Thursday, February 27, 2014

Health Insurance Transparency Act Heard in House.  As scheduled, the House Education Policy Committee heard HF 2180 (Murphy), the Health Insurance Transparency Act, this morning.  The hearing went pretty much as expected.  Representative Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul), the bill's chief author, had an author's amendment offered to get the bill in the shape she wanted it, and debate then commenced.  The Republicans offered a number of amendments, with all but one of them failing.  The sole amendment that was accepted came from Representative Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City).  That amendment would expand the gift-giving ban in the bill to include lead teacher negotiators as well as school board members.

The bill has a number of problems, foremost its treatment of self-insured districts that would be still be required to go through the sealed-bid process.  Prior Lake's Julie Cink--Director of Business Affairs--and Matt Mons--Director of Human Resources--reprised their testimony from Wednesday's Senate hearing and it was again well received by the committee.  The requirement that self-insured districts field sealed bids in the same manner as other districts seems redundant and pointless.  These districts have made tough decisions and have consulted their employee groups every step of the way.  To pull the rug on these districts by requiring them to take part in this process is counterproductive.

This bill is likely to cause a lot of headaches.  School districts are not required to take the lowest bid, as the lowest bid can be based on a price/product combination that does not fit the district's needs.  Therefore, the only purpose the bill may serve is to flood districts with bids from the Public Employees Insurance Plan (PEIP) that may be show a lower cost, but not be tied to district needs.  The result will likely be public relations nightmares for school districts.

The other point that still remains problematic is the $1 million subsidy that the state will provide for PEIP.  This will create an unfair advantage for PEIP and simply allow them to undercut private providers.  That just doesn't make much sense.

This bill will be moving fast in both houses of the Legislature. The Senate companion, SF 1835 (Sieben), passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday and will likely be heard in the Senate Education Policy Committee next week.  HF 2180's next stop will be the House Commerce Committee and it also will likely be heard next week.  There will be plenty of opportunity to amend the bill and hopefully make it more palatable, but those changes won't be made without pressure from outside the Capitol. I urge all of you, especially self-insured districts, to make your concerns known.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Talk About the Fast Track.  I wrote earlier in the week about Education Minnesota's Health Insurance Transparency Act--the bill that would require school districts receive three sealed bids for health insurance each negotiating cycle--and all I can say is that it is off to races with the bill.  The Senate version of the bill, SF 1835, was heard today in the Senate Commerce Committee was recommended to pass as amended after two amendments were attached to the bill, several more unsuccessful amendments were offered, and there was a healthy and spirited round of discussion.  As introduced, the bill would require (as stated earlier) that all school districts as part of their negotiations would be required to obtain three sealed bids from prospective insurance providers and the bids would all be opened at once with the low bid receiving the health insurance contract.  The Public Employees Insurance Plan (PEIP) could enter a bid in any district that they chose to.

When I say all districts, I mean all districts, even those that are self-insured, would have to follow that procedure.  As part of an amendment adopted today, districts where the largest bargaining group and the school board agree, the term of coverage could be expanded from two years to five years, but the sealed bid process would be used in these instances as well after the agreed upon time frame (which cannot exceed five years) elapsed.

Even with the improvements made to the bill, there are still a number of hurdles that must be crossed.  In an ideal world, private insurers and PEIP would compete to be school district insurance providers and the entity that provided the best fit for the district in terms of value and coverage would win the contract.  However, this bill provides an appropriation of $1 million to PEIP, which would clearly give it an advantage.

The other major problem that the bill creates is for self-insured districts.  These districts have worked hard to create systems that are comprehensive and fair by assuming risks.  In the process, they have been able to keep premium rates both relatively low and stable.  Prior Lake-Savage Director of Business Affairs Julie Cink and Director of Human Resources Matt Mons gave very effective testimony describing the tough decisions their district has made and the positive results those efforts have created.  Getting self-insured districts out of this bill will be--and should be--a high priority as the bill moves forward in the process.  The bill's next stop will be the Senate Education Committee.  With the deadlines hitting as early as they are this year and all the committees that will have to look at the bill, it will be moving very fast.

One of the most interesting questions raised during the meeting was brought forward by Senator Dave Brown (R-Becker).  Senator Brown wondered whether or not PEIP will be rendered obsolete by MNSure and whether or not it would be wiser to wait and see how that program matures before making this move.  An answer was not readily available, but I think this is a question that deserves greater deliberation.

The House companion bill, HF 2180 (E. Murphy), will be heard in the House Education Policy Committee tomorrow morning at 10 AM.  Here is a link to the bill and to the amendments that are slated to be offered.

HF 2180:

Amendment A1 (Author's Amendment):
Amendment A2:
Amendment A3:
Amendment A5:
Amendment A7:
Amendment A8:
Amendment A9:

House Property and Local Tax Division.  The House Property and Local Tax Division had a very interesting meeting this afternoon.  At the meeting, the Residential Homestead Property Tax Burden Report for Taxes Payable in 2011 was delivered.  This report is generally known as the Voss Report, named after former Anoka County State Representative Gordon Voss, who developed the concept.  It's a very valuable report that shows the effective property tax burden paid by homeowners throughout the state.  The report does show that property taxes tend to be higher when expressed as a percentage of income in the metropolitan area than in greater Minnesota, but there are two elements that are never fully discussed in the report:  (1) that even after the property taxes are paid, metropolitan households have considerably higher incomes than households in greater Minnesota, and (2) the tax yield per increment of tax effort is much greater in the metropolitan area than it is in greater Minnesota.  I've been trying to get analysts to tackle the second point for years with little luck and if I can put together some time next summer, I will tackle it myself.

One thing that really gets lost in the discussion is that property wealth is a comparative advantage and, generally, if you have it, you are going to use it.  If I get $10 per lap and you get $5 per lap, not only am I going to get more money for the same distance traveled, the incentive for me to keep running is greater than it is for you.  On top of this, you are going to get really tired if you try to keep pace with me.  Hence, the need (and justification) for equalization and other measures that make the property tax more fair.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Session Begins.  The first day of the 2014 legislative session went off largely without a hitch.  No drama.  No political intrigue.  Just a ton of bill introductions, a long House Tax Committee hearing where repeal of the business-to-business and sales tax on farm implement repairs were discussed, and the passage of a bill for emergency energy relief.  I'll cut right to the bill introductions below:

SF 1751 (Wiger)/HF 2264 (Halverson):  Increases Revenue for Early Childhood Family Education Program:

SF 1761 (Bonoff)/Currently No House Companion:  Creates and Funds Alternative Compensation Plans:

SF 1795 (Clausen)/HF 2229 (JoAnn Ward):  Increases Building Lease Levy:

SF 1812 (Hoffman)/HF 1882 (Murphy):  Provides Funding for Universal Preschool for 4-year-olds:

SF 1829 (Kent)/Currently No House Companion:  Appropriates Money for Early Childhood Literacy Program:

SF 1835 (Sieben)/HF 2180 (Murphy): Education Minnesota Health Insurance Transparency Act (described in yesterday's blog):

SF 1861 (Saxhaug)/HF 2309 (Persell):  Increases Funding For Transportation:

SF 1889 (Torres Ray)/Currently No House Companion:  Department of Education Technical Bill:

SF 1891 (Johnson)/HF 1922 (Newton):  Increases Funding for School Breakfast Program:

SF 1894 (Wiger)/Currently No House Companion: Providing for Sexual Abuse and Assault Awareness and Prevention:

SF 1895 (Johnson)/HF 1917 (Newton):  Increases Safe Schools Levy from $36/PU to $56/PU:

SF 1902 (Wiger)/HF 2283 (Selcer):  Creates Task Force to Better Align Alternative Compensation and Teacher Evaluation Programs:

SF 1913 (Wiger)/HF 2325 (Sawatsky): Brings Back 50%/25%/25% Staff Development Allocation:

SF 1925 (Eaton)/HF 2326 (Slocum):  Provides Additional Funding for Recovery Schools:

HF 2271 (Erickson)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Creates Performance-based Pay System for Teachers:

HF 2280 (S. Anderson)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Authorizes School Districts to Seek Reimbursement for Unpaid School Meals from the Minnesota Department of Education:

The next few sessions will be introduction-heavy, but things should slow down after a couple of weeks.  If you have questions about any of these bills, don't hesitate to contact me at 612-220-7459.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The HITA is on.  The Health Insurance Transparency Act that is.  Education Minnesota is driving on the same road, but they've changed vehicles once again.  After being unable to establish a statewide health insurance pool and running into obstructions with their "automatic" PEIP proposal, Education Minnesota will be introducing the Health Insurance Transparency Act during the 2014 legislative session, perhaps as early as tomorrow (the first day of the session).

The bill is rather straightforward and would affect all school districts, self-insured and otherwise.  It has four distinct provisions that are featured in Education Minnesota's issue brief.  Education Minnesota sees the bill strengthening the system by which educators and school employees get health insurance by making the bidding process more "competitive and transparent."  It is hoped that the proposed changes would make coverage more affordable if enacted into law.

The primary changes are as follows:
School districts are required to seek bids from multiple health insurance providers.
The process would require sealed bids in an attempt to encourage health insurance providers fashion their bids around competitive rates based on actual usage.
School board members and other school employees involved in the health insurance procurement decision would be banned from receiving gifts from health insurance providers and consultants.
Any that any premium surplus be returned to school districts to offset premium costs.

There isn't a lot new here.  The complaints coming from Education Minnesota largely remain the same and I am relatively certain that the discussion coming from both sides (including our testimony) will be pretty much the same.  That doesn't mean that there will not be full discussion of the proposal and that it won't come to a floor vote at some point during the 2014 session.

I do not have (nor have I seen) the actual bill language for this proposal, but here is a link to talking points from Education Minnesota's website.


Legislature Back in Business Tomorrow.  As I referenced in today's first entry, the 2014 legislative session kicks off tomorrow, with the Senate and House both convening at high noon.  The hope is that the session will run smoothly and perhaps adjourn at the Easter/Passover break that falls in the third week in April.  The committee deadlines have been set up to accommodate an adjournment in that time frame.

The first policy committee deadline (in which bills must clear the last policy committee to which they have been referred in their legislative house of origin) is March 21.  The second policy committee deadline (in which companion bill to a bill that has passed its last policy committee in the other house must pass its last policy committee in its house of origin) is March 28.  The third deadline holds that all funding bills must pass their last committee stop is April 4.  It should make for a mad dash, but hopefully it will be a mad dash to a relatively early finish.

I'll be back tomorrow with information on the first day of session.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Must Reading.  Check out the cover story in the February 22, 2014, issue of Time magazine entitled "The Diploma that Works:  Inside the Six-Year High School."  The article concentrates on the skills gap being experienced by many high school graduates and describes how new models that combine high school with a two-year college (hence the "six-year high school") to provide graduates with both a high school diploma and an Associates of Arts degree.  Further, the two years of college provide the dual benefit of intensive technological training that may be amenable to finding employment and also cutting the cost of college tuition.

The article does an excellent job outlining the challenge facing the American economy.  According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce predictions, a high school diploma "guarantees only a $15-an-hour future" and only that in the rosiest of circumstances.  Two-thirds of the estimated 47 million job openings that will have been created in the decade ending in 2018 will require some post-secondary education.  Only 36% of jobs are projected to be filled by people with only a high school diploma, half the percentage that held jobs in the early 1970s.

Several different models are discussed in the article, but the lion's share of the discussion centers around P-Tech, which stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School.  The IBM corporation played a central role in the development of P-Tech along with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York.  Students are schooled in academic subjects and score well and also receive technological training.  The fusion of the subject matter is done in a way that prevents technical education from becoming a dumping ground for students who do not perform well academically.

The stigma against technical education is a long--and misguided--one.  The article briefly discusses a reform undertaken by Oregon twenty years ago that tried to tie the needs of business together with high schools and require students to focus on "career majors."  What killed the reform is that parents objected to the system as they believed their children were being pushed off the "academic" track.  I can remember the same objection to aspects of the Profiles of Learning that Minnesota tried to implement in the 1990s when the effort to improve quality across the curriculum was somehow turned into the "failed Soviet system" that pushed students in directions against their will.

This is certainly well trod territory.  The recently-completed Career Pathways and Technical Education Task Force convened by the Minnesota Department of Education covered much of this discussion and that is reflected in its final report.  But the fact remains.  There are jobs to be had and while not all of these jobs require a four-year college degree, they more often than not require some post-secondary training.  Guiding, but not directing, students toward these opportunities will require greater definition of what employers truly seek by the business community and a keen ear and deft touch on the part of school boards and school administrators in putting together these learning opportunities.

Time Magazine Article (subscription required):,9171,2165479,00.html?pcd=pw-magic

Career Pathways and Technical Education Task Force Final Report:  file:///C:/Users/Brad/Downloads/Career%20Pathways%20and%20Technical%20Education%20Advisory%20Task%20Force%20Report.pdf

Saturday, February 22, 2014

New Voice in Anti-Bullying Discussion.  It's likely been around longer than I've been aware of it, but recently I've been introduced to the Minnesota Child Protection League.  The Minnesota Child Protection League is taking a very active role in opposing HF 826, the anti-bullying bill currently sitting in the Senate Finance Committee.  Here is a link to the Minnesota Child Protection League.

Minnesota Child Protection League:

An Interesting Little Nugget I Came Across in Education Week.  Online and blended learning (systems that combine traditional and online systems) are certainly playing an increasing role in K-12 education and one of the reasons for this is the perceived cost savings that accompany greater use of online curriculum.  A study released in 2012 by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, according to the article Savings Tied to Blended Programs No Sure Thing, in the January 29, 2014, issue of Education Week, concluded that more established blended learning programs tend to spend less per student, between $7,600 and $10,200, than many regular brick-and-mortar public schools, which spend about $10,000."  The Fordham study further concluded that fully virtual schools spent even less, coming in between $5,100 and $7,700 per student.

These savings are somewhat disputed by a more recent study performed by Lawrence J. Miller, a senior research fellow at the  Center for Reinventing Public Education.  Miller looked at 10 blended charter school programs that employ blended learning programs.  He found that the per pupil expenditures between the charter schools with blended learning programs and the brick-and-mortar schools, but that down the road, these charter schools may be able to make their dollars go further by investing in additional staff to improve the student-to-adult ratio in their programs.

District size is also a factor in determining whether or not blended learning models can save districts considerable revenue.  A study by Anthony Kim, the chief executive officer for Education Elements, points out that larger districts are able to redirect funds within their budgets to accommodate blended learning environments without adding costs, while that dynamic is more difficult to attain in smaller districts.

I didn't put this out there to poo-poo the idea that greater access to fully online and blended education systems is a silver bullet that will solve all of education's problems.  I don't think even the strongest proponents of online education believe that.  It's just important to remember that changing the system to incorporate new learning methods isn't something that every district can do seamlessly, nor will it come without a need for considerable hardware and software investment.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Anti-Bullying Update.  To recap where we were at the end of last session, the anti-bullying bill (HF 826) passed the House last May on a straight party-line vote of 72-57.  The bill made it to the Senate floor, but did not receive a floor vote.  Because it did not receive a floor vote, the bill was returned to the last standing committee it passed through on its way to the floor (in this instance, the Senate Finance Committee), where it will be when the 2014 session begins.

While most everyone wants an anti-bullying bill to pass, there is significant discomfort with a number of aspects of HF 826, particularly the bill's lack of a clear definition of bullying and the considerable reporting requirements that school districts would be saddled with under the bill's directives.  Cost estimates of the bill range from between $30 million and $50 million and there is no appropriation contained in the bill, meaning school districts would have to cover the costs related to establishing and maintaining an anti-bullying program from the general fund.  Although school districts received increased funding in 2013 ( and we thank the Legislature and Governor for that), much of that revenue is going to maintain programs and/or bring back programs cut during the lean years just preceding last year's bump.

Recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Virginia) seem to point to the possibility of a bi-partisan approach to the current anti-bullying bill that would tighten up the definition and mitigate elements of the bill to remove the specter of an unfunded mandate.  Below is a link to the interview with Senator Bakk in which he discussed the anti-bullying bill.  The interview talks about his caucus' priorities during the 2014 session with the anti-bullying comments commencing at about the 2:30 mark.


One example of an anti-bullying bill which has the support of both the education community is the legislation enacted by North Dakota in 2011.  Here is a link to that bill.  There may have been amendments added to the legislation in 2013 and I will try to find that language if it exists, but this is the bill as it was passed in 2011.  Note that the North Dakota bill weighs in at 4 pages and the current bill being considered in Minnesota is just under 20.  The North Dakota bill earned an A++ grade from Bully Police USA, an organization dedicated to curbing bullying in schools throughout the country.

I want to hear from SEE members with their take on the anti-bullying legislation, so please let me know your opinions.

SEE Meeting Cancelled.  Given the impending snow storm in our Winter of Discontent, we have decided to cancel the February SEE Meeting.  Call me at 612-220-7459 if you have any questions.  I will be back to blog later, but I wanted to post this early in the day before anyone headed out to rouse the sled dogs in an attempt to attend the meeting.  The March regional meetings are still on the docket and we hope to bring Bill Morris back for the April meeting.  More details later.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Joint Education Policy Meeting on English Language Learners.  The House and Senate Education Policy Committees held a joint hearing on English Language Learning programs this afternoon and it was an illuminating meeting.  Among the groups making presentations were the St. Paul School District, the Bloomington School District, the University of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Department of Education.  The number of non-English speaking students has grown dramatically over the past two decades as has the number of native languages.  This poses a number of challenges for schools, especially if the children are not proficient in their native language.  To address this problem, a number of school districts are putting together very comprehensive family literacy programs and other strategies to help these students overcome their language barriers and succeed academically.

From my vantage point, I have always believed that the formula that provides resources for English Language Learners is: (1) the most transparent formula in the vast array of education funding formulas, and (2) woefully underfunded.  While the panel that developed funding recommendations proposed lengthening the eligibility to receive revenue from five years to seven years, it did not suggest that additional resources be dedicated to the base formula.  Hopefully, the Legislature will take a look at increasing this formula at some juncture.  This is the most transparent of the all the compensatory-related formulas as it meets a student "where they are" and funds them to a point of proficiency.  Lengthening the eligibility would help these learners, but more resources are needed to help school districts provide these crucial services.  The presentations today helped outline the challenge and possible programmatic solutions.

Thanks to the Princeton School Board.  I want to thank the Princeton School Board for having me out to give a short presentation this evening.  Even with the Legislative Session just around the corner, I still enjoy getting to member districts to meet boards and administrators on their home turf.  Thanks again for your support of SEE's mission!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weekend Reading from the Latest Education Week.  You know I'm an edu-nerd when I look forward to having some time on the weekend to take a look at the latest issue of Education Week.  As I've said before (and don't worry, I'm not a paid spokesperson), if you're involved with education in any way, a subscription to Education Week is a solid investment.  The Commentary section always provides some interesting perspectives, and this week's issue featured a insightful piece by retired Waltersville School of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Ann Evans De Bernard entitled "When is School Reform Not Reform."  The crux of the piece is--and I guess I might be projecting a bit--is that what is called reform often misses the target of reform, which is the student.  It's a pretty powerful piece and I would strongly recommend reading it.

It can be read at this link:

Another article--and a court case to watch in the coming year--outlined the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in May, 2012, where testimony began last week.  The nine families and their children who are the plaintiffs in the case (Vergara v. California) contend that California's teacher tenure and seniority laws violate the equal-protection rights of students who receive instruction from substandard teachers who maintain their employment because of California statute prevents the removal of poor teachers.

Minnesota's teacher evaluation program, passed in 2011 and taking effect for the 2014-2015 school year, is a step toward ensuring teacher quality, but the elimination of "last-in/first-out" or LIFO that passed the Legislature in 2012, but vetoed by Governor Dayton is not part of that process.  The issue of how to get teachers who are felt to be unsatisfactory out of the classroom is a touchy issue, but whether it amounts to a failure to provide equal protection under the law is a very slippery slope.

Here is the Education Week article on the Vergara case:

Here are several other links relating to the case:

From the Students Matter website.  Students Matter is the group supporting the plaintiffs:

From LA School Report (article appears to come from a pro-defense viewpoint):

Last, but certainly not least from the latest Education Week is the front-page picture of Warroad, Minnesota, student Marshall Hahn parking his snowmobile in the school parking lot.  The picture accompanied a story about how the harsh winter weather has caused much higher than normal school closings.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Two More Task Forces Finish Their Work.  The Special Education Caseloads Task Force and the Integration Rule/Statute Working Group finished their work on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.  Nothing really earth-shattering will likely come from the work of these panels, but the discussions will lead to some needed clarification in both of these areas.  Perhaps the biggest development came in the Integration Rule, where it appears the discussion will shift back to the legislature.  The final vote on approval of the recommendations was not unanimous, with the primary friction coming in the area of whether or not the rule/statute should encourage the creation of racially-balanced learning environments.  It is a difficult issue and the discussion will continue well past this working group and this year's legislative session.  Another item that is left hanging to some extent is the status (perhaps classification is a better word) of the "integration" schools (EMID, WEMAP,  etc.).  Those environments were created in reaction to the expansion of desegregation/integration efforts in the 1990s, which were predicated on the creation of racially-balanced environments.  If the law were to move in a different direction, the status of those environments would likely change at some level.

School Lunch Changes.  With a healthy budget, a number of initiatives that fell by the wayside last session are likely to become law during the 2014 session.  The first of these to surface in the education area is the bill that would provide that no child would be turned away from receiving a hot lunch due to lack of financial resources.  This bill was heard extensively during the 2013 legislative session, but with a tight budget, there wasn't room to include the approximately $3.35 million per year needed for the program in the final omnibus E-12 budget bill.  The group that lobbied most vociferously for the bill was Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and they conducted a study recently showing that 70 Minnesota school districts refuse to serve hot lunch to students who have deficits in their lunch accounts.  In the wake of the study's release, Governor Dayton and MDE Commissioner Cassellius have both stated that they will include a provision in their 2014 budget that will ensure that children will still receive a hot lunch in the event their account is in deficit.

Bills from last session that would have changed polcy included SF 146 (Hayden)/HF 336 (Winkler) and SF 38 (Hoffman)/HF 31 (Newton).  The provision was in the Senate omnibus education policy bill at one point during last year's session, but it did not survive.

It appears that a new bill will be introduced and the chief authors will be Senator Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis), who carried one of the bills last year and Representative Yvonne Selcer (DFL-Hopkins).  Given the level of support, it is extremely likely that the provision will pass and become law, but it won't be without some spirited discussion.  The debate over the SNAP program as the U.S. Congress put together the omnibus Agriculture bill probably serves as a preview for the debate that will take place in St. Paul starting later this month.

Beth Hawkins has written stories on the issue in MinnPost the past two days.  The links to those stories are below, along with a link to SF 38/HF 31 from the 2013 legislative session.

MinnPost (2/11/13):

MinnPost (2/12/13):

SF 38/HF 31:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Career Pathways Task Force Finishes Its Work.  The Career Pathways and Technical Education Task Force that has been meeting since last August finished its work today with a 5-hour session that featured a lot of discussion and several amendments were added to the draft final report.

Here are the recommendations of the Task Force:

  1. Utilize the World's Best Workforce initiative to strengthen the implementation of statutory requirements for a comprehensive individual student plan that incorporates assessment data and clarify the process for review and revision of that plan.
  2. To enhance the learning process and the development of a student's life plan, all students should have regular and frequent access to multiple individuals within the school community who have reliable and accurate information/resources about post-secondary education, career and technical education, and training options.
  3. All Minnesota families, including families of youth with disabilities, families experiencing socio-economic challenges, those with first-generation college bound students, and multicultural families, will have the opportunity to engage in students' planning activities and will have access to training and resources so they may help their youth make appropriate career planning and education choices.
  4. Create a standardized process for experiential learning required for students for high school graduation that includes career exploration through a specific class or as work-based experiences embedded within classes such as job shadowing, mentoring, entrepreneurship, service learning, internships/cooperative work experience, or youth apprenticeship (Experiential Learning).
  5. Require districts to expand opportunities for students designed around career clusters and strategies for post-secondary preparation that may include course offerings, options for on-line credit, dual-credit, or credentialing (Experiential Learning).
  6. Develop and explore new roles for education professionals by allowing for flexibility in licensure while maintaining high standards, and expand professional development experiences in order to support and assist students and their families in developing individual life plans, incorporating career development, utilizing experiential learning, and accessing early college opportunities (System Flexibility).
  7. Provide flexible governance structures that allow schools/districts to have the capacity and opportunity to modify/alter current practices to meet the learning needs of students to ensure smooth transitions among educational levels or into the workforce.
  8. The Minnesota Department of Education in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and post-secondary systems utilize technology to implement a state-led focus as a resource for students and families that profiles careers and employment trends and outlines the educational paths necessary for success in these fields.
  9. Promote board levels of collaboration among public, private, and non-profit entities with established strategies that increase opportunities for students to gain knowledge and experience in career fields by working with business/employers focused on future career and college participation.  This collaboration should involve employers, labor unions, and community-based organizations.

There were some changes to the language in these recommendations (and the supporting verbiage that falls under each of these recommendations), but the primary vision remained largely unchanged.  While there is a lot of busywork involved with these recommendations, there does not appear to be any major mandates that will greatly change the way in which programs are delivered.

I have followed the career and technical education issue very closely over the years (I was the lobbyist for the Minnesota Association for Career and Technical Educators from the mid-1990s until 2001) and believe a lot can be done to help all students, but especially those students who flourish in applied education settings and may or may not be college bound or are not college bound.  At the same time, I wonder how much schools can do in the modern commercial age.  Career and technical education programs were the strongest when they fed students directly into local economies.  The nature of local economies has changed dramatically over the past half century, which leads to a new set of challenges.  Schools cannot do this alone, but they can play an important role in availing students to all of the possibilities that may be open to them.

Stolen School Bus.  One is tempted to chuckle, but the story really isn't that funny.  A 14-year-old student got behind the wheel of an empty school bus that was running at a gas station while the driver had left the wheel to go inside the station.  The student, who contends he was trying to return the bus to the bus depot, ended up crashing the bus at a Holiday station.  He attempted to escape, but was apprehended.  It's just another reminder that there are procedures that school bus drivers need to follow and they clearly weren't followed in this instance.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

Doug Birk Hits Paydirt.  I haven't been making it my life's work, but I have tried more than once to get a SEE-flavored item on the editorial page of one of the state's major newspapers.  Where I have come up short, St. Michael-Albertville school board member Doug Birk has succeeded.  Birk's piece was featured in Saturday's edition of the Minneapolis StarTribune and it spells out clearly the plight faced by many SEE-member districts.  Although considerable strides were made during the 2013 legislative session to adjust the referendum equalizing factor to regain the value it had lost over the past 20 years and to provide districts without a referendum levy the opportunity to enact a $300/PU board-approved referendum, districts like St. Michael-Albertville (with a referendum of approximately $700/PU) basically stayed in the same place in the overall revenue rankings.  (313/334 in general education revenue and 327/334 in all revenue for the 2013-2014 school year).  St. Michael-Albertville's rankings are largely due to the fact that they are more greatly reliant on the general education revenue basic amount than districts with either more in terms of categorical revenue or referendum revenue.  Birk's piece hits on this point directly and emphatically.

So thanks Doug.  Great piece.  Helps make some of our points on the need to continue funding reform efforts and raise the general education revenue basic amount to a level that more accurately reflects the cost of educating students in Minnesota.

Doug Birk's StarTribune piece:

An Issue Lurking Below the Surface.  Like most everyone else, I use the internet daily for a variety of purposes.  The January ruling that invalidated the policy of net neutrality (the policy that mandated that all internet content travel at the same speed) probably wouldn't be that big a deal for me (outside of me paying more for Netflix), but it could have a very adverse affect on schools that are delivering more and more of their curriculum over the internet.  I came across this article in the January 29, 2014, issue of Education Week that outlines some of the challenges school districts and their students may face if the decision to allow internet providers to deliver material at different speeds.


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Integration Rule Discussion Continues.  The Integration Rule and Statute Alignment Group met again on Monday, February 3, as it continues to move toward the development of a final report.  The primary sticking point in the discussion is the status of the actual physical integration of students in racially-balanced learning environments.  Former legislator and current University of Minnesota Law Professor and Director of the Law School's Institute for Metropolitan Opportunity Myron Orfield has been a consistent and longtime proponent of the physical integration of students and often cites studies showing the value in creating these types of learning opportunities for all students, not just minority students.  It's too early to tell how the rule/statute alignment is going to work out, but the consensus appears to be drifting away from the physical integration of students and toward a system based that concentrates more on achievement in home school districts.  Where Orfield continues to hit the ball out of the park is with his statistics on how charter schools and open enrollment often derail district efforts to reach racial balance through boundary changes.  We only have to witness the furor from some parents after Eden Prairie changed its attendance boundaries a few years back to know that these efforts are often met with considerable resistance and/or disappointment.

This working group will be finishing up its next week.  Below is a link to the working group's home page.  Professor Orfield's memorandum to Rose Hermodson makes for good reading.


Speaking of Hitting it out of the Park.  I promised I wouldn't meander too much with the blog, but I have to take this opportunity to wish my boyhood idol, Hank Aaron, a happy 80th birthday.  You wouldn't believe the Aaron versus Killebrew arguments my older brother and I had growing up.  Anyway, happy birthday to a class act and exemplary athlete.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Southeast Service Cooperative Annual Legislative Breakfast.  The Southeast Service Cooperative in conjunction with MASA Region 1 held its annual legislative breakfast on Saturday, February 1, at Rochester Century high school.  Suzanne Riley and the rest of the crew at the Southeast Service Cooperative always do a tremendous job putting together the program and this year was no exception.  Dover-Eyota Superintendent Bruce Klaehn and LeRoy-Ostrander Superintendent Steve Sallee coordinated the program with Klaehn doing his usual excellent job moderating the program and introducing the presenters.

Eight different superintendents gave presentations on a variety of issues facing Minnesota's education system.  Most of the discussion centered around funding issues--both thanking the legislators for the hard work done by the Legislature in 2013 and urging some corrections going forward--and the recently-released recommendations of the Schools Facilities Funding Working Group.  Lake City Superintendent Craig Junker led off with an excellent presentation on the importance and value of school funding to lead off the presentations.  He was followed by Faribault Superintendent Todd Sesker, Cannon Falls Superintendent Beth Giese, and Medford Superintendent Rich Dahman, who each spoke about different elements of location equity revenue.  Dahman spoke of the need to address the "Doughnut Hole" issue that affects districts that do not qualify (or qualify for very little) small schools revenue and do not qualify for location equity revenue.  The speakers who addressed the facilities issue were:  Rushford-Peterson Superintendent Chuck Ehler (need for funding to address natural disasters), Goodhue Superintendent Mike Redmond (need to expend alternative facilities and merge a number of the funding streams related to facilities), and Kasson-Mantorville Superintendent Mark Matuska (need to improve debt service equalization).  St. Charles Superintendent Mark Roubinek wrapped up the presentations with a request to ease some of the requirements relating to Type III drivers.

I am going to try to procure copies of some of the power points and post them on SEE website.

Twelve legislators attended the forum; six senators and six representatives.  They were:  Representative David Bly (Northfield), Representative Steve Drazkowski (Mazeppa), Representative John Petersburg (Waseca), Representative Kim Norton (Rochester), Representative Mike Benson (Rochester), Representative Jeanne Poppe (Austin), Senator Matt Schmit (Red Wing), Senator Vicki Jensen (Owatonna), Senator Dave Senjem (Rochester), Senator Kevin Dahle (Northfield) and Senator Dan Sparks (Austin).

So congratulations on a job well done by all the folks involved with this annual forum!  It is clearly one of the best legislative forums in the entire state as it is very well organized and allows both formal and informal exchanges between school officials and legislative officials.  I can hardly wait for the next one.