Tuesday, January 31, 2012

PEIP, PEIP. Nope, not a bunch of baby chicks running around the farmyard. Just notice that the House Education Finance Committee heard SF 247 today and passed it on to the House floor. SF 247 (Dahms-R-Redwood Falls)/HF 371 (Hoppe-R-Chaska) regulates movement to the Public Employees Insurance Plan (PEIP) from other plans by employees of local units of government, including school districts. As many of you recall, in the wake of Governor Pawlenty's last veto of Education Minnesota's statewide health insurance pool legislation, a number of teacher locals decided to move their insurance coverage to PEIP from their previous coverage. These unilateral moves by teacher locals caught a number of school districts by surprise, as the move to PEIP sometimes had higher premium costs and changes in coverage for district employees.

To bring greater order to proposed moves by employee locals to PEIP, Senator Dahms and Representative Hoppe introduced their legislation and future moves to PEIP will require both the approval of the employee local and the school board. There is also a provision in the bill that requires service cooperatives to inform affected employee locals before refunding any premium payments to a school board.

The House Education Reform Committee heard Representative Branden Petersen's (R-Andover) HF 1870, a bill that would allow school districts to base leave of absence and discharge of teachers on the results of the teacher evaluation process passed in concept last year whose details are currently being developed by a task force comprised of education stakeholders. Obviously, this bill generated a lot of discussion this morning and the bill was laid over without final action.

The remainder of the week is going to be quite light, as the Legislature is breaking for precinct caucuses (to be held on Tuesday, February 7) on Thursday afternoon and returning next Wednesday. I'll still be writing (as there's a ton to cover even if the Legislature's not meeting), so stay tuned.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I Walk the Online. If Johnny Cash were still alive and recording, my guess he'd rename one of his greatest hits to reflect the reality of the modern era. Online life is certainly growing as part of the human experience and online learning is getting a toehold on the provision of educational services to students throughout the world.

Given this backdrop, there was ample interest in SF 1528 (Nelson-R-Rochester), a bill that would regulate, and hopefully expand online learning opportunities in Minnesota. In its initial form, the bill would have removed the requirement that a licensed teacher be physically present in the classroom to which the online material is delivered. This provision, along with several others, was dropped by a "strike-everything" amendment that calls for an extension of The Online Learning Advisory Council for another year and mandates that the group report back to the Legislature in January, 2013. Further, the Council is to catalog "all digital learning content currently aligned to Minnesota academic standards. . ."

The amendment also establishes that in a district that is a full-time online learning provider, the number of students that a teacher may instruct in any one online learning course is a "matter of inherent managerial policy."

The legislation's proponents included a number of luminaries, including educators who have worked with the Florida virtual school, and individual who has worked with Clayton Christensen's on the subject of "disruptive innovation," and Mitch Pearlstein, the Executive Director of the Center for the American Experiment.

After the testimony from the proponents, the bill, as amended, was laid over for further discussion tomorrow.

Senate Rejects Ellen Anderson Appointment. One reason the Education Committee ran out of time today was due to its late start and the reason for the late start was the Senate floor session ran overtime. As in the case of the federal government, most executive branch appointments are subject to the Senate's approval and the Senate took up four of Governor Dayton's high-ranking appointments today. Three of the four appointments garnered Senate approval, but former State Senator and current (until today) Chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Ellen Anderson was rejected on a party-line vote of 37-29.

It's always a bit of a surprise when a gubernatorial appointment is rejected, but there has been some conjecture that the Senate would seek out several appointments to reject. Some are attributing this to a desire for revenge in view of the fact that the Democrats rejected the appointments of Lieutenant Governor Carol Molnau as Commissioner of Transportation and Cheri Pierson Yecke as Commissioner of Education during the Pawlenty Administration. Whatever the case, Governor Dayton was none too happy with the Senate's actions and said so during a post-session press conference.

Here's the story from the StarTrib's blog: http://www.startribune.com/politics/blogs/138357554.html

Fiscal Disparities Discussion to Heat Up. The metropolitan property tax base sharing framework known as the Fiscal Disparities Program has long been a subject of interest, as it is the nation's only program of its type. It has also garnered its share of brickbats from communities who view the program as unfair.

Under the program, an increment of each metropolitan community's commercial and industrial property value annual growth goes into a pool that is distributed. Those communities who have experienced the most growth transfer part of their increased value to communities that have experienced less growth (or property value loss).

You can guess, given the levels of property wealth along with transportation patterns and infrastructure levels that exist in the metropolitan area, who is complaining. The richer communities in southern and western Hennepin County have traditionally had higher rates of commercial and industrial property and, as a result, have exported some of this value growth to outer-ring suburbs, especially those in Anoka County.

With this in mind, the Legislature commissioned a study of the Fiscal Disparities Program, which was enacted side-by-side with the Minnesota Miracle in the early 1970s. That study will be released this week with legislative hearings taking place in mid-February. I will post the study when it becomes available, but for now, you'll have to be satisfied with this story from the StarTribune.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Things Get a Bit Spicy Today. Both the House education-related hearings featured some rhetorical wrangling and a lot of spirited discussion. It started out this morning in the Education Reform Committee with Representative Andrea Kieffer's (R-Woodbury) HF 1770, the companion to Senator Ted Daley's (R-Eagan) SF 1493. This bill would require that college students wanting to be teachers would have to pass a basic skills test before they could be admitted to an accredited teacher preparation program.

The sticking point in the discussion came when an amendment was offered by Representative Kory Kath (DFL-Owatonna). Representative Kath's amendment proposed to give the higher education institution attended by the student the leeway to determine when the test would be administered and only require that teaching candidates pass the basic skills test before they graduated from the teaching preparation program. Both sides went at it and made good points. It's not like the basic skills test is rocket science, but at the same time, a number of colleges require teaching candidates to declare their intention to enter the teaching preparation program during their sophomore year, which is earlier than when a number of candidates take a college math course. Ultimately, the amendment passed by one vote, which didn't please a number of the majority members of the committee. What happens from this point both with the bill and this particular amendment remains to be seen, but my guess is we'll see more debate on this point as we move forward.

The afternoon hearing centered on the early childhood scholarship program. The committee heard HF 1828 authored by Representative Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), which would require that 50% of the revenue dedicated to the early childhood scholarship program be dedicated to programs outside the seven-county metropolitan area. One of the problems with the program from the Legislature's perspective is that rural programs get shortchanged. The bill was laid over for possible exclusion in the omnibus education funding bill.

The remainder of the committee time was dedicated to a presentation by the Minnesota Department of Education regarding its vision for the early childhood scholarship program and the early childhood education in general. Dr. Karen Cadigan, director of the Early Learning Center at the department provided the bulk of the Department's testimony.

In many ways, the discussion was a holdover from the close of last session. A number of legislators object to the quality rating system, a provision that was part of the original early childhood bill last session, but eliminated by amendment on the House floor. The quality rating system was implemented unilaterally by the Governor after the special session concluded last summer over the objections of legislators. One can only conjecture as to why so many object to the quality rating system, but it appears that most of the objections arise from an assertion that it discriminates against small family daycare providers and providers aligned with religious institutions.

So, as in the case of last year, the policy territory is being staked out and the differences are as vast as they were last session. The primary comfort this year is that nothing has to pass. It would be nice if a number of things did pass, but budget questions aren't hanging over the Legislature's head this session, which makes things much easier to accept.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Hearings Today. The Legislature took the day off, taking a field trip over to the University of Minnesota to attend their annual joint conference, but that doesn't mean it was necessarily a slow news day. The Wilfs met with the Governor to discuss the proposal to build a new Vikings' stadium on the Metrodome site. There was a call for increased inspection of slot machines and blackjack games at Minnesota's native American casinos. And Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann announced that she will be seeking another term. Not that any of this has much to do with the education debate taking place in Minnesota, but it does show that the pace will be heady throughout the session.

If you were to back me into a corner and make me guess when the session will be over, I would say by Easter, which falls in the first week of April this year. Much will depend on the February budget forecast, but if projections stay within the normal range, there will be little appetite to do anything much with "found" money except perhaps provide some property tax relief. Further, the new legislative district maps will be released on February 21 and a number of legislators will probably want to scope out their new district boundaries as soon as they are announced. So, at least in my estimation, there will be an up-or-down vote on a stadium proposal, some wrangling over policy that will likely result in some high-profile vetoes, and a mass exit in early April.

As Colin Quinn used to say when he hosted Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

Mindy Greiling Not Seeking Re-election. It was a bit of a surprise when Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) announced that she won't be seeking re-election this November. Representative Greiling chaired the House Education Funding Division for four years and was truly an education leader. Her insight and energy on education issues will be missed.

Greiling is the second prominent education leader in the Legislature to announce their intention not to seek re-election. Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), the current chair of the Senate Education Committee, announced last year that she will not be seeking another term. With the loss of these two legislators, Minnesota's education community will be missing two very strong voices.

Congratulations! I wanted to get this in the blog while it was still fresh news. Congratulations to Kala Henkensiefken, the transportation director for Brainerd Area Schools, for being named the Minnesota Association for Pupil Transportation's Director of the Year. Kala does a tremendous job for the Brainerd district and is also a leader in the school transportation industry, chairing MAPT's special education transportation committee and helping organize the annual Train the Trainer workshop. She is certainly deserving of this award.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

We're Rolling. Spirited discussion was the order of the day in several venues at the State Capitol as the 2012 Leigslative Session got underway. Perhaps the most spirited discussion took place in the Senate Rules Committee, where the 5% cut to the Senate operating budget (as agreed upon in last year's budget deal) was enacted. Under the plan, all of the approximately $440,000 in cuts would come out of the DFL caucus staff. Needless to say, the spirit of bipartisanship wasn't in evidence during the hearing.

Education Hearings. Both education-related hearings had their share of interesting discussion as well. The House Education Funding Committee heard Representative Kelby Woodard's (R-Belle Plaine) HF 1860, a bill that would require that the levy portion of a resident student's general education revenue accompany the student to a charter school, provided the charter school was located in the resident school district.

I testified against the bill for a couple of reasons. First, so many SEE school districts fall well below the state average in per pupil revenue and because of this, they seek additional revenue through voter-approved referenda. Diverting even a small amount of revenue from cash-strapped districts would be extremely damaging and HF 1860 would divert revenue. The second reason I testified against the bill is that changes like the one proposed should be discussed within a broader range of reforms and not as an isolated proposal. Charter schools may need more revenue, but so do traditional schools and simply moving revenue around between the two systems doesn't serve the whole education system effectively. The bill was laid on the table for possible inclusion in the 2012 omnibus bill.

The Senate Education Committee dealt with Senator Ted Daley's (R-Eagan) SF 1493, a bill that would require that prospective teachers pass a set of basic skills tests before they could enroll in a teacher preparation program. This bill passed the Senate last session, but amendments added to the bill in the House triggered a gubernatorial veto. The discussion centered around the issue of teacher quality versus the goal of recruiting a broad range of teaching candidates to instruct children. The bill was, as in the case of the House bill in the House committee, laid on the table for possible inclusion in the omnibus education bill.

The entire Legislature will be attending a conference tomorrow, but they will be back at it Thursday. Don't worry, I'll find something to write about tomorrow.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On Your Mark. Get Set. BLOG!!!! Here we sit on Session Eve awaiting the start of the 2012 Legislative Session. The session officially gets underway at noon tomorrow with organizing sessions in both Houses. A light slate of committee meetings is also in the offing, including hearings in the House Education Funding Committee and the Senate Education Committee.

The House Education Committee will be considering Representative Woodard's (R-Belle Plaine) HF 1860 (Link: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H1860.0.html&session=ls87), a bill that would mandate that charter schools receive the referendum revenue attributable to a student in a school district who attends a charter school located in the same school district. I have yet to see the data runs to determine how many districts and charter schools this would affect and the effect would certainly vary widely throughout the state. Obviously, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Anoka-Hennepin districts would see a considerable reduction in their revenue due to their size, but undoubtedly a number of small to mid-size districts could also see crippling reductions.

The challenge for affected SEE districts is that due to the failure of the current array of categorical formulas to generate considerable revenue (all but six SEE school districts have general education revenue per pupil below the state average). Because this is the case, SEE districts often have to pass referenda to make up for the lack of funding generated through categorical formulas. This would make the "leakage" of any revenue difficult to swallow.

The Senate Education Committee will be discussing SF 1493 (Link:https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S1493.0.html&session=ls87), a bill authored by Senator Daley (R-Eagan) that would require prospective teachers to pass a basic skills test in reading, writing, and mathematics before they could enter a college of education in pursuit of a teaching license.

Nothing like getting the session off to a quiet, non-controversial start.

Interesting Article in the Sunday New York Times. This past Sunday's New York Times included it's quarterly "Education Life" section and, as usual, it contained a number of interesting a thought-provoking articles. The article I found most interesting was one penned by former Harvard President and Presidential economic adviser Lawrence Summers. Summers' article, entitled "What You (Really) Need to Know" contained a number of observations of how the pursuit of knowledge has changed and how the skills of collaboration and data analysis have become increasingly important in today's economy.

I don't know if this link will work successfully as a registration (and perhaps a subscription) is required to view articles, but here's hoping it works, as it's a very well-written and pertinent article.