Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Quiet Day.  None of the education-related conference committees met today as targets have yet to be reached on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and the education policy conference committee postponed their next meeting until tomorrow.  The conference committee on the Health Insurance Transparency Act also did not meet and the only thing we know about that moving forward is that the House has the gavel and will be calling the next meeting.  The Legislature must finish its work by Monday, May 19, and it cannot pass bills on the last day of the session this year, meaning work will have to finish by Sunday, May 18.  It is rare that the Legislature meets in session on a Sunday, but it has happened with some regularity over the past decade.  Stay tuned.

Governor Gives State of the State Address.  Due to Governor Dayton's recovery from surgery earlier this session, the Govenror's State of the State Address was postponed until the last day of April, which is the latest State of the State Address that I can recall.  The focus of Governor's speech was progress he believes has been made over the past three-plus years.  He highlighted efforts he believes have bolstered Minnesota's economy and put Minnesota's fiscal house in order.  Below are the comments related to education.  I found it interesting that he highlighted several efforts that were passed during the biennium when Republicans controlled the Legislature.  Below is the portion of the speech relating to education:

Improving education is closely connected with good jobs and economic growth.  It is also closely connected with our citizens’ health and well-being.  I am very pleased to report that we have made significant new investments in education, all the way from early childhood through post-secondary, and improved results are beginning to show. 
We started in 2011, when, despite facing a projected $6 Billion deficit, we increased K-12 education funding by $223 million, reversing a decade of declining state support for our public schools. 
The 2011 legislature also passed an Alternative Pathway for Teacher Licensure and a “Read Well by Third Grade” literacy initiative. It enacted comprehensive teacher and principal evaluations.  Principal evaluations began last fall, and teacher evaluations will start state-wide this September. 
Last year, the 2013 legislature made $485 million of new investments in education.  It increased the per-pupil aid formula as well as support for Special Education. 

State funding for early childhood education scholarships was increased to $46 million last year, and the Senate wants to raise that amount this year.  Early childhood education is real education reform. 
The legislature also passed one of my consistent priorities; and state-funded, all-day kindergarten will begin this fall.  Studies show that both early childhood and all-day kindergarten can make crucial differences in boosting students’ performances and closing achievement gaps.  So do nutritious hot school lunches.  No child should be shamed because parents can’t afford lunch.  Hopefully, that funding will soon be enacted. 
And, very significantly, during the past two-and-a-half years, we have repaid ALL of the $2.8 Billion previously borrowed from our schools.  Now, school districts can put their money into classrooms, not bank loans.  Let us vow that no more will we balance state budgets by creating deficits in school budgets. 
Just weeks ago, the legislature passed strong anti-bullying legislation.  That is also important education reform.  Children don’t learn at school, if they are scared.  Or made to feel bad about themselves. 
Once, Minnesota students competed successfully not only with students around the country, but also with kids around the world.  We are on our way to doing that again. 
Testing by the Trends in International Math and Science Study ranks Minnesota #9 among world educational systems in Science and 6th in Mathematics. 
Back home, in the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, Minnesota’s 4th graders tested #1 in the nation in math.  They ranked 10th best in reading, which was a big improvement from 22nd the year before. Very important was that the state’s reading gap for African-American and Latino 4th graders closed by 10 points from 2009 to 2013. 
Our 8th graders ranked 11th best in the nation in reading and 5th best in math. 
We have had the highest ACT scores among seniors for 8 years running, and our graduation rate, nearly 80%, is the highest in a decade. 
Regarding higher education, we have started to make progress, but we have quite a ways to go.  In fiscal 2012, state support for higher education, in real, after-inflation dollars, fell to its lowest level since 1981.  Last year’s legislature began to reverse that trend, and increased state funding for higher education by a record $248.5 million. 
One result from that declining state funding had been the increased reliance on tuition revenues to fund our public colleges and universities.  According to the College Board, in this school year Minnesota has the 4th highest in-state tuition and fees for two-year public colleges and the 12th highest for four-year colleges and universities.  Last year’s legislature wisely imposed two-year freezes on tuitions at the University of Minnesota and the MnSCU colleges and universities. 
In addition, the State Grant Program was expanded.  As a result, over Minnesota 100,000 students have received increased state financial aid this year. 

The link to the entire text of the speech is here:

State of the State link:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Long Day in Education Policy Conference Committee.   One can never say that the Education Policy chairs in the House and Senate don't like to work or enjoy their work.  The conference committee on HF 2397--the omnibus education policy bill--met for nearly six hours spread over an eight-hour period and adopted a lion's share of the items remaining before the committee.  Included among the adopted provisions were language that will promote the study of (and hopefully eventual expanded use of) Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS--think Response to Intervention) and the approval of Minnesota's participation in the Interstate Compact for students in military families.  The former provision is a scaled-down version of Representative David Bly's HF 2683.  Under that bill, the current rule used to identify students with Specific Learning Disabilities would have been sunset with a new rule springing from use of MTSS.  That portion of the bill was eliminated, but the study was retained.  The discussion on the House and Senate floors on the Interstate Contact was quite pointed, with some legislators concerned that participating in the compact constitutes the state surrendering some control over its education system to the federal government.  The discussion also touched on opposition to adoption of the Common Core standards that Minnesota has largely adopted.

An issue that surfaced late in the hearing relates to the House position that would put limits on districts' ability to direct children to area learning centers and alternative programs.  In reaction to the change in the law that raised the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 that was approved late last session, school administrators believed they needed the ability to provide students who would ordinarily leave school at age 16 with direction toward programs that would be most appropriate for them as they stay an extra year.  The area learning centers and alternative programs believe that, while not carte blanche ability to assign students to these programs, if misused it could upset the delicate balance that exists in many of alternative education programs.  The House bill has a provision that makes it clear that building administrators could not directly assign a student to an area learning center or alternative program.  That provision was not approved this evening after considerable discussion, but the discussion will continue tomorrow.

Targets and Rumors of Targets.  Another day, another day waiting for targets.  While the rumor continues to waltz through the Capitol hallways that the Governor and the Legislature are on the verge of agreeing on spending targets, but no final decision has been reached as of yet.  What complicates matters this year is that it appears that first an overall spending target will be reached, but then a subsequent discussion will take place at the legislative level to determine how much will be spent in each area.  Normally, the targets for each budget area are determined in the initial discussion between the Legislature and the Governor, but that doesn't appear to be the case this session.

No Progress on Teacher Health Insurance Bill.  The conference committee on HF 2180 did not meet today, but there are very few outstanding issues that exist between the House and the Senate on that legislation, which should make agreement somewhat easy to reach.  One difference that exists between the two bills is the exemption of self-insured districts from the bid process required of other districts that is in the Senate bill.  If you are a self-insured district, contact your State Senator and urge them to tell the Senate conferees to retain that Senate position in the final bill.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Conference Committee Triple Play.  All three education-related conference committees were working today, with provisions being adopted in two of them.  The conference committees on HF 2180--the Health Insurance Transparency Act--and HF 2397--the Education Policy bill--adopted provisions deemed either same or similar in both the House and Senate versions of the bills respectively.  Of these two conference committees, the one most likely to finish its work first is HF 2180.  There are a number of differences that remain between the two bills, most notably relating to the treatment of self-ensured districts, but I can envision a scenario where these differences are ironed out in no time flat.

Things will proceed more slowly in conference committee on the Education Policy bill.  Today's meeting went for between five and six hours, largely because that is how many same and similar provisions contained in both bills.  Much of the content in each bill resulted from task forces and working groups that were convened by the Minnesota Department of Education last interim.  Add to that the comprehensive English Language learner provisions authored by Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) and Senator Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis) that were adopted today and you've produced a pretty good sized set of pages for the final bill.

The progress on HF 3172--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--has been stalled by the inability to reach an agreement on the budget targets that the House, Senate, and Governor have to agree upon before final decisions can be reached.  It is even more complicated this year because once the "macro" target that will govern the total amount of total spending is reached, that amount will have to be split into the targets that will govern each separate budget area (E-12 education, higher education, natural resources, state departments, etc.).

Contact Governor and Legislators.  It is crucial that in you contact legislators and the Governor's office as soon as possible, urging them to support the House education funding target (more than $30 million higher than the Senate target and $70 million higher than the Governor's target).  Further, the House has a 1% increase on the general education basic formula, which is extremely important to SEE districts.  There are a number of other spending initiatives (ECFE, scholarships, and teacher evalution revenue in the Senate bill; increases in EL funding and increases in Learning Readiness in both bills) that are worthy of consideration, but in a year when little money will be forthcoming, the dollars should be expended in the way that gets money equally to all school districts throughout the state and that is the general education basic formula.  So call the Governor's office, House and Senate leadership, and the conferees with your thoughts on the matter.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Education Provisions Discussed.  It was a fairly quiet day at the Legislature, with only a couple of education matters surfacing.  The conference committee on HF 3172 went through the education provisions of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  There was very little discussion of the provisions by the conference committee members as staff provided a thorough description of the various funding and policy initiatives contained in the bill.  Action in earnest will begin at the meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, when provisions deemed to be the same in each bill are slated to be adopted.

Education Policy Conferees Named.  A bill that has been flying somewhat below the radar is HF 2397, the omnibus education policy bill.  The House and Senate conferees for the bill have been named and are as follows:

House:  Representatives Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato), Barb Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview), Mary Sawatsky (DFL-Willmar) and Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City).

Senate:  Senators Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis), Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley), Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), Alice Johnson (DFL-Spring Lake Park), and Carla Nelson (R-Rochester)

In conversations with legislators, it is unclear when the conference committee will begin, but there are not a lot of provisions in either bill that would be considered unduly controversial, meaning that the proceedings may go quickly once the conference committee begins its work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Back in Action.  The Legislature returned to work today after its Easter/Passover break and they dove right back into action with a full day of floor action, committee hearings, and conference committee proceedings.  The largest part of the day was dedicated to the passage of the Education Policy Bill (HF 2397) on the Senate floor.  The bill passed on a vote of 39-21 after debate of two-plus hours and 13 amendments being offered.  Eight of the thirteen amendments passed, two were withdrawn, and three failed.  There is nothing particularly earth-shattering in the bill, although there are some interesting provisions.  The most comprehensive program contained in the bill is English Language literacy program requirements contained in SF 2611 (Torres Ray)/HF 3062 (Mariani).  There are a lot of new requirements in this legislation, but it is difficult to tell whether or not districts with high concentrations of English Language learners are already doing much of what will be required under the provisions of this legislation.

Here is the text of the Senate bill (without the amendments added today):

Here is the text of the House bill as it passed the House:

One item of interest in the House bill is the implementation of new eligibility requirements for the determination of special learning disability and the repeal of the current rule that requires districts use the discrepancy model to identify learning disabled students.  For those of you familiar with and supportive of Response to Intervention and Multi-Tiered Support Systems models, this would be a huge step forward.  This language can be found in Article 4, Section 13, of the House bill (p. 131).

Supplemental Budget Conference Committee Begins Deliberations.  The conference committee on HF 3712--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--met for the first time this afternoon and started going through each bill and explaining differences that exist between the two bills.  It was the intention of the conference committee to go through the entire bill, but because this year's supplemental appropriations bill contains all of the spending from all of the funding divisions, the length of the bill (462 page House bill and 492 page Senate bill). there were simply too many provisions for the conference committee to digest in one sitting.  The education articles in each bill (Article 13 in the Senate bill and Articles 16 through 21 in the House bill) will be presented tomorrow.

Deb Griffiths has put together a tremendous side-by-side comparison of the education provisions in the two bills that is available at the SEE website.  Here is a link to that report:

Last But Not Least.  The House Education Policy Committee held an informational hearing on two bills today.  Because the Legislature is past its deadlines for acting on bills in committee, the hearings were solely for informational purposes.  HF 2113 (Clark) would require school districts to provide aquatics instruction, which would be pretty difficult in school districts that do not have access to a swimming pool.  That said, it was a very interesting hearing and the bill is supported by a number of public safety organizations.  I never realized the discrepancy that existed in drowning deaths between white and minority populations.  Here is an article on the bill that was published in City Pages, the alternative Twin Cities news weekly.  I don't know if it's a civil rights issue in the traditional sense of that term, but the data presented at the hearing was compelling.


The other bill heard was Representative Mariani's HF 3045, which instructs the Minnesota Board of Teaching to develop a teaching license reciprocity agreement with other states.

As I stated earlier, neither of these bills will be heading anywhere this session, but they may find their way onto future legislative to-do lists.

Health Insurance Transparency Act Conferees Named.  The conferees for HF 2180, the Health Insurance Transparency Act developed by Education Minnesota, have been named.  The House conferees with be Representatives Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul), John Ward (DFL-Brainerd) and Greg Davids (R-Preston).  The Senate conferees are Senators Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport), Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna), and Jeremy Miller (R-Winona).  It is unclear when the conference committee will start meeting, but while there are differences in the bills, things could come together rather quickly.  I will certainly let you know when things start proceeding.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Health Insurance Transparency Act (HITA) on Senate Floor Tomorrow.  HF 2180 passed the Senate Finance Committee this morning and will be on the Senate floor tomorrow for final passage.  In a bit of a surprise, an amendment exempting self-insured school districts from the requirements of the bill offered by Senator Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) passed on a vote of 10-9.  Needless to say, Education Minnesota doesn't appear to be too happy with the vote, which saw two other DFLers join Senator Bonoff along with all but one Republican that was present to pass the amendment.  There will undoubtedly be an attempt to strike this amendment from the bill tomorrow on the Senate floor, so if you are a self-insured district, please make certain you contact your legislator and urge them to support keeping the Bonoff amendment on the bill.  Self-insured districts are an entirely different animal than districts who have chosen to purchase health insurance through other means.  While all districts clearly consult with their bargaining units on health insurance coverage and costs, in setting up a self-insured pools, district boards and administrations have worked hand-in-hand with teachers on every step of the transition to self-insurance.  To somehow contend otherwise is really misleading.

I'm still trying to figure out why this legislation is needed at all, but I'll let Education Minnesota do the explaining.  Other than that it was a pretty quiet day on the education legislation front.  As I noted in an earlier entry, the House conferees for HF 3172 were named and House Education Finance Chair Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) will be a member of the conference committee working out the differences that exist between the Senate and House versions of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.
Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Passes Senate.  With all eyes focused on the anti-bullying bill, I neglected to report that the Senate passed HF 3172--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--on Tuesday on a party-line vote of 37-27 with three Senators absent.

There were no major changes to the bill and the education portion of the bill remains intact,  Here are the increases in funding proposed in HF 3172 for E-12 education programs:

  • $4 million for English Language learners by raising eligibility from five years to six years.
  • $2 million for early literacy.
  • $9 million in one-time money for teacher evaluation (non-Qcomp districts).
  • $3.5 million in school lunch aid (makes reduced price lunch free).
  • $3.4 million for school readiness
  • $8.9 million for ECFE.
  • $8.8 million for early childhood scholarships

There are a number of smaller appropriations, but the above proposals comprise a "cage full of lions'" share of the $41 million budget target for the division.

The House refused to concur with the Senate amendments and have named their conferees for the upcoming conference committee, which will commence when the Legislature returns from its break for the spring religious holidays on April 21.  The House conferees are Representatives Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal), Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth), Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul), Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) and Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth).  Note that there are no Republicans on the conference committee, but it is tradition that in order to serve on the conference committee pertaining to a bill, a legislator must vote for that bill.  Because no Republicans voted for the bill, there will not be one on the conference committee.

Long Day's Journey into Night.  It took about ten hours and seemed a lot longer, but the House concurred with the Senate amendments to HF 826--the Safe and Supportive Schools Act--by a straight partisan line vote of 69-63 late Tuesday evening (or maybe it was Wednesday morning).  There wasn't much new territory covered in Tuesday's debate.  It's hard to embellish the debate, which was very serious and bordered on contentious at some junctures.  There were a number cultural references from those who opposed the bill, and if you are interested, I would suggest you listen to the archived audio of the floor session.  There is no way that I can do the debate justice by trying to recount it here.

The bill will now go to the Governor and he is expected to sign the bill.  This will certainly be a centerpiece issue in the 2014 election House election cycle, so stay tuned.

Here is a link to the House floor session from Tuesday, April 8:

The roll call vote:

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Interesting Monday.  We've reached the stage of the session that I like to describe as "putting bolts in a blender."  Lots of noise and you don't know if you'll ever get to the puree stage.  Things are coming together, but the pace is a lot more deliberate than two weeks ago when there appeared to be a mad dash toward the finish and there's no question we will be back after the traditional break for the spring religious holidays that will start this Friday.

Monday's legislative day ended with the passage of HF 2180 (E. Murphy), the health insurance bill promoted by Education Minnesota in the House or Representatives.  The final vote was 76-57 with four Republicans (Representatives Davids, Gunther, Hamilton, and Urdahl) joining the entire DFL caucus in passing the bill.  The debate on the bill was curious.  Republicans offered nine amendments, but withdrew five of them before a vote could be taken.  As many of you know, I've been around here a long time and I've never seen that type of strategy (if it can indeed be called a strategy) used during floor deliberations on a bill.  Usually, the minority will offer amendments and attempt to catch members in what may be considered "bad" votes.  Whether or not the votes on these amendments could be considered suitably "bad" enough to be used in campaigns probably dictated the Republicans' actions (or lack thereof) on the matter, but I still found it interesting.  There were some spirited speeches against the bills after all the amendments had been disposed off, mostly against the bill, but it was pretty clear the bill was going to pass.  The one amendment that was approved was offered by Representative Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton).  This amendment requires that school districts use the sealed-bid process for all of their bargaining units, not just those covered in the teachers' contract.

There was an expressed intention for the House to vote on HF 826--the Safe and Supportive Schools Act--last evening, but the House decided to adjourn for the evening around 10 PM.  The debate on the House's concurrence with the Senate's amendments would have likely gone on into the wee hours of the morning and after the fairly contentious debate on a couple of labor-related bills yesterday,  So, look forward to witnessing that debate today.

The Senate has put together its omnibus tax bill and its omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and it is expected that those bills will pass off the floor prior to the break.  That should set up the conference committee process on those major bills when the Legislature returns after its break.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Legislative Whirlwind.  

Thursday and Friday were two very busy days in terms of education and budget policy as both the House and Senate were embroiled in debate on a number of education-related bills.  The Senate is the body where the most contentious (and confusing) debate took place.  The contentious part of the equation took place with the passage of HF 826, the anti-bullying bill authored by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis).  Debate was polite, but the sides on the bill have been clearly drawn from the beginning and even after the considerable changes made to the bill since it passed the House of Representatives last spring, smooth sailing for the bill has pretty much always been determined to be out of the question.  Several amendments were passed--most notably an amendment that changed the name of the School Climate Center funded last session to the School Safety Technical Assistance Center--during the debate and while it is difficult to tell whether or not the passage of these amendments helped garner the necessary support needed for passage, they did little to quell opposition to the bill.  Another amendment struck the mission statement from the bill on a vote of 35-32.  An amendment that would have provided an anti-bullying legislation extremely close to the policy passed in North Dakota in 2011 failed.  The final vote on the bill was 36-31, with three DFLers joining a united Republican caucus in opposing the bill.  The bill will now head back to the House of Representatives and all indications are that the House will concur with the Senate amendments and attempt to send the bill directly to the Governor without having to convene a conference committee.  The focus of the bill's opposition will now be directed toward House DFL members who are perceived as being vulnerable in the 2014 elections.  The House passed the bill last session on a vote of 72-57.  Many of the provisions in that version of the bill that were questioned by the education community have been softened by the Senate action, but even with that being the case, re-passage is by no means a foregone conclusion.  Stay tuned.

The more entertaining action in the Senate took place in the Senate Finance Committee, where the committee was assembling its version of HF 3172, the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  In putting together the section dealing with E-12 appropriations, it was announced that the budget framework of bill--SF 767--that was reported out of the E-12 Funding Division spent too much in the next biennium (referred to as "budget tails") and that spending that contributed to on-going base costs that would contribute to growth in the budget base would have to be pared back.  To accomplish this, the amendment offered and approved to put the bill in balance cut the increases in the EL program (increase in per pupil reimbursement for non-English speaking students and an increase in the term of eligibility from five years to six years) and replaced it with limited one-time funding for teacher evaluation.  Where the plot thickened was an amendment was offered to re-instate the EL funding without cutting any appropriations.  That amendment was approved and the bill was out of balance.  This happened fairly late on Thursday evening and with the snow falling and the wind whistling, the committee decided to adjourn for the evening.  On its return on Friday, the committee left all the provisions in the bill, but scaled back all of them by about 20%.  The bill then passed and now will be discussed and likely passed on the Senate floor on Monday or Tuesday.

Meanwhile in the House.  The House passed the supplemental appropriations bill (HF 3172) on Thursday on a vote of 70-59 on a straight party-line vote.  There were several amendments offered on the education portion of the bill (HF 3171), but nothing of note passed.  Friday afternoon's debate on the Education Policy bill (HF 2397) was a bit more lively.  An issue that has cropped up over which the Republicans have been making noise is the military compact legislation that at its face value provides consistency in education program and removes educational barriers for students in military families.  Because the military compact governs the activities in multiple states, some Republicans view it as an improper intrusion by the Federal Government into state education  policy.  The debate often sidles up to discussion of the Common Core, debate over which has begun to percolate as the election season nears.  The Education Policy bill passed on a vote of 82-39.

Break in Sight.  A week or so ago I reported that indications existed that the Legislature may try to get its work done by the time its scheduled break for the spring religious holidays on April 11 rolled around.  Alas, that will not be happening and the Legislature will return after the Easter/Passover break.  That doesn't mean things won't be happening this week.  With the passage by the House of a second tax bill that adds approximately $100 million in additional tax cuts to the $432 million passed last month, the Senate will likely be taking up that discussion and finalize their version of the bill, at least at the committee level.  It is expected that the Senate will pass its version of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill this week, setting up the conference committee for that bill.  The question that remains is whether or not the Senate will take up an education policy bill.  Again, stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Another Quiet Day.  It's the calm before the storm (not tomorrow night's snowstorm) as tomorrow promises to be one of the more active days the Legislature has witnessed in a few years.  The morning will start out with the Senate Finance Committee constructing its omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  That, along with the House's abbreviated schedule of morning hearings, will slide us up to the noon start time for the House and Senate floor sessions.  The House will be taking up HF 3172, its version of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill, and HF 2180, the Heath Insurance Transparency Bill (Education Minnesota's bill requiring multiple sealed bids for health insurance) during its floor proceedings tomorrow.  That is nothing if not a healthy agenda that may take the floor session late into the night.  Of course, the possibility exists that not many amendments will be offered and that the proceedings will be largely dedicated to explanations of the bills and floor speeches.  It's hard to tell which is more likely and the actual floor session will likely fall somewhere  in between.  What makes it difficult to read is the Republican minority appears to be taking a couple of macro-strategies in attacking the DFL majority this year.  Instead of trying to grind down the process with countless amendments trying to play "gotcha" by getting DFLers who are perceived to be vulnerable to take bad votes, the Republicans seem to be zeroing in on several broad themes, particularly what they term to be a lack of interest in the problems faced by rural Minnesota, and letting the DFL legislation speak for itself.  Of course, that could all change tomorrow and we may see a number of "gotcha" amendments addressing a broad range of issues.  We just will have to wait and see.

The Senate is taking up HF 826, the anti-bullying bill, in what should be one of the most interesting floor sessions in recent years.  Significant changes have been made in the bill since it passed the House last spring, but there is no assurance that these changes will mollify opposition to the bill.  I would expect the bill's opponents to offer several significant amendments--perhaps including to substitute the text of SF 2411 (Nelson)--during the proceedings.  HF 2411 is very similar to the North Dakota bill that opponents have held up as a more reasonable model for anti-bullying legislation.

Here is a link to the latest iteration of HF 826:

Here is a link to SF 2411:

Education Bill Side-by-Side.  Deb Griffiths has put together an awesome side-by-side comparing the House and Senate education funding provisions in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  It is on the SEE website, but I will also link it here.  One question I'm getting is where is the 1% increase in the general education basic formula in the House bill.  It is currently found in Article 17, Section 10 (p. 152) of HF 3712.  I have linked the bill for your convenience.

Anyway, if you want a comprehensive view of the differences between the House and Senate education articles, take a good look at Deb's work.  It's the most concise side-by-side that is currently available.

HF 3712:

Education Article Side-by-Side:

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Surprisingly Slow Tuesday.  One of the interesting things about this time of the session is that you can head over to the Capitol expected action and finding out there isn't going to be much of anything happening.  The House and Senate both had floor sessions to move a few bills, but other than that it was a quiet day.

Congratulations to Deb Henton.  North Branch superintendent and SEE Executive Board member Deb Henton was confirmed as the superintendent designee on the Minnesota Board of School Administrators at today's Senate Education hearing.  The hearing was largely devoted to the confirmation of gubernatorial appointments to a number of boards.  The latter part of the hearing was devoted to a report from Bloomington Executive Director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment David Heistad on strategies the Bloomington School District is using to enhance achievement for its non-English speaking students.  The report was long on statistics and the statistics bear out some very positive trends for the district as they seek to close the achievement gap between its students for whom English is not their native language and those for whom it is.

Thursday Promises to be Hoppin'.  Of course, that's what I thought about today.  But at this point it appears that HF 826--the anti-bullying bill--will be on the Senate floor and HF 2180--the Health Insurance Transparency Act (HITA) sponsored by Education Minnesota--will be on the House floor.  The authors of the anti-bullying legislation--Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Jim Davnie--have made a number of significant changes to the bill, but there is still considerable opposition to the bill.  Whatever your opinion of the bill, time is short to make your opinion known.

Here is a link to the current bill language.  It is important to note that the definition of bullying has been tightened up, the reporting requirements have been eliminated, and the proposed penalties that could be levied against districts have also been removed from the bill.


In conversations with the authors, the plan is for the House to accept the Senate amendments to the bill that have been worked out on the Senate side largely through the work of Senator Greg Clausen and chief author Senator Scott Dibble.  Intentions may change if further amendments not supporting by the chief author are attached to the bill, but the plan is for the House to re-pass the bill with the Senate amendments, avoiding a conference committee and sending the bill directly to the Governor for his expected signature.

HF 2180 is, as stated above, the bill developed by Education Minnesota to bring greater transparency to health insurance bidding process at the district level by requiring multiple sealed bids.  This bill certainly doesn't hit the level of intrusion into the health insurance procurement process that previous bills sponsored by Education Minnesota, but it still requires a lot of what could be considered busy work by school districts.  Again, contact your legislators with your concerns.
Oops.  Forgot to Blog.  Was working on a couple of memos last evening and neglected my blogging responsibilities  There isn't a lot to report on the legislative front.  The House Ways and Means Committee met yesterday morning and melded HF 3171--the House omnibus education finance bill--together with the other division funding bills into HF 3172.  HF 3172 is now the House omnibus "omnibus" bill, combining all the work of the various funding divisions into one bill that governs all proposed funding increases.  The Senate will be following the same procedure and there will be a single conference committee this session instead of the usual pattern of having a conference committee for each funding division.

The Senate bill was heard in the Senate Tax Committee yesterday morning where its tax impacts were discussed.  The Senate has a zero overall property tax levy target, but there are several property levy increases in the bill.  In order to achieve the zero levy target, the Senate bill proposes to increase the equalizing factor for the total operating capital program.  The new equalizing factor is about 5% higher for taxes payable in 2015 and then slides back to an increase of about 4% for taxes payable in 2016.  Given the increase and then the slight erosion in the increase the equalizing factor that these equalizing factor changes are being used to "balance" the bill as opposed to implementing any long term structural tax relief.  Because the total operating capital program affects all school districts, the levy component is a good place to deliver property tax relief both large and small.  After hearing the bill, the Tax Committee re-referred the E-12 funding bill back to the Finance Committee, where it will be combined with bills from the other funding divisions in a manner similar to what was done in the House.

The rumored schedule has the full House of Representatives taking up HF 3172, the super-omnibus funding bill, on Thursday.  The Senate will likely follow suit on Friday and if all goes as scheduled, conference committee could begin as early as the weekend or early next week.

Fate of Policy Bills?  One of the questions yet to be resolved is that of the policy bills that usually accompany the funding bills from each division.  Policy has largely been stripped from the omnibus funding bills, an action that will require these bills to travel separately.  There are two major obstacles to the passage of policy bills this session:  (1) time remaining in the session and (2) a perceived lack of appetite for passing anything other than the major appropriations bills.  That doesn't mean they won't pass, but the chances of anything happening will likely be nearly totally dependent on the timeline and with another tax bill, the omnibus appropriations bill, and the bonding bill likely to receive the lion's share of the attention from this point forward, the odds of passing major education policy bills through both houses and complete a conference committee to resolve any differences that might exist between the Senate and House bills.  Put this issue in the "yet to be determined' column.

Regional Meetings Completed.  We completed our round of spring regional meetings yesterday in Sauk Rapids (thanks for hosting Dan!) and I am always amazed at the spirit of the group when we meet.  What made this year's set of meetings interesting is that the timing of the meetings made each meeting very different, as during the first few meetings there was a lot of conjecture about what might happen and by the end of the round of meetings, the Senate and House bills had pretty much taken shape and the discussions had a different tone and slant.  I want to thank everyone who participated in the meetings.  We are a member-based organization and the input from all members is valued.  These meetings provide SEE leadership with perspectives and data that is crucial to advancing the organization's legislative priorities.  So thanks again!  It was great seeing all of you and hearing your opinions.