeing that the House has little in its bill resembling the Governor's suggested actions, the starting line may be fairly close to the finish line.

Here is the link to SF 3189.

SF 3189: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S3189.0.html&session=ls86

An engrossment including yesterday's amendments should be available later today or tomorrow and I will post it when it's available.

I have to book to the Capitol right now, but will finish this description of yesterday's activity later today. Big news. FLASH! The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled against Governor Pawlenty by declaring his unallotments from last year to be unconstitutional.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Bills are Moving, but Moving Slowly. Two weeks from today, the curtain on the 2010 Legislative Session will come down. There's a lot left to do and the education bills are poised to hit the respective chamber floors in the next week. Rumor has it (not the song by the Honeydogs) that the major funding bills--taxes, health and human sacrifice (oops, services), and education--will all hit the Senate floor on Thursday. The Senate unveiled two education-funding related bills last week, but they were relatively minor in scope. Tomorrow morning (Tuesday, May 4), the Senate Education Funding and Policy Division will be finishing the job by presenting the Senate version of the education policy bill. It will be interesting to see how warm the Senate proposal will be to the provisions of the Governor's Race to the Top proposal.

HF 2431, the House omnibus E-12 funding and policy bill, was heard this morning in the House Finance Committee and will be heard in the House Tax Committee tomorrow morning. There was considerable discussion regarding the provision in the House bill that would allow school boards to renew existing referendum levies without putting the question back on the ballot. While no action was suggested in the Finance Committee, I wouldn't be surprised if an amendment was offered tomorrow in the Tax Committee to remove the measure. Clearly, given the current economic climate, some type of measure that would at least provide an extension of a year or two to existing levies would be welcome.

Viking Stadium? It wouldn't be a legislative session without some discussion of a proposed stadium. With the Gophers and Twins off the docket in recent years, this year's discussion centers on the Vikings. It would seem odd that in a year when budget negotiations will be going full bore up until the very end that a stadium would have any chance of passing (especially given the fact that this is an election year with a very some fairly illegible tea leaves.

Regardless of the prospects for success, which I am reluctant to gauge, there are more than a few lobbyists running around with the Vikings as recently-inked clients and sometimes big things happen in an atmosphere governed by confusion.

The Hot Education Book of 2010. It's the first half of 2010, so it's too early to award Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" that prize, but from the discussion that it's generated, it's hard to believe that any subsequent books published this year will spark this much interest.

Ravitch's book has received a lot of attention in the national press. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Ravitch has generally be considered part of the school urging greater accountability through the incorporation of market-driven forces into the delivery of public education (charter schools, vouchers). In this book, Ravitch has, in her terms, returned to her roots as a colleague of former American Federation of Teachers President and education reformer Albert Shanker.

Ravitch contends that markets and testing have not helped raise achievement in the United States. She bemoans No Child Left Behind as measuring too narrowly the skills that comprise a meaningful education. She also contends that charter schools and vouchers have not produced marked improvements across-the-board. She admits that these newly created options have helped some children, but that overall, the excitement generated by these proposals has not meant much in terms of achievement.

You can find this book reviewed in any number of places. The New York Review of Books had a balanced and somewhat complimentary review by E. D. Hirsch. Richard Kallhnberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, gave the book a glowing review in The Washington Monthly. Eric Altschuler also gave the book a very positive review at National Public Radio. Everywhere you look, someone is saying something about the book. Just do a search and you'll find something.

I haven't had a lot of reading time, but this book will be the first one on my post-session reading list. Here is a link to Ravitch's book at Amazon.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bad News (Well, Maybe). Once upon a time, Congress passed a $25.5 billion appropriation that would have extended the enhanced federal matching funds for state Medicaid and child welfare that were part of the stimulus package passed last year. Minnesota is slated to receive approximately $400 million of this appropriation and this $400 million is absolutely crucial if Minnesota is to balance its state budget without cutting K-12 education.

Well, that was then and this is now (That was Then, This is Now has a rare place in American pop culture history as it's the title of both a bad song and a bad movie) and the $25.5 billion is all of a sudden in jeopardy as deficit hawks at the federal level (It's hard to believe that there are still some of those after watching the past nine years in Washington D.C.) are insisting that any new appropriations legislation--including the jobs bill--be revenue neutral. In other words, if there is new spending, existing spending has to be cut by the same amount.

If the enhanced matching funds for state Medicaid and child welfare under Title IV-E aren't forthcoming, we are in a heap of trouble. With only a little over two weeks left in the 2010 Legislative Session, it would be extremely difficult to put the session to bed with dreams of a balanced budget.

How do we avoid this impending mess? Call your U.S. Senator and your Congressman (or Congresswoman) and urge them to make certain that they extend the Medicaid match!

More Bad News. It's turn the clock back day (Sorry. I forgot to wear my paisley tie.). Joel Sutter from Ehlers and Associates sent out a memorandum this afternoon protending more problems. This time it's the debt service equalization appropriation.

The debt service equalization appropriation is not an open-and-standing appropriation. In other words, a specific dollar amount is approved by the Legislature and the aid is then forwarded to school districts by formula. If demand is higher than anticipated (and we'll get to the whys) in a minute, district amounts are pro-rated to make the appropriation fit the formula entitlement amount. If demand is lower than anticipated, the unexpended surplus is sent back to the state general fund.

Over the past few years, the fund has never expended the entire amount of the appropriation approved by the Legislature. This is largely because very few districts still qualify for debt service equalization and the property wealth levels in these districts rose so fast during the run-up in housing and agricultural land values that the levy-to-aid ratio also rose. Remember, equalization programs work on the straightforward principle that awards aid to low property wealth districts through a formula that creates a levy percentage by dividing a district's adjusted net tax capacity per pupil by the state equalizing factor (currently $3,200 per pupil unit).

We are now seeing the opposite happen. Land values--particularly housing values--have dropped dramatically over the past two years and the levy-to-aid ratio is dropping. Because of this, the state appropriation for debt service equalization will not provide enough aid to fully meet the amount that districts will now qualify to receive and those amounts will have to be pro-rated by an equal percentage among all eligible districts. This will, of course, raise property taxes above where they would ordinarily be if the appropriation were sufficient to meet the formula needs of the program. Legislators are aware of this problem and may be in a position to fix it in the remaining days of the 2010 Legislative Session. But, as stated in today's first blog item, given the new parameters of the budget debate and a possible funding gap of $400 million, correcting this relatively small problem may be a tall order.

Mark Up Tomorrow. The House K-12 Education Funding Division will be marking up its version of the omnibus funding bill tomorrow. Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Chair of the House K-12 Education Policy Committee, will be offering a comprehensive amendment dealing with the evaluation of teachers and principles. The text of the amendment is available at this link:

Mariani Amendment: http://http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/comm/docs/H2431A8.pdf

The Senate will also be unveiling its version of the omnibus K-12 funding/policy bill tomorrow. I will provide a summary of the major provisions in that bill in the blog.

Monday, April 26, 2010

House Unveils Omnibus K-12 Funding/Policy Bill. Well, it's not exactly a funding bill, but there are provisions--both in the short- and long-terms--that have implications on funding, so at least in a technical sense, HF 2431 is a funding bill. Even with the paucity of revenue, the House has managed to put together a 120-page bill. I don't want to sound trite, because there are a number of very important provisions in the bill that should prove helpful to school districts throughout the state during these challenging fiscal times.

Here are some of the highlights of the bill:

  1. Sets the aid payment shift at 73%/27%--the same level as implemented by the Governor last July--in statute (Article 5, Section 9).
  2. Sets the property tax recognition shift at 48.1% beginning for FY 2010, the same general vicinity as the level set by the Governor unilaterally after last session (Article 5, Section 8).
  3. Pays back shifts and replenishes budget reserves in the same manner as current law (No change from current law, but there should be a change from current law).
  4. Allows district renewing a capital projects levy at the same tax rate to put the "voting 'Yes' will raise your taxes" language on the ballot (Article 1, Section 4).
  5. Raises equalizing factor for total operating capital levy from $10,700/PU to $10,915/PU for taxes payable in 2011 and to $11, 029/PU for taxes payable in 2012 and later (Article 1, Section 8).
  6. Allows school boards to renew an expiring operating referendum by board approval (Article 1, Section 10). These last two provisions are tied together. By allowing boards to renew operating levies without approval of voters in the school district, the state estimates that levies will be slightly higher as a result of this action then they ordinarily would be. Because the House has a zero levy target, it was forced to buy down these levies somewhere and that was accomplished through an increase in the total operating capital equalizing factor. The amount of the adjustment is approximately $3.8 million.
  7. School districts are encouraged to provide mental health instruction for students in grades 7 through 12 (Article 2, Section 5).
  8. A number of provisions relating to the education and reporting on results of "at-risk and off-track" students in reaching state and locally determined learning benchmarks (Article 2, Sections 9, 10, and 28).
  9. Allows Board of Teaching to develop a alternative teacher preparation program and limited-term teacher license (Article 2, Section 17).
  10. Creates "efficiency plus" task forces to investigate how smaller school districts can cooperate with other school districts and local units of government to deliver services more efficiently (Article 2, Section 18).
  11. Suspends requirement that revenue be reserved for staff development temporarily and allows districts to transfer any balance remaining in the fund on June 30, 2010, into the general fund permanently (Article 2, Section 25).
  12. Creates fiber optic infrastructure grant program with two funds (one in the general fund and one in the bond proceeds fund) to strengthen state's commitment to fiber optic networks (Article 4, Section 3).
  13. General authority for school districts to make fund transfers during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years is created (Article 5, Section 15).
  14. Legislative Coordinating Commission is given authority to undertake activities that are necessary to advise the Legislature and monitor the executive branch on issues related to the Permanent School Fund (Article 6, Section 1).
  15. Article 8 is devoted to the "New Minnesota Miracle" with the same language as last year's bill. Formula amounts are great! Referendum cap is too high. Equalization rates are too low.
In all, this is a really good bill seeing that there's no possible way new money could come into the system this session. A large amount of flexibility for school districts is created with the ability to transfer revenue between funds, including the ability to transfer the unexpended balance remaining in districts' staff development funds at the end of this fiscal year into their respective general funds. Further, the ability of districts to renew existing referendum levies (at the same amount only) by board resolution is a tonic for the times.

There will be a plentitude of scorn likely coming from the Governor's office regarding the bill, however. The bill does not contain much in terms of what the Governor believes to be necessary for Minnesota to seriously compete in Phase 2 of the Federal Race to the Top program. Whether or not that torpedoes the bill remains to be seen, as there are a number of provisions the Governor included in his 2010 education bill, particularly the formalization of the aid payment and property tax early recognition shits.

Stay tuned in for more discussion. The bill will be heard again on Wednesday, April 28, at 10:00 AM in Room 5 of the State Office Building. Could be a fairly long meeting with a lot of amendments and discussion, polite and otherwise.