Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Eagle has Taken Off.  I was tempted to write "the Eagle has landed" in respect to SF 177 (Skoe-DFL-Clearbrook), but it's too early in the session to say that something has been accomplished and we've got a long, long, loooooooong way to go this session.  Still, it is extremely heartening to see a major equalization improvement bill introduced this early in the session and to be introduced by the Chair of the Senate Tax Committee.  The bill is very straightforward.  It doubles the first-tier equalizing factor for the referendum levy and the first-tier equalizing factor for the debt service revenue program.  In my conversations with Senator Skoe, it's his contention that property values statewide have doubled over the past 20+ years and the equalizing factors set then (and which haven't truly been adjusted) should also be doubled.  We'll see where things go from here.  The bill is slated to start in the Senate E-12 Division, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the bill migrate over to the Tax Committee, where it will be balanced with other tax initiatives.  The bill has not been introduced in the House as of yet, but the companion bill should probably hit the House introductions in the next couple of weeks.

SF 177:

Equalization Hits the House as Well.  It is not the companion to Senator Skoe's SF 177, but Representative Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines) introduced HF 248 today.  HF 248 is the same bill Senator Runbeck introduced in 2011.  Instead of setting the equalizing factor as a constant, as SF 177 does, HF 248  sets the equalizing factor for the debt service and referendum revenue programs as a percentage of the state average adjusted net tax capacity and referendum market value amounts and then indexes the equalizing factors to rise (or perhaps fall) as the state average values rise (or perhaps fall).  The indexed equalizing factor is something that truly needs to be discussed as the future of the equalization program is discussed and I certainly want to thank Representative Runbeck for introducing her bill.

HF 248:

Busy Day in the Hearing Rooms.  The Senate E-12 Division heard two bills calling for the establishment of voluntary All-Day kindergarten by raising the pupil weighting for kindergarten to 1.115 (the same weighting as that for first, second, and third grade students).  SF 2 is authored by Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) and SF 162 is authored by Senator Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury).  The bills are almost identical.  The only difference is that Senator Kent's bill contains a provision that would allow school districts to use any revenue remaining after a school district had satisfied the district's commitment to All-Day Kindergarten for pre-school programs.  Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) offered an amendment that was passed that clarified the additional language in Senator Kent's version of the bill.

The Senate Education Policy Committee took testimony from education lobbying groups (including SEE) in respect to their policy goals for the upcoming session.  It was an interesting session with a fair amount of repetition from lobbying groups.  Most everyone is looking for clarity in legislative goals and financial support from the Legislature to implement goals the Legislature deems necessary to elevate educational performance throughout the state.

The House Education Policy Committee took testimony on Children's Mental Health and what schools can do to provide a broader range of services to students with mental health issues.  For a variety of reasons, the importance of this issue has been elevated and there is a recognized need to provide school districts with better tools to support students with mental health needs.  Thanks to Representative Mariani holding this important hearing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Two Relatively Quiet Days.  There haven't been a lot of hearings the past couple of days, but the key hearings that have been held have been extremely interesting.  On Tuesday afternoon, the House Property Tax Subcommittee, chaired by Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis), discussed the Governor's property tax refund proposal and it was a spirited meeting.  Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans and the Department's Director of Property Tax Research Eric Willette described the proposal in detail, including the proposed Local Government Aid changes and the $500 per homeowner property tax refund.  As I've written before, the $500 per homeowner property tax refund doesn't really accomplish anything when it comes to moving property tax reform forward and that theme was picked up by a number of the Republican legislators serving on the committee.  The repartee was polite, but there were still a number of pointed questions that sought to get at the heart of the reasoning behind the proposal.  I don't think there's an ulterior motive behind the proposal and I am sure there is going to a lot of discussion going forward.  We'll just have to see how it turns out.

Dr. Tom Melcher from the Minnesota Department of Education and Mary Cecconi of Parent United for Public Schools presented the recommendations of the Governor's Education Finance Working Group and the provisions from those recommendations that made it into the Governor's budget proposal.  As in the case of the Governor's property tax proposal, the fact that the equalization increases contained in the Working Group recommendations didn't survive beyond that discussion is very disappointing the me (and I'm sure to all SEE members), but this won't be the end of the story.  Senator Rod Skoe's (DFL-Clearbrook) increased equalization bill is expected to be introduced tomorrow and as Chair of the Senate Tax Committee, there is little doubt the proposal will receive a fair amount of attention.  I will provide a link to the bill when it is introduced.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Bill Intros for Monday.  Nine bills in the realm of education policy and funding were introduced on Monday, January 28.  Among the highlights are:

House Files (Senate Companion Where Noted)

HF 187 (Hortman-DFL-Brooklyn Park) Establishing a Residential Science, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) school.  Link:
HF 192 (Drazkowski-R-Mazeppa) Requiring every school district have a bullying prevention policy.  This is likely the Republican alternative to a bill that will be introduced later that reflects the work of the task force that met over the interim developing bullying prevention policy.  Link:
HF 198 (Mariani-DFL-St. Paul)/SF 160 (Wiger-DFL-Maplewood) Raises compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18.  This has been discussed in previous years and there would be a cost associated with its implementation.  Link:

Senate Files

SF 139 (J. Pederson-R-St. Cloud) Replaces 11th grade GRAD test with an end-of-course examination.  Likely the first volley on this issue.  Link:
SF 149 (Brown-R-Becker) Constitutional amendment that would require the state pay school districts at least 90% of their aid in the current fiscal year.  In other words, a constitutional prohibition to using the funding shift if approved by Minnesota voters.  Link:
SF 162 (Kent-DFL-Woodbury)  Provides for voluntary All-Day Kindergarten in a similar fashion as SF 2 (Clausen-DFL-Apple Valley) except that SF 162 gives districts greater flexibility by allowing districts to use money not used on All-Day Kindergarten for Pre-school and Pre-K programs.  Link:

It is likely that the increased equalization bill that Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), chair of the Senate Tax Committee, will be introduced on Thursday.  I will certainly let you know when that is the case.

Interesting and Rewarding Visit.  It was a quiet day at the Legislature, so I had the time to visit SEE member St. Francis and see how they are incorporating technology into their elementary school classrooms.  Needless to say, I was extremely impressed with how the district from top-to-bottom--administration, school board, teachers, and students--have embraced technology and are working it into the delivery of instruction every day.  I saw kindergartners, 2nd graders, and 5th graders using Ipads with great effectiveness across the curriculum.  I also got to see a teacher working to develop a three-dimensional presentation for her 4th grade class.

It's not just in the area of curriculum delivery that technology shows great promise.  The math instructional program used by 5th graders kept a running score on problems tackled by the students and stores the results.  This gives students, teachers, and parents an on-going record of both student successes and problem areas that need greater work to assure mastery.  Further, it frees the teacher from having to spend countless hours correcting worksheets.  There are still worksheets and there are class-wide activities, but teachers are "freer" to teach.  Just an interesting and rewarding day.

My thanks go out to Superintendent Ed Saxton, Second grade teacher Stephanie Schollman at St. Francis Elementary School, Kindergarten teacher Amy Worden and Fifth Grade teacher Lillian DeRung at East Bethel Community School, Fourth Grade teacher Holli Hillman and building technology supervisor Mel Eliason at Cedar Creek Community School, and District-wide technology supervisor Corey Tramm.  It was a great trip and I would urge anyone interested in incorporating technology into their classrooms to take a long look at what is going on in St. Francis.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Busy Day of Testimony. I had my first opportunity to testify this morning in the Senate E-12 Division.  Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood). Chair of the Division, called on all the major education lobbying groups to outline their goals for the 2013 session.  It's always refreshing to have the opportunity, brief as it may sometimes be, to speak freely about the problems facing low property wealth districts and what can be done to alleviate those concerns.  Our platform (found at the following link: is very straightforward this year.  We are seeking both greater adequacy to stem the increasing reliance on the referendum levy and greater property tax equity when the referendum is employed.  After providing a streamlined description of our platform (both the basic platform and the policy addendum), I commented on my disappointment with the failure of the Governor to include the re-establishment of the general education levy or increased equalization of the referendum and debt service programs.  We'll have to see what happens as the session unfolds and I believe there is an opportunity to achieve the goal of greater equalization. Much will depend on if the economic situation continues to improve and reduces the projected budget shortfall of approximately $1 billion that is staring Minnesota in the face.  Improved economic performance combined with some level of tax increase (and there will be a tax increase of some type) may put enough money on the table to do something in the area of equalization.  At least that is my hope.

Ooops.  I neglected to mention that parents from the Chisago Lakes School District were part of the group visiting the Capitol yesterday.  Please accept my apologies.  The entire organization thanks your participation and I'm sure the efforts of our parents will have a positive effect on our efforts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Day Didn't Make a Difference.  I've always been told, "What a difference a day makes" and that adage is usually true for me, but I have to admit--and I know I am speaking for a lot of SEE members as well--I am still disappointed by the lack of true property tax reform in the Governor's budget, either in the education recommendations or the property tax recommendations.  It's still extremely early in the process, but it would have been good to have at least some measure of recognition of the work done by the Education Finance Reform Working Group and the work done by the Minnesota Department of Revenue the past two years.  There is a lot of money proposed to be on the table through the income tax increase for high income earners and the broadening of the sales tax base and while the centerpiece of the property tax initiatives is the rebate program, there may be an opportunity to divert some of the revenue (provided the tax increases are passed and the revenue for property tax relief programs is generated) toward equalization programs.

There will be bills introduced that will increase the equalization factors to account for the value of the formulas lost to growth in property wealth, perhaps as early as tomorrow.  I will keep you posted on the progress of these initiatives.

First SEE Parent Group Hits the Capitol.  Deb Griffiths brought the first set of SEE district parents in to lobby their legislators today.  The group hailed from the area just to the northeast of the metropolitan area, with parents from Forest Lake, Cambridge-Isanti, Rush City, and North Branch.  I was glad to meet with the group an I want to personally thank them for their efforts.  It's quite a sacrifice to take a day off work and trudge down to the Capitol to meet with legislators.  It can be daunting enough for long-time veterans like myself to meet with legislators, so I can understand any trepidation participants may have, but I appreciate these efforts and they will be key if we are to meet with success during the 2013 legislative session.
Joint House/Senate Education Finance Committees Hearing.  You are getting this live (but thankfully I am typing so it is edited to some extent) from the Joint House/Senate Education Finance Committees.  Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Dr. Tom Melcher are presenting a powerpoint outlining the major portions of the Governor's recommendations.  The testimony is covering the waterfront and the questions are hitting on the obvious items of interest, both in terms of what is present in the recommendations and what is absent.  Representative Joe McDonald (R-Delano) expressed his concern--a concern shared by SEE--that the increased equalization recommended by the Governor's Education Finance Reform Working Group is not present in the recommendations.  A questions concerning the recommendation to roll the extended time revenue directly into the compensatory formula and give the district more flexibility in the distribution of that revenue was raised by Representative Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton).  Representatives Duane Quam (R-Byron) and Jerry Hertaus (R-Greenfield) have also raised concerns about the absence of recommendations that would narrow the gap between high and low property wealth districts.

It's been a spirited discussion at which the concerns I expressed yesterday were raised by committee members.  Thank you to those legislators who voiced those concerns.  We have our work cut out for us if we are going to alleviate the disparities in revenue and property tax burden that exist in Minnesota.

I'll be back tonight with more impressions.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Governor Releases Budget.  When I was a lad and I would get out of sorts, my mother would admonish me, saying "Don't be a fussbudget."  Well, while there are good things in the Governor's budget, I can't help but fuss over it more than a little bit, so I guess that makes me a fussbudget.

The basic parameters of the budget are very straightforward.  The Governor is enhancing revenue by approximately $3.5 billion. These increases come from a new tax bracket for those in the top 2% of Minnesota's income earners and an extensive broadening of the sales tax base (that is accompanied by a significant drop in the sales tax rate).  The breakdown from these increases is $1.1 billion from the income tax increase, $2.1 billion from the sales tax changes, and approximately $400 million in the form of increased corporate taxes. Of this $3.5 billion, nearly $1.5 billion will be dedicated to property tax relief in the form of a property tax refund/rebate of up to $500 per homeowner and a considerable increase in local government aid for cities and counties. The remaining revenue goes toward retiring the expected revenue shortfall of $1.1 billion to balance the budget and add approximately $1.0 billion in spending added to the base.

Here's where I start to fuss a bit.  There is NO (repeat, ZIP, ZERO, NADA) money for school levy equalization programs.  I was very hopeful that there would be something there for referendum or debt service equalization, especially after all the time devoted to the discussion (and inclusion) of these programs in the Governor's Education Finance Reform Working Group.  It was certainly a splash of cold water (more like a Polar Plunge) when I read through the budget documents searching in vain for some measure of property tax reform and relief relating to education levies.  Granted, this is just the starting line, but those of us who are concerned about the property tax disparities existing in the education funding system, it was an initial setback that we will have to work hard to overcome.

The Governor puts $344 million of new revenue above the base in education along with a lot of streamlining of formulas.  For the 13-14 school year, the basic formula is increased by $52 per pupil unit.  For the 14-15 school year, the kindergarten weighting is increased to provide greater access to voluntary all-day kindergarten.  Further, in 14-15, there will be an additional investment of $125 million in special education.  There will also be significant changes to the special education formula, replacing the current cost-reimbursement formula with a census-based formula for certain disability categories, pupil weightings for other disability categories, and an enhanced excess cost formula.

Much of the streamlining comes from recommendations made by the aforementioned Governor's Education Finance Reform Working Group.  The biggest single change will come in the form of new pupil weightings.  Rather than continuing with the byzantine array of pupil weightings that currently populate Minnesota's education funding system, the new weightings will be 0.55 for kindergartners (increased to 0.70 in 14-15 to pay for all-day kindergarten), 1.0 for students in grades 1 through 6, and 1.2 for students in grades 7 through 12.  The marginal cost pupil calculation that set district pupil weightings at 77% current year/23% previous year is eliminated and would be replaced by a separate declining enrollment categorical funding stream.

Other changes include:
  • $22 per pupil unit in new revenue for districts not participating in the QComp program to pay for costs associated with the new teacher evaluation process.
  • A simplification of the equity formula.
  • Recalculation of referendum per pupil unit from resident pupils to pupil units served.
  • Folding of gifted and talented revenue into the basic formula.
  • Increased flexibility in the use of basic skills revenue (and the roll-in of extended time revenue into the compensatory formula).
  • Requirement that most serving school districts and charter schools assume 10% of the special education costs associated with a student with 90% being assumed by the resident district.
  • Elimination of the aid reduction for employer retirement contribution rates.
  • A new set of hold-harmless categories to prevent any district from losing revenue due to the changes.
  • Increase from 5 years of eligibility for funding for English Language Learners to 7 years.
  • Changes to the integration revenue program that would reduce the amount of revenue available to school districts and distribute it on the number of children of color in participating districts as opposed to current law parameters.
  • Addition of graduation rate to the factors used to determine the distribution of literacy aid.
  • $44 million in early learning scholarships for pre-kindergarten children.
  • Provisions to pay back the funding shifts--both the aid and property tax shifts--in the next biennium.
So, all in all it's an ambitious set of proposals.  While there are a number of recommendations from the Governor's Education Finance Reform Working Group, much of the core of that set of recommendations did not make into the Governor's budget proposal.  The general education levy is not being proposed to be brought back.  There is (as I stated earlier) no increased commitment to greater equalization.  No roll-in of the referendum (at any level).  The absence of these changes will only exacerbate the disparities that exist both in terms of the revenue available and taxpayer burden experienced when comparing low property wealth school districts and those districts with higher property values.

I will be providing more input as it becomes available.  The budget is being presented by Commissioner Brenda Casselius and Dr. Tom Melcher to a joint committee meeting of the House Education Finance Committee and the Senate E-12 Division tomorrow morning.

Here is the link to the Minnesota Management and Budget Webpage with documents outlining the Governor's budget proposal (all documents can be downloaded):

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thursday Report.  It was another pretty quiet day at the Capitol.  The biggest education-related story was the presentation of the Governor's Education Funding Working Group recommendations to the Senate E-12 Funding Division.  Dr. Tom Melcher did a great job (again) describing the high points of the report to the division. Mary Cecconi, Executive Director of Parents United and a member of the task force, also did a great job outlining the process that the task force took in reaching its conclusions and adding some commentary and how and why certain policy paths were taken.

For those of you who haven't heard the synopsis before, the Working Group recommendations, here are the high points for SEE member districts:

  • Restoration of the general education levy that was eliminated as part of Governor Ventura's "Big Plan" in 2001.
  • Increases in the referendum and debt service equalization factors.
  • Adjustment of the general education basic amount to reflect the amount lost to inflation over the past decade.
  • Roll-in of the first $300 per pupil unit of the referendum, which provides new revenue to any district with a referendum less than $300 per pupil.
  • Increase in the special education appropriation.

That's not to say everything in the report works well for SEE districts.  Metro SEE districts take a bit of a hit in the proposed changes to the compensatory formula, the integration revenue formula, and the equity formula.  It will be interesting to see how many of the recommendations become part of the Governor's budget, which will be presented next week.

Here is a link to the MDE webpage dedicated to the working group proceedings.  All of the documents are available for download:

The House Education Finance Committee heard a presentation from staff outlining the basics (and beyond) of Minnesota's education funding system.  The House Education Policy committee heard from several panelists on the subject of high school to post-secondary education.  Primary testimony came from Irondale High School, MnSCU, and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.  The Senate Education Policy Committee met for the first time this session and heard from Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Casselius on the services provided by her department and some of the department's accomplishments of the past two years and some of the initiatives they will likely pursue in the session ahead.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday Report.  It was another day of reports and introductions in the two Education-related committees that met today.  The House Education Finance Committee heard a report from the Minnesota Department of Education's Data Center and the Senate E-12 Finance Division heard a presentation from out-going fiscal analyst Eric Nauman.  Eric has been promoted to the lead fiscal analyst position within the Senate.  The Senate E-12 Finance Division's fiscal analyst duties will now be assumed by newcomer Jay Willms.  The research analyst position is also manned by a staff newcomer, Bjorn Arneson.  Ann Marie Butler remains the committee legal counsel.

I really want to compliment Eric for all his hard work over the years and his presentation today was well done and thorough.  I will try to obtain a copy to post on the website, as the information contained in the powerpoint was presented in a straightforward manner and didn't let the details of the E-12 funding system bog it down.

MSBA Conference.  I'm hoping to make my way to Minneapolis tomorrow for the MSBA conference.  It's always great to see board members and administrators from SEE member districts at the conference and I hope there is a long enough break in the legislative action for me to get over there.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Report.  It was a day full of hearings devoted to introductions and discussion of overarching issues facing the Legislature during the 2013 legislative session.  The House Education Policy Committee held its first hearing and the time was absorbed by the committee members introducing themselves and explaining their interest in serving on the House Education Policy Committee.  It's a very interesting group and a number of the committee members have extensive experience as teachers.  What was especially refreshing was to hear the breadth of the members' teaching experience.  There is a special education teacher and two members of the committee who spent a bulk of their career working with alternative education.  Add to that several members who spent their careers in the regular education classroom and you've got a group that can pretty much cover the waterfront in terms of what it takes to meet the broad range of student needs that currently exist.

The House Education Finance Committee devoted its time to staff presentations of some possible approaches to the issues raised by committee members in their discussion at the first meeting of the committee last week.

There's a new committee on the block in the House this year (well, actually, it's a resurrection of the Early Childhood Funding and Policy Division) and that is the House Early Childhood and Youth Development Policy Committee.  As the title makes clear, this committee will not play any direct role in determination of the budget levels for programs, but will instead devote itself to the discussion of a number of pressing issues facing the education system.  There will be a concerted effort from a number of groups (most notably the "MiniMinds" coalition to put more revenue into early childhood education this session, but that revenue needs to be directed into the programs that show the most promise and the discussion that takes place in this committee should help better define which programs can be most effective.  Today's hearing was devoted to children's mental health with presentations by both practitioners and academics.  This is a complex issue that is bringing increasing challenges to school districts throughout the state.  The information delivered today will help focus the discussion of possible strategies to deal with this issue.

The House Property and Local Tax Division also met this afternoon and the hearing featured a very informative presentation by staff members from House Research and House Fiscal Analysis.  Staff members Pat Dalton, Steve Hinze, Joel Michael, and Katherine Schill provided a comprehensive explanation of Minnesota's property and local tax system and I will  direct readers to that information as soon as it is posted on the committee and/or House Research website.

MinnPost Article on Intermediate District 287.  Minnesota's three intermediate districts have adapted over the years to customize their programs to meet the growing diversity of student needs and Beth Hawkins from MinnPost did a great job describing their challenges in an article from today's edition.

Here's the link:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Second Week is Underway.  The Legislature leaped into its second week with floor sessions today.  Bills were introduced in both bodies (35 in the House and 17 in the Senate) with only one of them relating directly to education.  SF 23 (Metzen)/HF 64 (Hansen) is a local bill that would make South St. Paul SSD #6 eligible for the alternative facilities program.  There were no education-related hearings in either the House or the Senate today.

The Busy Subcommittee.  While most committees and subcommittees are taking their time getting into business, Senator Ann Rest's Senate Tax Reform Division of the Senate Tax Committee is jumping right into things starting on Wednesday.  Senator Rest has introduced five sales tax-related bills (SFs 8, 9, 11, 34, and 35) that either lift or alter the sales tax exemption on certain products (items of clothing with a retail price greater than $200, digital products, on-line sales) and dropping the sales tax rate that will be heard this week.  Broadening the sales tax  base and reducing the sales tax rate has long been discussed in Minnesota and there is some conjecture that the Governor's comprehensive tax reform package will feature efforts in this direction.  While Senator Rest's bills are coming from her and not the Governor, it is safe to assume that the arguments heard this Wednesday and Thursday will be heard again if the Governor's plan contains similar  provisions.

Left-over News from Last Week.  In the DFL caucus press conference after the first round of bill introductions last Thursday, Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) remarked that the Senate was not very interested in investing money into an accelerated buy-back of the shift, which runs counter to what seems to be the approach taken in the House.  As you may recall, HF 1, authored by Representative Yvonne Selcer (DFL-Minnetonka), would bring the state aid payment schedule back to 90%/10% by the end of this fiscal year.

Here is the link to footage from the press conference.  In addition to Senator Bakk's comments later in the clip, Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley), the chief author of the all-day kindergarten bill, describes the reasoning behind that bill.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

House Bill Introductions.  There were 54 bill introductions in the House today with five of the bills being related to education funding.  Two bills--HF 1 (Selcer) and HF 53 (Woodard)--deal with paying back the education aids payment shift.  HF 1 would pay back the shift in this fiscal year and set the aids payment schedule at 90% current year/10% subsequent year.  This would take over $500 million off the table for on-going funding for other state government programs, including the addition of more funding to the education-funding base, which has lost considerable ground to inflation over the past two decades.  HF 53 would require a 60% vote by both bodies of the Legislature before the payment schedule could be altered from the 90%/10% framework outlined in the statutes.

HF 1 Text:

HF 53 Text:

Other bills included two authored by Representative Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton).  HF 7 would update the PER reporting process and HF 34 would establish a basic-skills test in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics that teaching candidates would have to pass before being granted a license.

HF 7 Text:

HF 34 Text:

The other bill introduced was HF 31, a bill authored by Representative Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), would increase the state reimbursement for the school lunch program and provide students who qualify for reduced-price lunch under the current eligibility guidelines a lunch without charge.

HF 31 Text:
Senate Bill Introductions.  Not much to say about the Senate bill introductions other than SF 2 is a bill that would pay for voluntary all-day kindergarten by raising the pupil weighting for kindergartners in an all-day kindergarten program from 0.612 to 1.115.  While there will be districts that may not have space for all-day kindergarten and parents who do not choose to have their children attend an all-day kindergarten program, the bill should have strong support.  Cost estimates are soft right now, but I will provide them when the become available.

Raising the kindergarten weighting to that of a first grader for students in an all-day kindergarten program is part of the policy addendum to the SEE 2013 platform.

The bill is being carried by freshman legislator Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley).  Senator Clausen comes with two very high recommendations:  (1) he is an administrator in the SEE member Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, and (2) he is a graduate of Augsburg College, the same distinguished institution of higher learning that produced yours truly.

Senator Clausen web page:

SF 2 Text:
And We're Off!  I'm reporting live from the first meeting of the House Education Finance Committee and we are underway.  Representative Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) is the chair of the committee.  Representative Marquart is a high school teacher and brings a lot of relevant experience to the chair position.

Representative Marquart is having each member of the committee introduce themselves and lay out their priorities for the session.  One issue that keeps coming up is repayment of the K-12 shift that was employed in 2011 to help solve the $6-plus billion budget crisis.  The DFL campaigned heavily on that issue during the election season and there will be bills introduced early in the legislative session by both parties to get the aid payment schedule back to the statutorily-defined goal of 90%/10%.  It's my hope that the desire to "buy back" the shift is balanced with the revenue needs of school districts throughout Minnesota.  This concern is voiced in the SEE platform.   It's important to remember that a dollar can only be spent once and that every dollar dedicated to reducing the aid-payment shift will prevent revenue being used for other educational purposes.  In a time when the special education cross-subsidy continues to grow and the general education basic amount lags behind inflation, it will be important to recognize that education remains under-funded and this has to be addressed both now and into the future.

Equalization and equity funding have also been mentioned by several members of the committee. There is a strong contingent of SEE-area legislators on the committee and hopefully this will lead to some progress on these issues.

The achievement gap has also been mentioned.  Minnesota has one of the largest (in some student categories the largest) achievement gaps and this issue will certainly receive considerable attention during the committee's 2013 proceedings.

Special education funding has also been mentioned by several committee members, which is always heartening to hear.  The cross-subsidy of revenue from school district general funds to pay for the shortfall in revenue resulting from the inadequacy of the special education formula remains a problem.  Remedying this situation would certainly reduce pressure on school district budgets and perhaps lessen the need for districts to seek revenue through voter-approved levies.

I'll be back later today to write about bill introductions.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Quiet Day at the Capitol.  And there will be more than a few of those before the Governor's budget is released on January 22.  Most new staff members were in meetings today, so it was difficult to arrange appointments with legislators for the early session.   Well, try, try again tomorrow.

Things will pick up a bit tomorrow as both the House and Senate will have floor sessions and the first batch of bills will be introduced.  Some of those have been baking for awhile, so it will be interesting to see what emerges.

The House Education Finance Committee will also be holding its first meeting tomorrow morning at 8:15 in Room 10 of the State Office Building.  The announced purpose of the meeting is for committee members to introduce themselves and lay out their priorities for the coming session.  That should provide some interesting discussion.

Social Studies Standards Will Likely Be Discussed.  The recently-developed revisions to Minnesota's social studies standards will likely receive some attention during the 2013 legislative session.  Of all the standards, the social studies standards usually elicit the most discussion.  Unlike mathematics and science, where (although there are some disagreements about teaching methods) 2 + 2 always equals 4 and two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom make a water molecule, subjects like history, economics, and political science are more open to disagreement as to what pieces of knowledge should be taught and what, if any, perspective, should be taken in delivering this knowledge.

When the social studies standards were first established in 2006, it was done at the legislative level.  Pressure was applied by those with viewpoints across the spectrum and the resulting standards were a plethora of  bits of information.  Social studies teachers throughout the state have commented that the current standards are so numerous that it is almost impossible to transmit them to students.  In an effort to avoid the standards being determined at the legislative level, the Minnesota Department of Education convened a working group of social studies professionals to develop the revised standards.  This process pared back considerably the number of specific standards and have incorporated them into the study of broader themes in American and world history.  This has raised the ire of some--especially in the conservative camp--and there will likely be pressure applied to bring the standards to the Legislature for final approval.  There was a bill introduced last session to do just that, but it did not become law.

Stay tuned.

St. Paul Pioneer Press Article:

MPR Story on Republican Reaction to Social Studies Standards:

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

And They're Off.  199 right hands went up today and took the legislative oath.  We are two short of the entire contingent of 201 legislators due to the retirements of Representatives Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) and Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter) yesterday.  The vacancies resulting from those retirements will be filled by special elections within the next month.

Here is a news story on those two retirements:

MPR Link: 

The first day of the session was pretty much reserved for procedural and organizing motions.  I say "pretty much" because there was some criticism of the new committee structure in the House of Representatives by Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown).  The primary concern raised is that the budget for the Department of Agriculture will fall under the auspices of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance chaired by Representative Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis).  Some Republicans believe that the finance portion of the Agriculture issue should be merged with the Agriculture Policy Committee chaired by Representative Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin).  Of course, the complaints produced no change and time marches on.

Education Committee Links.

I neglected to mention in yesterday's entry that the re-designed legislative web page is a veritable goldmine of  helpful information relating to the Legislature.  Each committee has its own web page that lists members, staff, schedules of upcoming meetings, and minutes of previous meetings.  There is also the ability to subscribe to e-mail notices issued by the committee.

Here are the web pages for the five education-related committees:

Senate E-12 Finance Division:

Senate Education Policy Committee:

House Education Finance Committee:

House Education Policy Committee:

House Early Childhood and Youth Development Policy Committee:

Monday, January 07, 2013

Legislative Eve.  'Twas the night before the session and all through the Capitol . . .  I think I'll just stop right now with this particular analogy except to say that the beginning of each legislative session is kind of like the day the Montgomery Ward catalog came in the mail when I was a kid.  My Christmas list was assembled within hours of the catalog's arrival and most of it was a bit on the outlandish side, making its delivery on Christmas Eve unlikely.  It's the same way for most of us in the lobbying business are as adults.  We starting putting our Christmas lists together with our clients all summer and fall, just waiting for Election Day to see who would be sending our Christmas letters to.  That's all been decided and now it's time to get to work and try to get things done.

201 legislators will take their oaths of office tomorrow and committee meetings will start later this week.  Most of the first two weeks will be reserved for introductory meetings with little serious business being conducted.  That will change after the Governor's budget is released at the end of January.  At that point, work will begin in earnest as the boundaries for the session--especially in terms of revenue--will become more clearly defined.  From then, it will be a dash to the committee deadlines, which will likely be set for mid-to-late March.  At that point, the omnibus funding and policy bills will have been constructed and be sent to the floor.  Then there will be conference committees that will determine the final content of all the omnibus bills leading up to the adjournment date (required under the Minnesota Constitution) of May 20.

I look forward to hearing from anyone who has questions about what's happening at the Capitol.  My contact language has remained the same.  I can be reached at either 651-647-6251 (office) or 612-220-7459 (cell).  My e-mail remains .