Monday, April 30, 2012

Legislative Constipation.  Not to work blue, but things are bound up at the Capitol.  It's April 30th, the day legislative leadership had slated for final adjournment, and I'm guessing we'll be here a couple more days.  Legislative leadership met with the Governor earlier this afternoon with the meeting described as "productive," but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

As has been described in the media, there are three big gears--the tax bill, the bonding bill, and the stadium bill--that the Legislature and the Governor are trying to get to mesh in order to accomplish things that each side wants in the waning days of session.  The main question is whether the votes exist to pass either the bonding bill or the stadium bill and we're in a position where each of these bills would need to pass in order for any of them to become law.  In other words, if any of the three doesn't reach the Governor, there would be no global accord.

The tax conference committee finished up its work with the report coming to the floor this afternoon and perhaps being voted upon in the wee, wee hours of the morning or during daylight hours tomorrow.  There are a couple of provisions in the current iteration of the tax bill that will likely make the Governor arch an eyebrow, but the conference committee did take several provision the Governor opposed out of the bill, which may be an indication that the Governor would sign the bill provided the stadium and bonding bills pass.  The statewide business property tax is reduced in the bill, which along with a federally-mandated payback to the federal government brought about by UCare's $30 million donation to the State of Minnesota, reduce the budget reserve by approximately $43 million.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Online Learning Bill Cruises to Passage.  The conference committee on SF 1528 finished last evening passed the Senate by a vote of 51-11 and the House of Representatives by a vote of 129-0.  Given the considerable support (and the lack of anything truly earth-shattering contained in the bill), the Governor is expected to sign the bill.

Teacher Evaluation Conference Committee Passes, Heads for Veto.  The Senate passed the conference committee report on HF 1870 on a vote of 35-28.  The Governor stated his intent to veto the bill a week or so ago, so it's a "dead bill walking."  I failed to report the vote in the House when the bill passed last evening and it came in largely party-line vote, with one DFLer voting for it and one Republican voting against it.
The Rain, the Capitol, and Other Things.  It's a rainy Saturday afternoon and the House and Senate reconvened earlier this afternoon (although they are now in recess).  Things will likely be flying around later this afternoon.  The rotunda is filled with Vikings' fans singing "Skol Vikings! Skol!" about every five minutes.  I don't know if that is going to move things along or not, but this is the first organized pro-stadium rally in a few years.  My only impression is that it would be nice if Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, and John Sullivan would come over to the Capitol and lobby for K-12 funding.  Ah, I'm just jealous.

There have been some education issues floating around.  After not meeting for almost a week, the conference committee on the online learning bill--SF 1528--finished up its work in short order last evening and that report should hit the legislative floors today.  The primary development in that conference committee is that the House receded from its position requiring that every high school student take at least one online course in order to graduate.

In another development, the House passed the conference committee report on HF 1870--the teacher evaluation bill--and the Senate will likely follow suit as early as today.  The Governor has informed everyone that he intends to veto the bill, making the value of passage somewhat questionable.  However, it's important to remember that teacher evaluation will be a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign and both sides want to get as many votes as they can on the bill's proponents and opponents.

PEIP Bill Vetoed.  I neglected to report earlier in the week that the Governor vetoed SF 247, the bill authored by Senator Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) and Representative Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) that would have required that teacher locals would need the approval of the local school board before they could opt to join the Public Employees Insurance Program (PEIP).  The bill was strongly opposed by Education Minnesota.

Here is a link to the veto message:

I'll sign off for now, but I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

School Trust Land Conference Committee Passes House Easily.  There was some question whether or not the conference committee report on HF 2244 would generate the same level of support (104 yes votes) on the House floor as the bill did on its initial pass through the process.  It was mildly surprising that the conference committee report generated even more support, as it passed on a vote of 110-21.  Whether the size of the vote will have an effect on the Governor's actions remains to be seen (and he has vetoed at least one bill this session that had more support in the House) as 110 votes is far greater than the number of votes needed to override a veto and this issue has broad support in the education community.  Just another mystery to be revealed in the last few days of the session,

The conference committee report will now head to the Senate floor, where it is expected to pass either later today or tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

Education Bill Clinker #1:  Not everything in the omnibus education bill is sweetness and light.  Most of the bill is non-controversial in the most non-controversial sense, but there are several provisions that will raise an eyebrow (or two or three).  I'll be writing about a few of these in the days ahead and I'll start with the changes to the principal evaluation provision in the bill that incorporate student performance into the process at a level identical to that found in the teacher evaluation program passed last session.  That level is 35%.

The way I look at it is principals are in charge of every aspect of operations in a school building.  While promotion of learning and achievement are clearly paramount on this list of duties, there is only so much a principal can do about what happens at the level of direct instruction.

Using another in a series of my Gerald Ford Memorial Sports Analogies (I've named this series after the former President, a top-notch college football player and someone not averse to the use of the sports analogy), I'll put it this way.  A principal is like a manager of a baseball team and everyone knows there are games where the manager does everything right.  He uses his players to their optimum value, putting the team in the position to win in the process.  He makes all the  right strategic moves.  But through circumstances beyond his control (sometimes an unlucky bounce), the game may still be lost.

There was compelling testimony in the Senate Education Committee earlier in the session that really showed the predicament and shuffling of priorities that a principal may face during a school year.  This particular principal talked about a situation where the school had experienced a tragedy in the death of several students.  As a result, learning had to take a bit of a back seat for a bit in order to get the culture of the school back on track so that the students could get back to a place where learning was central to the enterprise.  Just another example of circumstances beyond everyone's control having an effect on the learning process, but when in doubt, blame someone.

As I Was Writing. . . The Senate took up the conference committee report on HF 2244.  The discussion was more spirited than the House debate earlier this afternoon and the vote was closer as well.  When the Senate initially passed this bill last month, it was by a vote of 54-8.  Today's vote was 42-20.  There was some concern expressed on the Senate floor that the bill left the Senate was much more sensitive to environmental concerns than the conference committee report and that likely led to the vote erosion.

The bill is now on its way to the Governor and it will be interesting to see if it is signed.  As I reported yesterday, there are some who believe that the Department of Natural Resources is in ardent opposition to the bill (while they expressed concerns during the conference committee proceedings, I wouldn't describe their points as contentious or pointing toward clear and unequivocal opposition) and that they will try to convince the Governor to veto the bill.  Should be interesting (if you find things like this interesting).

As in the case of the staff development bill, if you are so moved, here is the link to contact the Governor with your support or concerns:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gen Tosses a Shut-Out.  In what may be her last bill as a legislator, Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, pushed the conference committee report on HF 2949--the 2012 omnibus education funding/policy bill--through the Senate on a vote of 64-0.  With the overwhelming vote of 119-9 in the House, it's pretty clear that the Governor will sign this bill.

There are some bugs in the bill (there always are bugs in an omnibus bill), but the Governor did have a considerable amount of input and a number of provisions that were promoted by the Governor last session and several fixes that were sought by the Minnesota Department of Education in the wake of the passage of last year's bill are included in HF 2949.  Further, the conference committee did remove a provision or two that the Governor found objectionable.  This should assure signature.

So good work Senator Olson!  You have served the state extremely well throughout your tenure as a tireless advocate for education.

School Trust Land Conference Committee Report Posted.  Below is a link to the conference committee report on HF 2244.  The conference committee finished its work late last week, but there were a couple of items that needed to be clarified before the report could be published.  While this bill passed both the House and Senate floors by wide margins as it headed to conference committee, there is some question whether or not the same level of support will be there as the bill seeks final passage.  The House and Senate bills were considerably different and the final product may run into some objections in each of the legislative bodies as the changes may erode some of the initial support.

I don't follow Twitter a lot, but I did see a Tweet yesterday that reported the Governor having problems with the bill.  I don't know if that is true or not, but we will likely find out in the next few days as passage through the Legislature is virtually assured.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Governor Signs Repeal of Staff Development Allocation Formula.  In a victory for school district administration, the Governor signed HF 2506, the bill that both eliminates the 50%/25%/25% staff development allocation formula and passes a requirement that all students have a on-time course in cardiovascular pulmonary resuscitation and automatic external defibrillator (CPR/AED) training at some point (but only one point) in their grade 7 through 12 tenure.

Note, this does not mean that staff development is being eliminated.  It only eliminates the requirement that 50% of staff development revenue flow directly to sites, with 25% being sent to the district and 25% being reserved for exemplary programs.  This might not seem like much, but as district-wide responsibilities increase in terms of recently-enacted laws like the early grade literacy effort and the teacher evaluation law that will take effect in the 2014-2015 school year and the recently-granted NCLB waiver, more flexibility for school boards will be, like Martha Stewart used to say, "a good thing."

In a year when not much is happening, it's nice to count a few smaller, but significant, victories.
K-12 Conference Committee Report Passes House.  The K-12 conference committee report passed the House on a vote of 119-9 and if there is a similar level of support in the Senate, my guess is the Governor will sign the bill.  The bill will likely be up on the Senate floor later today.

Again, here is the link to the conference committee report on HF 2949:
HF 2949 Conference Committee Report.  Here is the promised link to the conference committee report on HF 2949, the omnibus education finance/policy bill.  It will likely hit the House and Senate floors sometime today and it will be passed.  I have no idea if it will be a straight party-line vote or if a number of DFLers will vote for it.  There isn't a lot here that raises hackles (although there are some provisions that may raise an eyebrow) and the Minnesota Department of Education did weigh in on a number of provisions in an effort to make the bill something the Governor will sign.  We'll just have to see how events unfold.

HF 2244 Conference Committee Report.  I reported last Friday that the conference committee on HF 2244--the school trust lands bill--had reached agreement and that I anticipated that conference committee would be posted over the weekend.  No such luck.  I don't know if this is because there are still outstanding issues or it can be credited to some other reason.  It should be up soon.

SF 2183 Vetoed.  The Governor vetoed, as expected, SF 2183.  SF 2183 (Thompson-R-Lakeville)/HF 2596 (Doepke-R-Orono) would have prevented the Minnesota Department of Education's decisions made through memorandum or bulletin to have the power of law.  There have been a number of bills passed this session attempting to limit the executive branch's ability to "make law" outside of legislative authority and those efforts have been resisted by the executive branch.

This is more than a simple tug-of-war and it's taking place at all levels of government.  It is a discussion that needs to take place as legislative bodies at all levels seem to be experiencing gridlock and issues mount as a result.  The failure of legislative bodies to:  (1) come to any agreement, and (2) provide clear direction to the implementing executive agencies in these agreements, has left a wide swath of area in which executive branch agencies can operate.  Of course, executive branch decisions can be met with derision as they are often unilateral in nature even if input is sought.

While it's unfortunate this bill was vetoed, it should spark a discussion of the proper roles of each branch of government and showcase the need of the Legislature to write clear and concise laws that limit executive branch flexibility in the interpretation and implementation of laws.

Friday, April 20, 2012

And Just Like That!  It only took a little over a day for the conference committee on the omnibus education funding/policy bill (HF 2949) to finish its work.  The framework of the agreement was introduced yesterday, with most of the provisions contained in the framework adopted at yesterday's meeting.  The group finished up its work at a relatively short meeting this morning and the formal conference committee report will be available sometime in the next 12 hours (or so) and I will post it when it becomes available.

Some of the major provisions include:

  • Expansion of PSEO to include 10th grade students.
  • Clarification of language related to the early graduation scholarship program that was passed last session.
  • Extension of two years for students who have not passed the math GRAD test to fulfill their graduation requirements by achieving a passing score on all state and local coursework and credits required for graduation or full participating in two retests of the mathematics GRAD test.
  • Encouragement to enhance opportunities for individualized learning for students.
  • Tightening of some provisions relating to charter schools.
  • Allowance for students to meet a portion of their high school science requirements in a career and technical education course that meets state standards.
  • Requirement that school districts reserve the salary differential between an employee who is deployed in the National Guard (or other reserve unit of the United States Armed Forces) and that person's replacement in an account that would be used to fully pay the salary of the eligible deployed employees.  Funds that remain at the end of the fiscal year can go toward the payment of substitutes and, after that, for any purpose.
  • Clarification of how literacy aid will be calculated to remove issues with how each district organizes their elementary school grade structure.

I'll be providing more later.  There is nothing overly controversial here, although the expansion of PSEO is  consequential.

Trust Lands Conference Committee Likely to Wrap Up This Afternoon.  The conference committee on HF 2244 has been moving more slowly, but will likely wrap up this afternoon.  While the stated goal of HF 2244 is very clear, constructing the machinery to provide greater transparency in the process of management and marketing has proven more complicated.  I will post that report as soon as it becomes available.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Back in Business and Working. The Legislature returned from its spring religious holiday break and has been working diligently since Monday. During the break, the Governor vetoed HF 2083--the bill that would have transferred $415 million from the budget reserve to accelerate the buy-back of the school aids payment shift to 70%/30%--on April 5. Given the numbers in the Legislature, overriding the veto would be a tall order, as the Republicans would have to get 18 DFLers to abandon the Governor in order for a veto override to be successful. That pretty much leaves things as they are.

Just because the veto wasn't overridden doesn't mean it didn't create some noise around the Capitol. It's certainly going to be mentioned in the up-coming campaign and the veto message and the legislative reaction seem to bear that out.

StarTribune Video of Legislative Leadership's Reaction:

Conference Committees Meeting. A number of education-related conference committees are in the midst of their proceedings. Those bills include:

SF 1528--On-line Learning Provisions. Chief authors are Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) and Representative Pam Myhra (R-Burnsville). Other conferees are Senators Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) and LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls) and Representatives Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) and Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona).

HF 2244--School Trust Lands Management Changes. Chief authors are Representative Tim O'Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Senator Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park). Other conferees are Representatives Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River), Dennis McNamara (R-Hastings), Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin Park), and Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) and Senators Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), John Carlson (R-Bemidji), Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), and Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville).

HF 2949--Omnibus Education Policy Bill. Chief authors are Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista). Other conferees are Representatives Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), and Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin Park) and Senators David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls), and Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka).

Headway is being made toward a final agreement between the House and Senate conferees on SF 1528 and HF 2244. Proceedings on HF 2949 will begin tomorrow morning (Thursday, April 19) at 8:00 AM. Depending on how quickly the Legislature wants to wrap things up will determine when these conference committees finish their work. If all were to go smoothly, they could be wrapped up by the end of the week or early next week. The Legislature has identified a tentative end-date of April 30, but it's anyone's guess whether or not that deadline is firm.

Staff Development Allocation Formula Elimination Bill Passed. HF 2506--Representative Jennifer Loon's (R-Eden Prairie) and Senator Carla Nelson's (R-Rochester) bill to eliminate the staff development allocation formula of 50% to sites, 25% to district-wide efforts, and 25% to exemplary site programs--passed the full House today and is on its way to the Governor. The Senate added an amendment requiring school districts to offer CPR training to all students in grades 7 through 12 at least once during their secondary school career.

While the addition of this requirement is a mandate, approximately 70% of school districts in the state are currently offering this training. Further, this is a relatively narrow mandate that is not nearly as burdensome as the mandate that would be removed by the legislation, making it a great trade for Minnesota school districts.

I would urge all of you who want the Governor to sign this bill to contact his office. The contact information can be found on the Governor's web page.

Governor's Office Contact Link:

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Senate Sweeps Two Bills off the Floor. The Senate has just passed its version of the education technical/policy bill off the Senate floor on a vote of 49-13. There are a few helpful provisions in the bill and a few that are a bit on the troublesome side, but overall it's a solid bill. There was one particularly troublesome section of the bill that would have limited bond elections to the November election day (this is not to be confused with the bill that was never heard that would have limited operating referendum elections to the general election date). This section of the legislation was removed thanks to Senator David Brown (R-Becker).

And it was no small matter. Initially, the amendment was ruled out of order because it was asserted that the removal of the provision that limited bond elections to the November election day would lead to property tax increases (possible, but I find the estimates iffy at best) and throw the bill out of balance. Not to be deterred, Senator Brown questioned the ruling of the chair and prevailed on a vote of 37-21 and the amendment was established as being in order. The amendment then passed on a voice vote and the provision was removed from the bill. It likely wasn't easy for Senator Brown to question the ruling of the Senate President, who is of the same political party, but Senator Brown had the amount of political courage to represent his constituency of school districts, many of which continue to grow and have on-going building needs.

I'm sure there are taxpayers who wonder why school districts seeking revenue for building construction and maintenance conduct their elections the way that they do. It has to be noted that there are windows of opportunity for school districts to plan and build and elections often fit into that process so that the timing of the vote and the beginning of the construction project. Limiting elections to once a year would put more pressure on existing facilities--especially in growing school districts--and push projects further into the future, which would drive up costs.

So kudos to Senator Brown for offering the amendment that removed the election limit and having the fortitude to go the extra mile to get the amendment passed. It's important to remember that all bonding projects have to be voted upon, so school districts levies won't be automatically rising because of this action. Senator Brown's action merely gives school districts more flexibility in the conduct of their conversation about facility needs with the voters.

The other bill that passed on the Senate floor was HF 2506, the bill that strikes the current formula for the distribution of staff development revenue. As many of you know, 50% of staff development revenue goes directly to school sites, 25% goes to the district, and 25% goes toward best practices. This is a somewhat archaic provision that really doesn't fit with district needs, given the statewide initiatives that are centered on school districts, especially in terms of achievement and teacher evaluation. School boards and district administrations need optimal flexibility in dealing with these challenges and tying up half of the staff development revenue at the site level prevents the kind of cohesive approach that is absolutely necessary.

The requirement that students receive a half hour of CPR training during their high school years has been attached to the bill. While this does constitute a new mandate, it certainly pales in comparison to the mandate that the bill repeals, but I'll let the reader decide if it's a fair trade or not.

HF 2506 passed on a vote of 56-6, which is a somewhat surprisingly high total. The bill will now head back to the House, where I would expect Representative Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), the House chief author, to accept the Senate amendment. That would send the bill to the Governor. I will inform you of what happens next. The Governor needs to hear from interested parties how important allowing districts greater control over the development and implementation of staff development programs is, so if and when this bill hits the Governor's desk it will be extremely important for districts to make their voices heard.

Again, I cannot stress enough how statewide initiatives like teacher evaluation, the new literacy requirements, and the NCLB waiver require cohesive, district-wide staff development strategies. The passage of HF 2506 and the Governor's signature on it would be of great assistance to school districts in successfully developing and implementing staff development programs that aggressively meet these new challenges.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

As Promised. Here are the Senate conferees to HF 2244, the bill that creates a new legislative-citizen commission to manage the school trust lands located throughout Minnesota. As reported yesterday, the lead Senate conferee is the Senate companion bill chief author Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park). Joining Senator Kruse are Senators Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), John Carlson (R-Bemidji), Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), and Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville). Conference committee meetings are likely to begin after the Legislature returns from its break on Monday, April 16.

Governor to Veto School Aids Payment Shift Bill. As expected, the Governor Dayton has announced that he will veto HF 2083. As most of you know, HF 2083 would have reduced the state budget reserve by approximately $430 million and use that revenue to set the school aids payment shift at 70%/30%. After the February budget forecast, the aids payment shift percentages are approximately 64%/36%.

Here is a link to the story regarding the Governor's decision to veto the bill. The story also includes a copy of a letter sent by Senator Dave Senjem (the Senate Majority Leader) to Governor Dayton outlining the Legislature's rationale for passing the bill and urging the Governor to sign the bill.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Trust Land Bill Heading to Conference Committee. I missed reporting this last week, but HF 2244, the bill that would create a legislative-citizen commission to manage the school trust lands, passed the Senate floor on a vote of 54-8. Because there are differences in the bill, House author Representative Tim O'Driscoll (R-Sartell) chose not to accept the Senate amendments and moved to create a conference committee to negotiate a single bill. Joining Representative O'Driscoll as House conferees are: Representative Carolyn McElftraick (R-Deer River), Representative Dennis McNamara (R-Hastings), Representative Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin), and Representative Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park). The Senate conferees are led Senate chief author of HF 2244 Senator Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park). The other conferees were named today, but have not been posted on-line.
Teacher Evaluation Conference Committee Completes Its Work. I neglected to mention in yesterday's blog entry that the conference committee on HF 1870--the teacher evaluation bill--finished its work yesterday afternoon after a short meeting. The report should be available on-line shortly and I will post a link when it is reported to the House floor. I am unaware of what the timeline for passage will be, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were passed today (Tuesday) or tomorrow. No idea at this point what the Governor will do. The view from the cheap seats which I usually inhabit is that the Governor will likely veto the bill (but this is only my opinion) because it doesn't appear he has provided much input into this particular piece of legislation. Of course, his office did provide ample input into last year's bill and the additional push this year is viewed by some as a political ploy to inject the teacher evaluation issue into the 2012 legislative campaign, especially given the fact that implementation of the new teacher evaluation system and elimination of "last in/first out" is a few years away.

As promised, here is the conference committee report:

People ask me what I think of the teacher evaluation piece and I agree that there has to be a way to either get under-performing (or vocationally-mismatched) teachers either up to speed or out of the classroom, but the reliance on standardized test scores as part of that calculus continues to trouble me.

As many of you know, I'm a real baseball fan and I lean toward the traditionalist side of analyzing the game as opposed to the relatively recent movement toward heavy statistical analysis to gauge player performance. It's not that I don't value statistics (including some of the measures that use multiple regression analysis and have acronyms that make following baseball seem like a study of New Deal history), it's just that there is often a "space between" statistics that contain more than a kernel of truth and often "push" the statistical measures.

Taking the baseball analogy one step further, sometimes you see a player whose statistics aren't all that great, but that player often does the little things that make the players around him better. They are reliable. They don't screw up. They make the plays they are supposed to make. They'll never win a batting title or hit a 500-foot home run. But they show up. And by "showing up," I don't mean they simply occupy space. These are players that do the dirty work and I worry that if we start to gauge these players (teachers in this analogy) simply on what their batting average is, we'll be heading in the wrong direction.

Aren't you glad you asked?

Welcome Back Blois. Blois Olson's Morning Take is back up after brief hiatus. For those of you who don't subscribe to Blois' morning news update blog, you are really missing the boat. Great national and local political news. Olson puts a ton of work into this blog and it's a real plus for those of us who follow Minnesota government and politics.

Here's the link. I highly recommend subscribing and getting your day off to an infomationally nutritious breakfast.

Monday, April 02, 2012

High-Flying Monday. Education bills flying here, there, and everywhere today, as the House and Senate both passed the conference committee report on HF 2083, the bill that would use $416 million of the budget reserve to set the education aids payment shift at 70%/30%. That would be a positive adjustment for school districts of approximately six percentage points from where the education aids payment shift was set as a result of the projected revenue increase in the February budget forecast. The bill passed the House on a vote of 75-56, with three DFLers joining all the Republicans to pass the bill. The vote in the Senate was a straight party-line vote of 35-28.

The House also passed its version of the omnibus education policy/technical provisions bill--HF 2949--on a vote of 78-54, as six DFLers crossed party lines to join the Republican majority in passing the bill. HF 2949 is a much thinner omnibus education policy bill than is traditionally passed, consisting of only 20 sections, most of which are technical in nature. There are a couple of troublesome sections, most notably the one that would reduce aid attributable to students who graduate early from school district budgets. While larger districts may (and let me stress may) be able to absorb this revenue reduction, it will cause a crimp in small districts. Changes to the PSEO program to allow 10th graders to participate and the establishment of a task force to make recommendations to better integrate career and technical education programs into the high school are also part of the bill.

The Senate passed its version of the education policy/technical provisions bill--SF 2482--out of the Senate Finance Committee this morning. The bill contains many of the same provisions as HF 2949, but also contains the text of SF 2201, Senator Gen Olson's (R-Minnetrista) bill that would promote and strengthen individualized education programs.

With SF 2482 now on the Senate floor, it will meet up with HF 2949. At that point, the Senate bill language will be inserted into the HF jacket. In other words, it's the Senate "candy bar" in the House "wrapper." The Senate will pass its version (including any amendments that may be added on the Senate floor) and send it back to the House, where the House chief author will move to accept or reject the Senate version of the bill. If rejected, the bill will go to conference committee. If accepted, the bill receives its final vote and is forwarded to the Governor for signature or veto. If there is a time crunch, the Senate and House authors sometimes agree to the content of the bill prior to the bill being returned to its house of origin, negating the need for a conference committee but having an agreement.

Governor Signs Prone Restraint Extension. Governor Dayton signed the bill allowing an extension of the use of prone restraint in special educational settings in emergency circumstances today. The bill passed both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly (65-0 on original passage, 61-0 on repassage) in the Senate and 116-16 in the House.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

We're Going to Be Coming Back. For awhile over the past few weeks, it looked the Legislature was going to be working on a sequel to the Fast & Furious movie franchise entitled Fast & Furious: St. Paul Drift and finish up the 2012 Legislative Session by the Easter/Passover break, but it was not to be. A number of factors look to be contributing to extending the workload beyond the Easter/Passover break, which runs from Friday, April 6, until Friday, April 13. If the Legislature returns, the next target for an end-date is April 30.

Foremost among these factors is the status of the bonding bill, which has yet to hit the flo

or of either legislative body. As it stands now, the Senate's bonding bill is comprised of $496 million in state projects, while the level of bonding in the House bill is at $280 million. Negotiating a bonding bill is always a complex operation, and when the divide is this significant, the magnitude of complexity is redoubled. Hopefully, the bills will pass in their respective bodies before the break and negotiations to construct a single proposal that will garner the necessary votes for passage in both bodies (60% of members and not a simple majority) will begin when the Legislature returns after the Spring religious holidays.
The levels of spending in the bonding bill are relatively low--especially in the House proposal--but it is important to remember that a $500 million bonding bill was passed as part of the agreement between the Legislature and the Governor that brought the end to the government shutdown last year.

Bonding Bill Analysis from MinnPost:

The bonding bill was not the only reason why progress toward a quick ending to the 2012 Legislative Session stalled. The Racino bill--dead about a week ago--was revived as an amendment to a technical bill relating to the total operating capital levy that passed on the House floor last session--HF 873--and passed the Senate Finance Committee. It was a long hearing, as opponents of gambling expansion offered multiple amendments aimed at limiting the operations of the proposed Racino. In the end, most
of those amendments were unsuccessful (and those that were successful weren't that significant) and the bill was recommended to pass and sent to the Senate floor, where it will likely be discussed after the Legislature returns from its break.

The fact that the legislation to which Racino was attached is a House File, if it passes the Senate successfully, it will not have to be returned to a House Committe, but would instead go directly to the House floor, where the House author (Representative Pat Garofalo-R-Farmington) will either move to accept the amendment or refuse to concur with the amendment and send the bill to a conference committee. I have no idea what Representative Garofalo is thinking about doing, because the bill would have to pass on the Senate floor first, and the odds on that (hey, it is a gambling bill so it has to have odds) are anyone's guess at this point. Representative Garofalo is not listed as a co-author on any of the Racino bills, which muddies the waters even more.

But, and I can't stress this enough, the Racino bill still has tough sledding ahead, seeing that it was defeated in the State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee on March 20. The Senate author of the Racino legislation is Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem (R-Rochester). He may want to talk with his fellow Rochester State Senator Carla Nelson, who is the chief author of SF 2059, a bill that would require students to receive training in CPR and th
e use of defibrillators. My guess is this bill is going to need resuscitation at several junctures between now and the end of session.

Elimination of Staff Development Allocation Formula Passes on House Floor. A policy that has stuck in the craw of many over the past twenty years is the requirement that staff development revenue be allocated by the following formula: 50% directly to sites for site-determined staff development efforts, 25% to the district for district-wide staff development programs, and 25% to best practices programs. HF 2506 (Loon-R-Eden Prairie) passed the House floor on a vote of 78-51, with five DFLers supporting the measure. HF 2506 met up with its companion bill, SF 2059 (Nelson-R-Rochester), on the Senate floor and has been substituted (in other words, we are working off the Senate language with the H
ouse's label). It's anyone guess when it will come up on the Senate floor and whether the Governor will sign it if it gets to him.

I would hope that the Governor gives serious consideration to signing the bill even though the bill has limited bipartisan support. This is a good bill and necessary as the state moves forward with the implementation of the recently-granted Federal waiver from No Child Left Behind. In order to successfully implement the policies changes outlined in the waiver, districts are going to need to have greater control over how staff development revenue is allocated within the district. Currently, the 50% allocation of staff development revenue directly to sites puts each site in control of staff development dollars, which may or may not contribute to a cohesive district-wide staff development program.

Added to the waiver, legislation passed last session relating to teacher evaluation and elementary school literacy efforts require the development of district-wide plans. As in the case of the waiver, sending half of the staff development revenue to sites erodes a district's ability to create plans that will be applied across the district. Here's to hoping that HF 2506 will merit Senate approval in the days ahead and earn the Governor's signature.

Prone Restraint Extension Passes. After passing the House on a vote of 116-16, the
Senate accepted the House amendments to SF 1917 and re-passed the bill by a vote 0f 61-0 on Thursday, March 29. This issue will re-surface again next session, as the bill stipulates that prone restraint can continue to be used in emergency situations until August 1, 2013. There are segments of the special education and mental health advocacy communities that want to see the use of prone restraint totally eliminated, making discussions to reach an accord to extend prone restraint's use absolutely necessary. Hopefully, if an agreement is reached, it will include policy provisions that provide the advocacy community with the assurances necessary that use of prone restraint can be reduced to a smaller number of instances, but not eliminated, as it may be necessary in some instances with a targeted number of students (and patients). This would prevent the Legislature from having to extend the sunset date year-after-year.

Having a Little Fun. One of the interesting angles during this session has been the waiver from No Child Left Behind that was granted to Minnesota and the discussion it has generated. But what has really been interesting is how the waiver has been used as it relates to the discussion of various legislative proposals, especially those proposals that pertain to student achievement and the evaluation of school sites. I am exaggerating, but it seems like every time a legislative proposal comes anywhere near the policies advocated in the waiver, it's like watching an episode of "You Bet Your Life," with Groucho Marx. As some was you may recall, whenever the secret word was uttered on the show, a puppet-bird would descend from the ceiling with a placard reading the secret word and the contestant who uttered the secret word won an additional $50. Some legislative hearings are reminiscent of that sans the $50 prize. The Legislature can't do this . . . because of the waiver. The waiver is going to solve ________. The waiver is going to cost this or save that. The waiver is undemocratic because it leaves the Legislature out of its design and implementation. The waiver is just about anything you want it to be and it's good or bad depending on your vantage point.

We'll be hearing more about the wavier at our April 13 meeting and I'm looking forward to the Minnesota Department of Education's presentation. For my part, I believe the waiver (cue the descending duck) is going to be beneficial to the state's educational environment, but how the details of the plan will mesh together remain somewhat of a mystery to me.