Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hurdles Cleared.  Both the House and Senate omnibus education funding bills passed committees today, with the House bill clearing the House Tax Committee and the Senate bill cleared the Senate E-12 Funding Division.  The Senate bill will be in the full Senate Finance Committee tomorrow, where it will meet funding bills from the other Senate funding divisions to be melded together into one major funding bill.  The combination of those bills will not take place tomorrow.  It will then have to go to the Tax Committee for a final stop before it hits the Senate floor.  The House is having a floor session tomorrow, which will allow it to process the committee report from today's Tax Committee, making it possible for the bill to be heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday.  HF 3172 is going to be the consolidated supplemental funding bill considered by the full House and it is possible that could happen as early as Tuesday.  The Senate is a bit behind the House in that respect, but I would expect they will finish work on their supplemental funding bill by the end of next week.

The decision to exclude most policy items from the supplemental appropriations bill is causing a bit of a stir because it leaves the fate of the policy bills somewhat in doubt.  Traditionally, policy bills and appropriations bills from each subject area are combined into one omnibus bill.  However, this year, the spending adjustments are all going into one bill with a limited amount of policy language within the bill.  Because of this, the policy bills will have to pass each floor and head to conference committee where differences will be negotiated.  While neither the House or Senate education policy bills contain controversial items at this point, negotiating between the bodies is always a challenge to develop a compromise bill, especially when the timeline for finishing may be truncated.  I reported yesterday that there appears to be a desire to finish by April 11 and while that is not impossible, a lot of things may have to fall by the wayside and at least a large portion of a number of policy bills--and not just the education policy bills--may not be able to navigate the process.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

House Education Finance Finishes Its Bill, Senate Does the Same Tomorrow.  Things are moving along pretty quickly, as the House Education Finance Committee flew through its bill--HF 3171--this morning, considering a number of amendments (and adopting some) without having to run overtime.  Rather than offer countless amendments across a broad range of issues, the Republican minority zeroed in on a couple of areas where they differ with the DFL majority and offered amendments aimed at these sections.  The area that received the most attention was early childhood scholarships, which are not increased in HF 3171.  While the Republican amendment did not increase revenue for early childhood scholarships, it changed the distribution to direct more revenue to rural counties.  The amendment was not adopted.  One of the election strategies the Republicans appear to be employing is a contention that rural Minnesota is being left behind in the distribution of funding by the DFL majority.  I don't know how that approach will work, but it is certainly being readily employed.  We'll have to wait until November to find out.

The Senate released its bill online and will run it through the committee process tomorrow.  The bill is smaller and with different funding priorities than the House bill.  The total target for funding in the bill is $41 million, but only slightly over $8 million goes to the K-12 system.  The largest increases in the budget go to early childhood scholarships ($12 million) and an increase of just under $12 million for ECFE.

Here are links to the bill's text and the budget and levy tracking sheets for the bill:

Bill Text:

Bill Summary:

Budget Tracking Sheet:,%20Appropriations%20-%20E12%20Omnibus%20Supplemental.pdf

Levy Tracking Sheet:,%20Levies%20-%20E12%20Omnibus%20Supplemental.pdf

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

House Education Finance Walks Through Bill.  It was a relatively quiet day at the Legislature today.  The House Education Finance Committee went through HF 3171 section-by-section and outlined the sections of the bill that propose to provide new revenue to school districts for the coming school year.  The centerpiece of the bill is the 1% ($58/PU) increase in the general education formula that would take effect for the 2014-2015 school year.  There is also an increase in the English Language formula, an increase in pre-school developmental screening, and increased revenue for reduced-price lunches.  The committee took testimony at the end of the hearing, which clears the deck for tomorrow's hearing to be dedicated solely to discussion and voting on amendments.  Republican criticism of the bill zeroed in on a couple of items and my guess is we will see amendments expressing that criticism tomorrow.  Two areas of concern they expressed are the lack of any expansion of the early childhood scholarship program and the lack of reform contained in the bill.

Mad Dash in Sight?  There's always a rumor that rolls around during the non-budget session that the Legislature is going to try and wrap things up before the religious holiday break that is scheduled for the third week of April.  There are reasons to believe that the rumor is more than just idle talk this year.  The passage of the "first" tax bill last week really kicked things into gear and indications this week show a lot of energy and desire for a quick ending to the 2014 legislative session.  To me, the primary evidence pointing in this direction is that both bodies are well ahead of deadline in putting together their omnibus funding and policy bills, as the bills will be ready by the end of this week, which is a full week ahead of the funding bill deadline the Legislature set early in the 2014 session.  The other indication that the Legislature is serious about a quick ending is that it appears they have decided to passing one major funding bill that will contain all of the funding from the various funding divisions as opposed to passing individual bills for each funding division.  This would greatly streamline the conference committee process as instead of having conference committee proceedings advance independently and meander in their own directions, everything would be funneled into one bill.  There would still be individual budget targets for each area, but balancing changes that might exist between the two bodies would be much easier.  Lastly, it appears the Senate will be providing its allocations to its funding divisions tomorrow or Thursday, which would also accelerate the process on that side of the legislative street.

Don't get me wrong.  There is still some large legislative timber to be felled for the Legislature to finish its work and not have to return after the Passover/Easter break.  The anti-bullying bill has yet to clear the Senate floor and the bonding bill is always an adventure in and of itself.  That said, I haven't seen the kind of commitment to an early finish in a number of years.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Last Day.  I think we'll be saying that a lot in the next few weeks, but today was the last day that the House Education Finance Committee will be hearing bills other the omnibus bill, which they will hear tomorrow.  A number of the bills heard today are part of the proposed omnibus education funding draft (released yesterday and described in yesterday's blog entry) or part of the education policy bill--HF 2397--that passed out of the House Education Policy Committee last week.

One of the more interesting of these bill is HF 2568, authored by Representative Mary Sawatsky (DFL-Willmar).  This bill would create a single online reporting system for special education paperwork starting in the 2017-2018 school year.  Representative Sawatsky is a veteran special education teacher with 29 years of experience in the classroom and one of her primary goals in introducing the bill is to reduce the paperwork that special education teachers face on a daily basis.  She readily admits that this bill alone will not accomplish that goal, but that it should help start a discussion that needs to take place surrounding federal and state laws and rules that govern special education and the reporting requirements that accompany these laws and rules.  It is crucial that this discussion include not only the Minnesota Department of Education, but also reach to the Office of Special Education Policy in Washington, D.C.

I don't think anyone is kidding themselves that these will be easy conversations.  It is imperative that the due process and educational rights of children with special needs be protected and that they be offered the opportunities accorded to them by law.  What is troubling is that the amount of paperwork associated with these goals has become a prodigious burden for teachers that detracts from their student contact time.

Whatever the fate of this particular bill this year (it will be heard in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow), it has sparked a needed conversation and one that all educators need to participate in.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

House Releases Omnibus Education Funding Bill Draft.  The House Education Finance Committee has released the strike-everything amendment to HF 3171 that is the first draft of the omnibus education funding bill.  At first blush, this is a solid contribution to continued funding of Minnesota's system of public education that picks up where last year left off.

Here are a few highlights from the bill:

  • 1% increase on the basic formula for the 2014-2015 school year.
  • Extension in eligibility for students to qualify for English Language instruction and an increase in the overall formula.
  • Increase in the safe schools levy for members of intermediate school districts to levy on behalf of the intermediate school districts.
  • Enhanced debt service equalization aid for school districts that have experienced a natural disaster that has affected their buildings.
  • Transfer of alternative compensation revenue to the transition revenue category.
  • $3.5 million to make all reduced price lunches free lunches.
The committee proposes to use the general education basic formula as the method to deliver the increased revenue, which is in the same vein as what this particular committee did last year.  There was compelling testimony to accelerate the findings of the School Facilities Funding Working Group and expand access to revenue for upgrading facilities and also discussion of funding teacher evaluation for non-alternative compensation districts, but that would have left a number of districts receiving little or no new revenue.  The basic formula goes to all districts and in a year when it is likely that less than $100 million will be going into K-12 education, the route that gives the "most to the most" is balanced in both a political and policy sense.

One noticeable absence (at least at this point) is that there does not appear to be an expansion of the early childhood scholarship program in the bill.

Here is a link to the text of the strike-everything amendment.  Do not hesitate to provide me with comments.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Doughnut Hole Filled!!!!  I was looking for the closest color to raspberry, because as I write this, the omnibus tax bill is heading to the Governor for his promised signature and in the process:


All kidding aside, in a rather Bismarckian move (I guess I can't stop kidding), the "doughnut hole" in school funding has been filled and what was formerly known as Location Equity Revenue (now known as Local Option Revenue) will be extended to all districts in the state regardless of their size or geographic location.  In addition to the $300/PU highly-equalized board-approved referendum, districts will now get to approve up to $424/PU by board vote.  In most instances, this will simply be a transfer from the district's referendum to the new local options revenue category, but for districts with referendum revenue per pupil unit less than $724/PU, the opportunity exists for new revenue.

Thanks go out to Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), Chair of the Senate Tax Committee, and bill chief authors Senator Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) and Joe Radinovich (DFL-Crosby) for their work on this measure.

This provision takes effect for property taxes payable in 2015 for the 2015-2016 school year with state aid costs not taking effect until next biennium.  The total revenue cost will be about $50 million per year, with a bit more aid then levy.  This will leave the entire K-12 budget target for this year intact and we will see in the coming week what the House and Senate will commit to K-12 education during this session.  There are a lot of areas for possible investment, including paying for costs related to the anti-bullying bill that is expected to pass, facilities needs, and teacher evaluation costs.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Education Policy Bills Clear First Committee.  The House and Senate Education Policy bills cleared the House Education Policy and Senate Education Committees respectively today.  The day did get long, with the debate on the Senate floor regarding the status of the tax bill delaying the start of the Senate Education Committee until mid-afternoon (more on that later).  The House Education Committee began its deliberations at 10:00 AM and recessed at 11:30.  It reconvened at 6:00 PM and the meeting concluded around 9:00 PM.  The Senate began its meeting around 3:00 PM and the meeting wrapped up shortly before 5:00.  Both meetings lacked the partisan rancor that has typified the debate over the past few years.  Some amendments were added, but they were, for the most part, extremely non-controversial.  Only the amendments relating to teacher evaluation elicited much discussion (an amendment offered in each body failed) and even that discussion was conducted using inside voices.  The bills will now move to the Education Finance divisions in their respective bodies.  Engrossed versions containing the effects of the amendments will most likely be available on Monday.

Here are links to the pre-amended version of the bills:



Senate Tax Bill Hung Up.  Senate leadership expected a floor vote on final passage of the Senate's version of the tax bill today, but in order to do that, they needed to suspend the rules.  That motion requires a 2/3 vote of the body (45 votes) to prevail and because Republicans took a caucus position opposing the motion, the motion failed.  This will require the Senate to take up the bill tomorrow.  As I reported yesterday, the Senate's tax cut package is smaller than both the House's and the Governor's, but the Senate does put more money into the budget reserve.  From a distance, it appears the Senate's mantra is:  "In order to put the state on firm fiscal footing, we had to take a lot of very tough votes to raise taxes last year and the last thing we want to do is come back next year and make another round of tough votes to raise taxes again."  While the economy looks strong right now, a downturn could dim the state's bright fiscal situation and Senate leadership believes that putting more money into the budget reserve to cushion the state in the event of an economic slowdown is the safer route to take.  We'll find out more tomorrow when the debate on the Senate floor ensues.

Thanks to Senator Hoffman.  I want to thank Senator John Hoffman for introducing SF 2520 and inviting me to testify on its behalf.  SF 2520 would take the tax relief portions of the report of the School Facilities Finance Working Group and enact them.  The bill increases the tax relief delivered through the debt service equalization program by lowering the eligibility threshold and increasing the equalizing factor.  The bill also increases the equalizing factors for the health and safety program and the deferred maintenance/alternative facilities program.  The bill does not contain the programmatic changes contained in that report.

Here is a link to the bill:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Busy Wednesday.  The deadlines for the omnibus funding bills is more than two weeks away, but there is a lot of ground to cover as it pertains to the content of those bills, so the hearing schedule is going to be heavy over the next week-and-a-half to get everything heard.  Today's Senate E-12 Funding Division hearing was dedicated to some very interesting bills, two of which involved SEE districts to a great extent.  Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) is the chief author of both of these bills--SF 2032 and SF 2567--that deal with the equity revenue program and location equity revenue.  SF 2032 would expand the definition of metro to mirror that of the location equity revenue program that was established last year.  This would add a handful of districts that have geographic area in seven-county metropolitan area within their district boundaries, but whose district office building is located outside the seven-county metropolitan area.  The price tag for the bill is not that steep, but the revenue going to the affected districts is clearly needed.  All but one of the affected districts are SEE member districts.  SF 2567 would change the definition of the metropolitan area, updating to relatively recently established definition called the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington-MN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area.  This definition adds Chisago, Isanti, Sherburne, and Wright counties to the current seven-county metropolitan area of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington counties.  Under SF 2567, all of the school districts in these counties would receive $424/PU in location equity revenue as opposed to $212/PU.

The debate over revising the location equity revenue program and the variable benefit delivered under last year's omnibus E-12 funding bill may be rendered moot if the Article IV, Sections 1 through 3 of the Senate's proposed omnibus tax bill authored by Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook).  The Article is the Property Tax Article of the bill and in it, the Senate is proposing to change the name "Location Equity Revenue" to "Local Option Revenue" and give all districts in the state--metro and non-metro--the opportunity to levy up to $424/PU equalized at the second-tier equalizing factor of $510,000/PU in referendum market value.  This amount would then be deducted from a district's referendum if its total referendum per pupil unit exceeded $724/PU.  These provisions would be effective for property taxes paid in 2015 for the 2015-2016 school year.  This would put to rest a lot of issues that have emanated from the decisions made in the omnibus tax bill.

The Senate will be debating and passing its tax bill on the Senate floor tomorrow.  The tax cuts contained in the Senate bill ($434 million) are lower than those proposed by both the Governor ($616 million) and the House of Representatives ($503 million).  The Senate puts more revenue into the budget reserve than either the House or Governor.

Here is a link to the Senate Omnibus Tax Bill:  The local option revenue is found on page 45, beginning on line 10.

Education Policy Bills.  Both the House and Senate will be logging long days tomorrow as they assemble their education policy bills.  I posted the initial strike-everything amendments yesterday, but I am certain that more language will be added to both bills in tomorrow's meetings.

Anti-Bullying Bill Heads to Senate Floor.  HF 826, the anti-bullying bill, passed out of the Senate Finance Committee today on a party-line vote.  An amendment offered in committee struck the district penalties out of the bill.  It is my guess that the bill will hit the Senate floor sometime next week.  Given the dramatic changes made to the bill, I expect that it will pass.  It will then go back to the House and all indications are that the House will accept the Senate amendments and attempt to re-pass the bill.  Given the somewhat closer balance between Democrat and Republican numbers in the House, the Democrats cannot afford many defections if they are to be successful in re-passing the bill and sending it to the Governor for his promised signature.  I imagine that opponents of the bill will now focus their efforts on DFLers they see as possibly being vulnerable on the bill if it should pass and see if they can drum up enough votes against it.  Should be an interesting debate in both bodies.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Deadline Week.  Friday is the first policy committee deadline making it a mad rush around the Capitol as authors try to get their bills heard by the appropriate policy committee (or committees) before the week is out.  Any bill that is not passed out of a policy committee in either body by Friday is unofficially dead for the session.  Bills can often be resurrected as amendments later in the process, but it is extremely rare that a bill that has been unable to pass the appropriate policy committee would merit enough support to find itself accepted as an amendment on a major appropriations or policy bill.  The House Education Policy Committee has been keeping extra long hours over the past couple of weeks, having periodic night meetings that have covered a wide array of topics.  House Education Policy Chair Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) allows the committee to delve into issues and promotes discussion of bills.  It's rare that a topic does not enjoy full coverage and opposing viewpoints to be aired.

The Senate Education Committee has not held as many hearings at its counterpart in the House, but it has also covered a wide range of topics.  As the policy committee season draws to a close, it seems like every idea large and small has been heard and it seems like everything has been heard except for the

Omnibus Policy Bills Released.  The House and Senate Education Policy Committees released their first versions of their omnibus education policy bills today.  There will be amendments offered as both bills are heard throughout the rest of the week.  The bills are largely composed of legislation that has been previously heard in committee, the most notable of which is SF 2611 (Torres Ray)/HF 3062 (Mariani).  This legislation targets the achievement of non-English speaking students and their families.  It is surely an ambitious proposal and one that centers on a fast-growing segment of Minnesota's student population.

Here are links to the omnibus education policy bills:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up.  The end of last week proved to be particularly hectic with a number of bills of interest being heard and the House of Representatives releasing its budget targets.  After the House Education Finance Committee heard its "doughnut hole" bills on Wednesday, it was the Senate's turn to do the same on Thursday.  The bills were heard in reverse order than they were in the House, with the "universal" bills authored by Senator Bonoff (SF 2233) and Senator Jensen (SF 2370) heard before the bills authored by St. Cloud's Senator Pederson (SF 1938) and Senator Nelson (SFs 1982 and 2079).

Of these bills, the "richest" would be Senator Jensen's SF 2370.  This bill would provide all districts currently below the $424/PU in metropolitan area location equity revenue discretionary levy authority up to that amount.  In other words, the only districts that wouldn't enjoy a new advantage would be those school districts that currently are eligible for the metropolitan level of location equity revenue.  The largest possible increase would go to those non-metropolitan districts with an enrollments less than 2,000 pupil units that currently receive no location equity revenue.  It is important to remember that districts with a current referendum greater than $724/PU would not receive any new revenue from the proposed change, but may receive some property tax relief.  Non-metropolitan districts that currently receive $212/PU in location equity revenue would receive a bump up to $424/PU, but, again, this may not translate to an increase in revenue.  Another feature of SF 2370 is that districts that receive small schools revenue are eligible for the entire $424/PU in discretionary levy authority.

Senator Bonoff's SF 2233 is a scaled-back version of SF 2370, under which all non-metropolitan districts with enrollments between 960 and 2,000 pupil units being eligible for non-metropolitan location equity revenue of $212/PU.  This is the classic "doughnut hole" solution as it deals with those districts that currently receive neither location equity revenue or small schools revenue.  As in the case of SF 2370, this may not mean any new revenue for a number of districts.  One change that needs to be incorporated into this bill is an option for districts that receive small schools revenue the option of choosing either small schools revenue or location equity revenue.  As Medford superintendent Rich Dahman pointed out in his testimony, Medford receives very little small schools revenue and opting for location equity revenue would be a greater advantage for them.

Senator Pederson's and Senator Nelson's bills would provide a small set of districts (particularly Rochester and St. Cloud) the metropolitan level of $424/PU in location equity revenue.

The price tags for the bills vary widely.  SF 2370 would provide eligible districts with a total of $49.71 million in new revenue, with $27.18 million coming in levy and $22.52 million coming in aid.  SF 2233 would provide $7.04 million, with the split being $3.41 million in levy and $3.63 in aid.  The price tag for SF 2233 would go up slightly if districts that currently receive small schools revenue were given the option of receiving their current level of small schools revenue or participating in the location equity revenue program.

The testimony on SF 2370 featured a number of superintendents.  With the MASA conference in town, a small group of superintendents made their way to the committee to share their perspectives on the bill.  Featured superintendents included Windom Superintendent Wayne Wormstadt, Montevideo Superintendent Luther Heller, Holdingford Superintendent Eric McWilliams, Medford Superintendent Rich Dahman, and Milaca Superintendent Jerry Hansen.  I want to thank SEE superintendents Dahman and Hansen for sharing their thoughts for our organization.

It will be interesting to see where the discussion goes from here.  I anticipate that the "doughnut hole" issue will be addressed, but it is difficult to ascertain how much in terms of resources will be dedicated to this purpose and there is always competition for resources.  Stay tuned.

House Budget Targets Released.  The House of Representatives released its budget targets on Friday.  There are some significant departures from the Governor's budget recommendations.  Noteworthy is the House's education budget target of $92 million.  It is unclear if the House target includes higher education in that number(the Governor proposes spending an additional $22 million for the University of Minnesota and MnSCU), but the narrative accompanying the targets indicate that the House majority wants to do something in terms of providing resources for teacher evaluation, especially for those districts that currently do not participate in the alternative compensation program.  The budget target also appears to provide resources for expanding the early childhood scholarship program.  Another departure from the Governor comes in the area of tax cuts.  The Governor has targeted $616 million for tax cuts, while the House comes in at $550 million.

Here is a story from MPR outlining the House's budget targets.  The actual House document is included in the story.

MPR Link:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Doughnut Hole Day.  The "Doughnut Hole" issue surfaced in the House K-12 Education Funding
Committee this morning, as four bills related to it were discussed.  The four were:

  1. HF 2547 (Radinovich)
  2. HF 2544 (Benson)
  3. HF 2256 (Dorholt)
  4. HF 2585 (Norton) 
HF 2547 is the "richest" of the four approaches.  It would provide discretionary levy authority for all school districts currently not receiving "metro" location equity revenue of $424 per pupil unit.  For districts with a referendum of more than $724/PU, there would be no direct new revenue but districts could renew a portion of their current referendum without having to go to a vote.  For a district with a referendum of less than $724/PU, there could be possible new money for a district equal to the difference between the district's current referendum per pupil unit and $724/PU.  All districts would be eligible for this provision, including those districts that received $212/PU in location equity revenue and those receiving small schools revenue.  No official cost has been calculated for the proposal, but it could amount to nearly $40 million--combination of aid and levy--if all districts took full advantage of the increased levy authority.

Representative Benson's HF 2544 is a scaled-back version of HF 2547.  It would give all districts currently not receiving location equity revenue the opportunity to receive location equity revenue of $212/PU except those districts currently receiving small schools revenue.  As in the case of HF 2547, some districts would receive new revenue (those with referenda less than $512/PU) and others would be able to "swap" referendum revenue and location equity revenue.

HF 2256 and HF 2585 are, in effect, local bills that would allow a smaller set of districts access to the metropolitan location equity revenue amount of $424/PU.  HF 2256 would allow non-metropolitan districts with enrollment greater than 7,000 metropolitan location equity revenue while HF 2585 would add Duluth and Rochester to the metropolitan reason as cities of the first class (although they are not located in the metropolitan area).

Tomorrow, the Senate E-12 Funding Division will hear the Senate companions to these House files.  The companion bills are:

SF 2730 (Jensen)--Companion to HF 2547
SF 2233 (Bonoff)--Companion to HF 2544
SF 1938 (Pederson)--Companion to HF 2256
SF 2079 (Nelson)--Companion to HF 2585

The House Education Finance Committee also heard HF 2919 (Sawatsky), the House companion to SF 2117, Senator Kevin Dahle's bill that would provide districts not currently eligible for the alternative facilities program $53/PU in revenue to repair and upgrade their facilities.  I urge everyone to contact leadership in the House and Senate telling them that more revenue for facilities is necessary and the these two bills would provide districts statewide with resources for this purpose.

Wednesday Bill Introductions.  

SF 2567 (Kiffmeyer)/Currently No House Companion: Expanding school district eligibility for location equity revenue:

Simpsons cartoon copyright 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two Very Important Bills Heard.   It was center stage for the HF 826, the anti-bullying bill authored by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), today in the Senate Education Policy Committee.  The discussion of the bill began at this afternoon's hearing, but the committee ran out of time before the Republicans could offer any amendments, necessitating that the hearing continue at 6 PM and run until just before 8 PM.  One of the points of confusion sprung from the fact that the Republicans had drafted amendments to the original bill that no longer fit the format after the adoption of a strike-everything amendment offered by Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley).  Senator Clausen has worked very closely with Senator Dibble over the past few months to find solutions to some of the problems related to application of the law in school districts.  Senator Clausen is a retired school administrator who has been on the front lines in school buildings dealing with the type of issues that HF 826 aims to correct.  His input into the bill addresses several of the pressing issues that caused most education groups consternation, particularly in terms of the definition of bullying and the bill's reporting requirements.  Under the amendment offered and passed by Senator Clausen, the definition of bullying has been tightened up dramatically and clearly differentiated from harassment.  Under the new definition, in order for behavior to be labelled bullying, it would have to be repeated, characterized by a difference in power between the bully and the target of bullying, interfere with a student's educational opportunities materially and substantially, and disrupt the work and discipline of the school.  This constitutes a much more concise definition than the definition contained in the original bill.  The bill also relaxes the mandatory reporting requirements contained in the bill up to this point.  The bill also allows local districts to determine how to train volunteers as opposed to having a statewide policy dictate that.

The Republicans offered a number of amendments after the committee re-convened, only three of which passed.  The most substantive of these amendments tightened up the definition further.  The Republicans also offered a strike-everything amendment that would have altered the anti-bullying policy contained in the bill to closely resemble that of North Dakota's.  North Dakota's anti-bullying policy scores a 13/16 grade on criteria developed by the federal Office of Civil Rights, but it lacks several elements that are of importance to the House and Senate authors of HF 826 and that have been endorsed by all the committees through which the bill has passed.  The "North Dakota" amendment failed on a party-line vote.

The new engrossment of the bill will be available after the committee report is reported to the Senate floor,which will likely occur on Thursday.   There will likely be more amendments offered as the bill moves to the Senate floor after a stop in the Finance Committee.  I will keep you posted of the chatter around this bill as it continues through the process.

The other bill of interest that was heard today was SF 2117 (Dahle), a bill that would expand the alternative facilities program (at least on a limited basis to start) to all school districts instead of limiting it to the current 25 districts that enjoy the advantages of this program.  The bill as introduced did not have an appropriation or a per pupil allowance for districts that do not currently employ the alternative facilities program.  An amendment offered in committee would give these districts $53/PU for the purposes outlined in the alternative facilities program.  That this rate, the total cost of the bill amounts to approximately $24.7 million.  This bill would fulfill one of the platform planks of the 2014 SEE platform and I would urge those interested to contact Senator Dahle, thanking him for introducing and strengthening his bill, and also contacting Senate leadership to put this bill into their overall budget plans.

Here is a link to SF 2117.  After the amendment, the blank on 1.15 should be filled with the amount of $53.

SF 2117:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bill Introductions.  Here are Monday's bill introductions:

SF 2459 (Clausen)/HF 2775 (Brynaert):  Aligning teacher evaluation programs:

SF 2460 (Wiger)/HF 2683 (Bly):  Establishes Response to Intervention requirements:

SF 2498 (Eken)/HF 2443 (Marquart):  Allows September 1 school start day for 2015-2016 school year:

SF 2520 (Hoffman)/HF 2743 (Hortman):  Increases equalization factors for facilities-related programs:

HF 2861 (Isaacson)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Directs commissioner of education to consult with experts to design career and technical education programs:

HF 2781 (Yarusso)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Clarifies testing requirements for teachers:

HF 2819 (Sawatsky)/SF 2117:  Requires funding for facilities funding work group for 2016-2017 biennium and provides one-time facilities funding for FY 15:

Road Trip.  Thanks to Litchfield school board and Superintendent Dan Frazier for having me out to Monday night's board meeting.  It's always great to get out and see SEE members and field whatever questions they have about SEE's mission and the current legislative session.  Thanks again!

Big Day Tomorrow in Senate Education Policy.  Last Thursday, Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) re-referred HF 826--the anti-bullying bill--from the Senate Finance Committee to the Senate Education Committee, where it will be heard tomorrow.  There will likely be amendments to the bill to soften some aspects of it that school district personnel believe make it difficult to implement.  It should be a lively hearing and I will report on it tomorrow.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

A Bill to Watch.  A bill that was heard in the House Education Policy committee last week that has flown beneath the radar to a great extent with all of the attention being showered on higher profile bills is HF 2658 (Sawatsky)/SF 2305 (Dahle).  This bill proposes that a single online reporting system be developed for all reporting of special education compliance data to the Minnesota Department of Education.  Currently, the Minnesota Department of Education develops what must be reported, but it allows local school districts options as to how the data is reported.  Districts purchase the system by which the data is reported from whichever vendor they prefer.  School districts use a variety of criteria when deciding on what reporting system to use.   The bill's authors and proponents contend that going to a single reporting method will reduce paperwork, but that premise is questionable.  I'll use the following analogy to illustrate why.

Say that you have four different colored pails and you had to fill one pail.  You could choose any of the four different colored pails to fill.  All have the same volume and are of the same exact specifications.  The only requirement is that you have to fill the pail that you choose.  That is the task.

What HF 2568/SF 2305 proposes to do is limit the number of available pails to a single color.  You still must fill the pail and it has the same volume and specifications as before, but the state will tell you the color of the pail that must be filled.  Local districts will no longer have a choice of which color "pail" to fill with special education compliance data.  For the life of me (and a lot of special education administrators), I don't know how this reduces paperwork.  Instead of limiting the number of programs that can be used to submit data, the Minnesota Department of Education should think of ways to reduce the amount of paperwork that needs to be reported.  Taking the analogy one step further, they need to think about making the size of the pail smaller.  HF 2568 was heard in the House Education Policy Committee last Wednesday night and the committee and witnesses seemed to talk past his issue, which is unfortunate.

Perhaps (Perhaps?) this analogy is a bit tortured, but the point is relatively clear.  While creating one online system may make portability of data from district-to-district easier, it's not going to do much in terms of reducing the amount of paperwork that teachers have to complete on each special education student.  Whatever happens with this bill, hopefully the debate will include the entire scope of the paperwork issue and not simply stop at consistency in reporting.  We collect a ton of data on all students and the data and paperwork related to special education students is extensive.  The discussion that needs to take place is how valuable much of this data truly is and how its collection adds to the educational experience of special needs students.

It is Sunday, so I will now give the tortured analogy portion of my brain its needed day of rest.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Missed a Day (or Two).  The weekend is here and I can catch up with a couple days where I haven't been able to blog.  We started our circuit of SEE regional meeting with our first meeting in Isanti (at the Creamery Crossing, which I highly recommend for food and value) and meetings will run through the month.  Monday we are meeting at the Red Goat in Cokato.  I hope to see as many SEE members there as possible.  These are valuable listening sessions where membership gets to voice concerns and opinions on legislation in an informal setting.

Now, back to business.

House Passes Tax Cut Bill.  The Minnesota House of Representatives passed a $503 million tax cut bill by an overwhelming vote of 126-2 on Thursday.  The bill undoes several of the tax increases enacted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor last session.  Foremost among the cuts are the repeal of the business-to-business taxes, some of which are slated to go into effect on April 1 if the Senate does not act on the bill and get it to the Governor to sign before then.  Expect a concerted effort by the business community to push the Senate toward action in the next couple of weeks.  The House vote roughly coincides with Governor Dayton's release of his supplemental budget for the remainder of the biennium.  I'll talk a bit more about the Governor's budget later (and how disappointing it is for education), but his plan calls for an additional $113 million in budget cuts beyond what the House improved, mostly through almost full conformity with changes made in the federal tax code last year, particularly in the area of the estate and gift taxes.

Here is a story from the Pioneer Press that discusses the House vote and the Governor's budget:

Governor's Budget.  As I mentioned above, the Governor released his budget on Thursday.  It's heavy on tax cuts, light on spending, and somewhere in between on putting money into the budget reserves.  I described the proposed tax cuts above and how they go beyond the bill the House passed on Thursday.  The budget proposes $162 million in new spending, $3.5 million of which would go to education to pay for making reduced-price lunches free and preventing lunch "refusals" in Minnesota school districts.  The remainder of the projected surplus--$455 million--would be placed in the budget reserve.

It is difficult to say how the Legislature will respond to the Governor's budget.  It's pretty obvious that there are going to be considerable tax cuts in the final package.  It's also obvious from the Governor's perspective that he is leaving space for the Legislature to increase spending by either not cutting taxes as greatly or dipping into the budget reserve.  What there isn't is much room to move dollars from one expenditure to another in the Governor's proposed spending increases.  The largest single new spending increase in the Governor's budget proposal is an additional $64.3 million to pay for a proposed 4% increase for nursing home providers.  There are a number of other increases in the $10 million to $20 million range, but given the fact that $20 million has been budgeted, passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor for low-income heating assistance, there is even less room to maneuver.  Further, the Governor's recommendations all are going to budget areas that would be difficult to move dollars out of.

What is most disappointing from the education community's perspective is the lack of new resources in the budget.  It's not that much different from last year, where legislative efforts--especially in the House of Representatives--put more revenue into the base budget for education.  Add to that the work done in the Senate Tax Committee to increase equalization and it added up to a good year for education in 2013 that started with somewhat meager hopes.  It will be interesting to see how the Legislature proceeds.  I think it is extremely important for educators from all regions and stripes to contact their legislators and remind them that although 2013 was good (and that legislators should be thanked for their efforts), there is still a lot to be done and that cannot be done without resources.  There are a number of bills floating around to correct problems in the education funding system--particularly the doughnut hole from SEE's perspective--and put more money into an education funding base that hasn't truly kept pace with inflation over the past two decades.

It will make for an interesting couple of months ahead.

Link to Governor's press release on tax and budget recommendations:

Tax Cuts:

Budget Recommendations:

Thursday Bill Introductions.

SF 2314 (Torres Ray)/HF 2378 (Davnie): Increases revenue for early childhood screening, early education, English language learners, and adult basic education:

SF 2328 (Torres Ray)/HF 2679 (Mariani):  Increases revenue for extended time, English language learners, and the safe schools levy:

SF 2370 (Jensen)/HF 2547 (Radinovich):  Doughnut Hole Solution:

SF 2382 (Pratt)/Currently No House Companion:  Modifies unrequested leave of absence provisions for teachers:

SF 2411 (Nelson)/Currently No House Companion:  Anti-Bullying Bill modeled on North Dakota Anti-Bullying Legislation:

HF 2743 (Hortman)/SF 2520 (Hoffman):  Increased equalization for facilities-related levies including debt service:

HF 2744 (Dorholt)/SF 1939 (J. Pederson):  Increases English language learner eligibility from 5 to 7 years:

HF 2776 (Brynaert)/SF 2479 (Dahle):  Recommendations of Career Pathways and Technical Education Task Force:

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Night Moves.  It's pretty rare when the Legislature starts having night meetings during the second week of session, but with the first committee deadline just two-and-a-half weeks away, a number of committees have begun to meet outside of their regular meeting times.  Tonight, the House Education Policy Committee met and covered three bills related to special education along with a presentation by the Minnesota Department of Education and the co-chairs of the Special Education Caseloads and Rule Alignment Task Force outlining the recommendations of that group.  While none of these findings and resulting bills are controversial, there was spirited discussion of HF 2568 (Sawatsky).  This bill would create a single online reporting system for all special education paperwork in the state.  On its face, it sounds like a good idea, but the question of whether it is the fact that there are multiple vendors providing reporting systems to school districts and special education cooperatives or if it is what is required on the forms by the Minnesota Department of Education that is truly causing the paperwork issues faced by teachers and administrators.  Representative Sawatsky's bill will be moving to the Judiciary Committee, where privacy issues will be discussed.  After that, it will likely be sent back to the Education Policy Committee for possible inclusion in the policy portion of the omnibus education bill.

An Exemplary Report.  The House and Senate Education Funding Committees held a joint hearing this morning dedicated to the final recommendations of the School Facilities Funding Working Group.  There is nary a peep of dissent to this report.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that if the recommendations of the report were enacted, considerable new resources ($200 million in FY 17, $250 million in FY 18, and $300 million)would be funneled into Minnesota's school districts to pay for deferred maintenance projects and increased debt service equalization.  The gist of the group's recommendations is pretty straightforward:  (1) consolidate several revenue streams into a simpler system, (2) increase the facilities revenue available for Minnesota school districts, especially those districts not eligible for the alternative facilities program, and (3) increase equalization of all of these programs to make the tax effort fairer and closer to uniform across the state.

Here is a link to the Working Group's final report.  Tom Melcher used a Powerpoint presentation to summarize the report and back-up data.  I will pass that along online when I can get an electronic copy.

Link to Report:  file:///C:/Users/Brad/Downloads/School%20Facilities%20Financing%20Working%20Group%20-%20Final%20Report%20February%201%202014.pdf

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

HITA Takes Another Step.  HF 2180, the Health Insurance Transparency Act--Education Minnesota's latest school health insurance proposal--took another step closer to the floors of the respective houses of the Legislature this afternoon as it passed the House Commerce Committee on a party-line vote of 10-7.  No amendments were offered but, at some level, it appears some progress is being made toward changes in the bill that would make it more palatable.  Julie Cink and Matt Mons from Prior Lake-Savage and Tom Peterson from Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan once again laid out the problems this bill would cause for school districts that are self-insured.  Sam Walseth outlined concerns of the Service Cooperatives, through whom a lot of health insurance is provided for Minnesota school districts.

I think a lot more about equalizing factors than I do about health insurance, but there are some puzzling things about this bill, especially as it relates to the sealed bid process that are troubling and need to be cleaned up before this can become law without major consequences for school districts.  What would prevent a substandard provider of health insurance to "low ball" a bid to school districts in terms of cost.  When the bids were opened, they would have the lowest cost irrespective of the quality of the product.  School districts could still refuse to take the lowest bid--they can make their decisions on the aggregate value of a proposal (cost of coverage considered along with quality of coverage)--but the public relations nightmare a district may face from not accepting the lowest bid may be considerable.

The next stop for the House bill is the Judiciary Committee.  The Senate version will be up in the Senate Education Policy Committee next week.  It appears the bill is moving toward relatively easy passage, but the authors in both bodies are willing to make changes that protect school districts, especially those that are self-insured.

Good to See SEE Members at the Capitol.  This is SEE week at the Capitol, with Deb Griffiths bringing groups from each of our SEE regions to the Capitol to lobby their legislators on issues of importance to their districts.  SEE members from the south metro were at the Capitol Tuesday and it was great to spend some time with them.  I look forward to seeing each group as they wind their way through the complex.

Tuesday Bill Introductions.  Because the House wanted to move their tax cut/tax conformity bill expeditiously through the process, both the House and Senate held floor sessions today, making the list of bill introductions considerably shorter.  So, here is the abbreviated list of introductions from today:

SF 2282 (Dahle)/HF 2681 (Selcer):  Changes review-and-comment process per School Facilities Funding Working Group recommendations:

SF 2299 (Dahle)/HF 2693 (Sawatsky):  Enacts recommendations of Special Education Caseloads and Rule Alignment Task Force:

SF 2305 (Dahle)/HF 2568 (Sawatsky):  Creates single online reporting system for special education due process data:

HF 2698 (Sundin)/Currently No Senate Companion: Provides debt service equalization for debt incurred as a result of a natural disaster:

HF 2706 (Slocum)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Modification of charter school provisions:

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Hits Just Keep on Coming.  The Legislature met in session today and between the two houses, another 297 bills were introduced.  With this year's early deadlines, everyone is trying to get their bills in the hopper and heard.  The first policy committee deadline is March 21, which is a mere two weeks from this coming Friday.  That means a couple of wild weeks and numerous night meetings will be needed to meet this time frame.

Without further suspense, here are today's introductions:

SF 2117 (Dahle)/Currently No House Companion: Requires Governor put revenue for School Facilities Finance Working Group recommendations in next biennial budget:

SF 2121 (Rosen)/Currently No House Companion:  Repeals World's Best Workforce annual evaluation:

SF 2159 (Skoe)/HF 2555 (Radinovich):  Allocates a portion of the state general tax on seasonal residential recreational property to school districts:

SF 2160 (Kent)/HF 2514 (Davnie):  Creates a transportation funding source for area learning center students in certain situations:

SF 2213 (Petersen)/HF 2271 (Erickson): Creates performance pay system.  Combines alternative compensation program with teacher evaluation program:

SF 2233 (Bonoff)/HF 2544 (Benson):  Clarifies location equity revenue.  Possible doughnut hole solution:

HF 2547 (Radinovich)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Location Equity Revenue clarification.  Possible Doughnut Hole Solution:

HF 2570 (Mariani)/HF 1761 (Bonoff): Creates alternative compensation preparation revenue:

HF 2575 (Slocum)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Limits placement or student teachers:

HF 2585 (Norton)/SF 2079 (Nelson):  Puts all school districts in cities of the first class into metro equity region.  Adds Rochester and Duluth:

HF 2587 (Radinovich)/SF 1765 (Jensen):  Provides for information technology certifications through public-private partnerships:

HF 2588 (Zerwas)/SF 2032 (Kiffmeyer):  Modifies definition of equity region:

HF 2589 (Urdahl)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Creates year-long student teacher pilot program:

HF 2630 (Wills)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Expanded school nutrition policy:

HF 2679 (Mariani)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Increases Revenue for Extended Time, extends eligibility for English language learners, and increases safe schools levy:

HF 2683 (Bly)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Increased use of Response to Intervention:

HF 2693 (Sawatsky)/SF 2299 (Dahle):  Puts recommendations of Special Education Caseload and Rule/Statute Alignment in law:

HF 2696 (Brynaert)/SF 2167 (Saxhaug):  Increases telecommunications access equity funding:

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Thursday Bill Intros.  It wasn't quite as voluminous as Tuesday's set of introductions (when I almost needed a wheelbarrow to cart the document around), but another healthy set of introductions that will start to wend their way through the process.  Unsession?  Unlikely.

So, here we go:

SF 1938 (Pederson)/HF 2256 (Dorholt):  Allows districts with enrollment greater than 7,000 to get full $424/PU in Location Equity Revenue:  This is the first of many bills that will be introduced this session dealing with Location Equity Revenue and the "doughnut hole."

SF 1939 (Pederson)/Currently No House Companion:  Expands eligibility for English Language learners from 5 to 7 years:

SF 1967 (Wiger)/HF 1920 (Newton):  Rolls Alternative Compensation (QComp) Funding to the basic general education formula allowance:

SF 2032 (Kiffmeyer/Currently No House Companion: Makes definition of metro area for equity revenue identical to the definition of metro area for Location Equity Revenue:

SF 2096 (Hoffman)/HF 2296 (Newton):  Changes allocation of compensatory revenue requirements:

HF 2378 (Davnie)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Increases revenue for developmental screening aid, early education programs, extends English language learner eligibility from 5 years to 7 years, increases ABE funding:

HF 2387 (Benson)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Mandate relief.  Eliminates 2% staff development set-aside, relaxes publishing requirements, changes compensatory revenue allocation formula:

HF 2387 (Marini)/SF 1889 (Torres Ray):  MDE Technical Bill:

HF 2443 (Marquart)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Allows September 1 start date for 2015-2016 school year:

HF 2462 (Winkler)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Increases ABE formula for community-based providers:

HF 2477 (Davnie)/SF 1829 (Kent):  Increases Appropriation for early childhood literacy programs:

HF 2480 (Selcer)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Increases funding for reduced-price lunches and makes reduced-price lunch participants eligible for free lunch:

HF 2489 (Woodard)/SF 1873 (Petersen):  Changes unrequested leave-of-absence policy.  Eliminates LIFO and makes leave-of-absence policies up to district negotiation:

HF 2514 (Davnie)/SF 2160 (Kent):  Creates a transportation funding source for certain students attending an area learning center outside their resident district:

HF 2544 (Benson)/Currently No Senate Companion:  Clarifies location equity revenue qualifications:  This bill provides that all districts under 2,000 pupils that do not receive small schools revenue are eligible for $212/PU.  There will be another bill coming that will allow districts that receive small schools revenue to opt for either location equity revenue or small schools revenue and it will likely be introduced next week.

Broadband Access.  It isn't talked about as much as it should be in the context of education, but broadband access is an increasingly important educational equity issue for many Minnesota communities.  Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) has introduced SF 2056 that would establish a competitive grant program for communities that are currently behind the curve in broadband access.  If we've learned anything this winter, it's that the weather can wreak havoc on school schedules.  Increased broadband access throughout Minnesota would allow for the establishment of blended learning models that incorporate online and in-person educational programs that would make days when the formal school session is cancelled an opportunity to use technology to make certain those days aren't lost learning days as well.  The problem is that broadband access is uneven throughout the state and Senator Schmit's bill would help create greater access for students throughout the state to a quality broadband network.

SF 2056 (Schmit)/Currently No House Companion:

I Probably Should Have Led with This.  Budget situation gets ever rosier.  Another $408 million has been added to the projected surplus for the remainder of this biennium, bringing the total projected surplus to $1.233 billion.  $6 million of the increased budget balance comes from the stadium reserve, with $366 million coming from increased revenue and $48 million being contributed through lower-than-expected state expenditures.  An improving state economy is central in both of those numbers.

There is serious talk of compliance with changes in the federal tax code and repeal of a number of the business-to-business tax increases enacted last year, which would cut the projected balance just about in half.  That would leave considerable revenue on the table for either enacting new spending programs, augmenting existing spending programs, or increase state budget reserves.  When I gently jibed the idea of an unsession earlier in this post, the framework I've described in this paragraph is what I had in mind.  Available revenue usually puts a jolt of energy in the Legislature, both for those who want to put more revenue into programs and those who want to cut taxes.  I imagine we're going to see increased activities from both of these platoons in the coming weeks.  Legislative life is going to get very interesting.

Here is a link to the Minnesota Management and Budget page outlining the forecast.  The Forecast at a Glance provides a quick overview, but if you want to dig deeper,  the document link below that provides a more comprehensive description of all of the elements that have contributed to the current situation.

MMB Link: