Monday, September 28, 2015

Great Day at the MASA Conference.  Gary Amoroso and the awesome staff at MASA have put together another great fall conference.  I am unable to attend both days of the conference, but from what I saw today it provided both inspiration and value.  It's always great to catch up with SEE superintendents and superintendents from other parts of the state in an environment that promotes discussion and camaraderie.

It was an especially exciting conference this year as I got to see Dr. Chris Richardson receive the MASA Polaris Leadership Award.  The recipient of this award must have at least twenty years of service as a school administrator and have exhibited the following qualities as a school leader during their career (from the MASA website):

• professional courage leading to positive change
• creation of a legacy of excellent leadership
• a lifelong career contribution of commitment to excellence on behalf of all students
• exemplifying positive reasons that a person would choose to practice
• fostering innovation and ideas that make a difference for students and the school community
• a lifetime of balanced achievement inside and outside of education
• contribution to the practice of educational leadership through example and mentoring
• exemplary conduct reflecting integrity and bearing emulation
• significant tenure in each position to support district vision and affect positive change.

Dr. Richardson has been a strong advocate for SEE at both of his superintendent stops in Minnesota (Osseo and Northfield), serving time as SEE's legislative chair and a longstanding member of SEE's executive committee.  He has been a valuable resource for me on a variety of topics and is a tireless worker on behalf of students throughout the state.

I snapped this shot of Dr. Richardson with another friend of SEE, Joel Sutter from Ehlers and Associates.  Joel presented the award to Dr. Richardson at today's luncheon.  I wish the picture had turned out better, but I don't know if I should blame the camera on my phone or my paltry ability as a photographer.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Great Job Dave!  WCCO-TV had a story on education funding and spending last night with Anoka-Hennepin superintendent David Law was the featured guest in Heather Brown's "Good Question" segment.  David did a great job providing a Cliff's Notes version of how Minnesota's education funding system and the statistics presented by Brown were helpful.

Here's a link to the story:

Another Thing I Did on Summer Vacation.  I saw movies galore over the summer, but one I wanted to mention is Best of Enemies, a documentary about the William F. Buckley/Gore Vidal face-offs on ABC television during coverage of the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions.  The producers of the film contend that these debates mark the birth of contentious and hyper-partisan political environment and the resulting media coverage, which I think is a bit of a stretch, but the archive footage is fantastic and the interviews with a balanced set of experts are very insightful.  If you loved Buckley and hated Vidal (or vice versa), there's nothing here that will change your mind, but it's still a solid piece of work.

Here's the trailer from the movie that is on You Tube:

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

What I Did on My Summer Vacation.  Welcome back to school!  It's been a quiet summer after the Legislature held its special session in June, but I've been out and about visiting a number of the new SEE superintendents (haven't seen them all quite yet, but I am getting there).  The SEE Legislative Committee has started its work in preparation for the 2016 session and we have our slate of general membership and fall regional meetings set.  Our first general membership meeting will be held on Friday, September 25, at the Ramada Plaza hotel in that cozy little corner where Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Roseville all meet (35W and Industrial Boulevard).  The program will consist of Bill Morris and Peter Leatherman presenting their latest survey results and representatives from the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.  We'll also be distributing the first draft of our 2016 Legislative Platform.

I got to catch up on a little reading over the summer and while I delved into (and actually finished) a number of books, I wanted to highlight two that I found extremely interesting.  The first was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Imperial Presidency, which still resonates even though it was first written nearly 40 years ago (and was updated once since).  I also highly recommend Bill Bishop's The Big Sort.  Bishop's major contention is that development and housing patterns have radically changed our politics and have made them more extreme due to the "echo chamber" effect that comes from neighborhoods that are less diverse economically and demographically than they were a generation ago.  His findings have been disputed, but Bishop has amassed a ton of statistics and they make a fairly compelling--if not airtight--case.

Here are links to the books if you are interested.

The Imperial Presidency:

The Big Sort:

One item that will be on SEE's 2016 Legislative Platform will call for measures to reduce the teacher shortage in Minnesota and it was interesting to see the article in Sunday's Minneapolis StarTribune that highlighted the difficulties faced by qualified teachers who hold licenses issued in other states when trying to obtain a license to teach in Minnesota.  The teacher shortage in Minnesota is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with and shortages are showing up across all licensure areas as opposed to simply math, science, and special education (which have been trouble areas for the past decade).  Here's hoping that progress can be made in 2016 on this very important issue.

Here's a link to the StarTribune story:

Saturday, June 13, 2015

So What Happened?  It took a bit longer than expected when the day began, but the special session did manage to finish in one sitting.  It was smooth sailing, albeit with some spirited debate, for four of the five bills considered by the Legislature on Friday, with the complications coming on the Agricultural and Environment bill.  That bill did not pass the Senate on its first pass through, but the Senate did pass it after it had been amended.  The House struck those amendments and sent it back to the Senate, where the bill did receive enough votes to pass.  Senate Republicans supplied the bulk of the votes to pass the bill on its return from the House in return for a fair hearing on tax cut proposals next session.  As the session ends, there appears to be approximately $800 million on the bottom line going into next year and if the economy remains steady, that will likely mean there will be a lot of discussion on taxes and transportation, the two major budget areas that were left unaddressed in 2015.

How did we get to this point?  Good question and a lot will depend upon who you ask.  I think MinnPost's Briana Bierschbach did a nice job laying out the difficulty in getting the Legislature to come to "yes" in a way that would have prevented this special session and some of those difficulties are becoming endemic to the system as a whole and will likely resurface again in the future, especially with divided government.  For those of you who haven't read much of Bierschbach's work, she's done a marvelous job since joining MinnPost reporting on the Minnesota Legislature.

Here's a link to that article:  Briana Bierschbach MinnPost Article

The only perspective I would add to her viewpoints is the effect technology has had the legislative process.  It used to be that decisions had to be made well in advance of the waning hours of the session because the technology couldn't handle the actual physical production of bills.  Now, decisions can be forestalled until the last possible minute and when there are ideological differences, it's pretty much a recipe for a special session.  I think what gave this session it's own flavor that led to the special session were the lack of a tax bill (nothing keeps everyone in line like the tax bill), but the differences in approaches on the tax issue would have made fashioning a bill very difficult.  The other item that contributed greatly was legislative leadership setting its budget targets separately from the Governor in trying to bring the session to an end.  Whether or not there will be finger-pointing over that remains to be seen.  Hard to say and I'm just spit-balling here (and I never question proceedings at the highest level because they are a lot of dimensions to those decisions).

Like Representative Sarah Anderson said in the article I linked above, "You can't change the process without changing human nature."  It's a human process and I think everyone, even those who are disappointed with the outcome this year or the process in general, has to keep that in mind.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Special Session Update.  The Special Session isn't quite put to bed yet, but HF 1 (they start the numbers from the beginning with the special session)--the omnibus education funding and policy bill--passed both houses of the the Legislature quite comfortably today on votes of 115-10 in the House and 53-12 in the Senate.  The bill the passed was nearly identical to the bill that passed the Legislature during the regular session with $125 million in new money added to the target to bring the total spending in the bill to $525 million.  Here is a summary of the funding changes.

Provision  SS CC Difference
Basic Formula $346,312 $283,250 $63,062
Owatonna Referendum Fix $295 $0 $295
English Language $3,102 $0 $3,102
Non-Public Aid $369 $335 $34
Non-Public Transportation $988 $896 $92
Compensatory Pilots $10,000 $0 $10,000
Tribal Contract $5,000 $0 $5,000
Indian Education Formula Aid $16,743 $7,239 $9,504
Early Leaning Scholarships $48,250 $30,750 $17,500
ECFE $2,806 $2,558 $248
Headstart $10,000 $0 $10,000
Northside Achievement Zone $2,000 $0 $2,000
St. Paul Promise $2,000 $0 $2,000
Education Partnership Pilots $1,002 $0 $1,002
English Language LEAPS $1,161 $0 $1,161
Dollars are in thousands.  


Friday, June 05, 2015

And With No Further Ado . . . Behold the education bill that has been agreed upon between the Governor and the Legislature.  I will devour it over the next day and provide a description of where it differs from the bill passed during the regular session.  If you go to the Committee Documents section, you will find links to four documents that have been posted today (June 5, 2015).  Those are the pertinent documents.

Link:  House Education Funding Committee Homepage

Monday, June 01, 2015

It Appears There is a Deal.  There isn't much in the way of details, but it has been announced that accord on the big furniture in the E-12 budget bill has been reached.  At this point, it looks like the overall budget number that has been agreed to is $525 million over base (the Governor's last offer on the last night of the regular session).  The only detail that has been announced is the agreement contains a 2% increase in the basic formula in both years of the coming biennium.  This is an increase from the conference committee report that passed the House and Senate where the increase was 1.5% in the first year and 2.0% in the second year.  This adds about $70 million to the conference committee report's $283 million that would be delivered through the basic formula.  That would leave an approximately $55 million that is yet unaccounted for in the budget agreement, the math being $400 million (conference committee target) + $70 million (additional money on basic formula) + X (appropriations yet to be announced) = $525 million (special session E-12 bill budget target).

It is my sincere hope that the basic framework of the bill already passed by the Legislature remains in place and that the newly-minted facilities financing program remains part of the bill.  I would venture that there will be additional money going into school readiness or other early education programs and it will be interesting to see whether or not that's the case.

It will also be interesting to see if any new policy issues surface in the revised bill.  I will provide you with details as they become available.  Here are media links on the story:

StarTribune:  Budget Deal Forming

Minnesota Public Radio:  Budget Talks Break Through

Pioneer Press:  Dayton, Daudt Very Close on Budget Deal

Monday, May 18, 2015

Senate Passes E-12 Bill Easily.  The Senate passed the E-12 conference committee report on a vote of 52-14.  20 Republicans joined 32 DFLers in supporting the bill.  The 14 "no" votes were split evenly between Republicans and DFLers with 7 of each caucus voting to not support the conference committee report.

So, where do we go from here?  The Governor has reiterated his intent to veto the bill several times, so it is my guess that is what will happen.  The questions are when would the special session be called and where will it be held?  It's moving day around the Capitol today as staff whose bills have passed are cleaning out their Capitol offices in order to move to different accommodations for the next year.

The Governor intends to hit the road tomorrow and make a case for his stance on the overall education budget and the importance of his early childhood initiative.  It will be interesting to see how that turns out and whether it affects his popularity.  There will likely be so much spinning in the next few days that those that follow the process will get dizzy from the charges and counter-charges that will be flying about.

So stay tuned.  At the very least, it's important that we thank legislators for their hard work this session.  I would have liked to seen another $100 million added to the target, but in a year when negotiations and initial legislative targets were not promising, coming out at $400 million should be welcomed.  I'm also pleased that we got one of the two biggest equity "holes" filled with the passage of the facilities issue.  I was kidding MREA lobbyist Sam Walseth the other day that when issues where we are in league, we should merge the organizations with the new acronym MRSEE (Minnesota Rural Schools for Equity in Education), pronounced "mercy" of which we would show none.  I can remember back to 1991 when I was first lobbying and held a joint contract between MREA and SEE where both organizations worked to establish referendum and debt service equalization.  When we work together, there are equity gains and I want to thank MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan, MREA Legislative Director Sam Walseth, and MREA lobbyist Joe Gould for all of the work we shared.  Both MREA and SEE were doggedly determined to move the ball forward on the facilities issue and we got it done.

One of the big disappointments was not seeing the Alternative Compensation cap eliminated.  The $9.5 million appropriated for Alternative Compensation will take care of those districts that currently have approved plans, but no one else.  With the teacher evaluation mandate, districts need revenue to perform the duties associated with that effort.  Districts with Alternative Compensation plans in place have resources at their disposal that districts not participating in Alternative Compensation do not.  This simply has to change.

So hang tight for the next 24 hours.  We'll know more in a day or two about what is going to happen and when it is going to happen.  Until then, it's important to read the conference committee report and the linked data because if the bill is re-opened during a special session, I don't foresee a lot of changes.

Link to bill:  HF 844 Conference Committee Report

Appropriations Tracker:  Biennial Appropriations by Program

District-by-District Run:  FY 2016 (2015-2016 School Year)

District-by-District Run:  FY 2017 (2016-2017 Fiscal Year)
The End is Nigh . . . I Think.  The House passed the omnibus education bill on a party-line vote of 71-59 at approximately 3:15 AM Sunday night/Monday morning.  The debate and vote took up about an hour's time.  Criticism from the DFL minority was centered on the early childhood issue and the absence of the Governor's universal pre-kindergarten initiative.  The Governor is standing by his veto threat and the Senate will be taking up the bill this morning.  There are (paraphrasing the Biblical passage) "maneuvers and rumors of maneuvers" to get things done on time with the Governor's pre-kindergarten package included somewhere in the mix to avoid a special session.  The Senate could always vote to reject the conference committee report and force a re-opening of the conference committee where the Governor's initiative (and more money to pay for it) could be inserted into the E-12 bill.  Lots to think about.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Latest.  Events are moving slowly this afternoon, but there is plenty of intrigue.  The House passed the omnibus higher education bill a bit ago and is now working on the public safety omnibus bill.  The Senate just finished work on the "body cam" bill and will be taking up the omnibus higher education bill shortly.

Rumors about the E-12 bill continue to abound.  Governor Dayton had another press conference a couple of hours ago at which he repeated his pledge to veto the bill if it does not contain $150 million more.  It is assumed he wants all of that increase dedicated to his universal pre-kindergarten program.  Governor Dayton said Senator Bakk has agreed to put the requested revenue into the bill if the conference committee is re-opened, but it appears that the House is reluctant to do that and would rather send the bill to the Governor to see if his veto pledge is indeed valid.  There are bills in both bodies that could be used as last minute vehicles onto which a new agreement could be attached and sent to the other body, but given the differing visions of the majorities, that process is probably too messy to be practical.

So stay tuned.

New Information:  The E-12 conference committee report is at the revisor, meaning the conference committee will not be re-opened.
Sunday Morning Coming Down.  There are a lot of song titles that could be used to describe what went on yesterday and will be going on today and tomorrow.  I'm just hoping the song title "Most of Us are Sad" (a deep cut from the Eagles' first album) isn't going to be one of them.

As I reported yesterday, the Legislature has put together its bill--a $400 million package that is heavily tilted toward the basic formula--and it is expected that the Governor will veto the bill per his comments yesterday.  The Governor wants a $550 million education package that contains at least $173 million dedicated toward universal pre-kindergarten.  The math doesn't really add up, but the math is the smallest problem in the process right now.  There is a huge rift between the Legislature and the Governor, which to some extent is understandable in the sense that the House of Representatives is controlled by a different party than the Governor's, but the disconnect between the Senate and the Governor is hard to fathom at this point.

The formula "broom" really swept a lot of provisions from both the House and Senate bills to the side.  The Senate bill had a greater number of small--but important--provisions than did the House and almost all of them were went into the shredder.

The highlight for SEE (outside of the formula increase of 1.5%/2.0%) is the inclusion of the Senate's facilities provision that will expand over the next three years districts' ability to fund deferred maintenance.  SEE also was very supportive of eliminating the cap on the Alternative Compensation program, but the bill does not go that far.  Instead, the agreement adds $9.5 million to the program, which will accommodate a number of districts that are poised for having their Alternative Compensation program approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.  That will still leave a lot of districts on the outside looking in when it comes to funding the teacher development and evaluation mandate.

I just watched an interview with Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith as I am writing this entry and she reiterated that it is the Governor's intention to veto the bill that has been agreed to by the Legislature.  That means the next 37 hours are going to be hectic.

I will provide more details on the content of the bill and the machinations of the process throughout the day, so stay tuned.
We Have a Bill. I don't know who would be reading this at 1:45 AM on Sunday, May 17, 2015, but it appears that the conference committee has come to an agreement on a $400 million package.

The highlights of the package appear to be:

  • 1.5% on the formula for 2015-2016/2.0% on the formula for 2016-2017
  • Senate Facilities Package (Task Force Recommendation #1)
  • $9.5 million increase in QComp appropriation (Cap remains)
  • $30 million increase in School Readiness Program
  • $30 million increase in Early Childhood Scholarship Program
  • $4 million for Concurrent Enrollment
  • $2.5 million for Extended Time

Those are the major details of the agreement.  There is more there and I will pass those details along as they are revealed.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Watching Paint. 

 I would say this afternoon has been like watching paint dry, but drying connotes some level of action and there is no action (or at least action that we are allowed to see) for the E-12 conference committee right now.  A battle may be brewing between the Legislature and the Governor.  The Governor believes the $400 million target is simply to low to meet the needs of Minnesota students (and by extension school districts) and a target at that level would come nowhere near accommodating what the Governor would like to see happen in terms of pre-kindergarten education.

So here we sit.  The fireworks probably won't start until the sun goes down (which is only appropriate), but they will likely be continuing after the sun comes up tomorrow morning.
Good Way to Spend a Saturday.  Hey!  It was supposed to rain today, but here I am at the Capitol and my lawn escapes its weekly trimming.  But anyway, the Legislature set its target for the E-12 bill last night at $400 million, which is still pretty low in comparison with the Governor's wishes.  The Governor just concluded his press conference a few minutes with a pretty firm request--I think it will probably be framed as a demand--for a target of $550 million, which would include a 1.5% increase in the basic formula in each year of the biennium and $173 million for half-day pre-kindergarten programs.  Could be a collision coming (understatement alert).

Meanwhile, the E-12 conference committee reconvened last night after legislative leadership set the budget committee targets and adopted a plethora of provisions deemed to be either the same or sufficiently similar to adopt without debate.  The conference committee came in again this morning and tackled a few other provisions that weren't in both bills that were likewise deemed uncontroversial and adopted.

Things will be getting serious pretty quickly as the conference committee starts to cut up the $400 million pie into various slices.  At $400 million, the slices aren't likely to be too big and as always the case, someone will leave the process unhappy.

I'll be providing updates throughout the day and sending out alerts by Twitter.  So stay tuned.  We're about 59 hours away from the constitutionally-mandated adjournment of the regular session and there's a lot of ground to cover.  Legislative leadership has already decided to forego assembling omnibus tax and transportation bills and there are rumblings (probably not serious ones) that they could skip the education bill as well.  Who is up for a little drama?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Glacial Pace Continues.  All sides are still hanging out at the Governor's abode trying to strike a budget deal.  Doug Grow put a nice piece together for MinnPost which outlines what the final budget deal may look like and his logic is solid (although I think the chances of the basic formula hitting the 2% per year favored by the Governor and Senate has a better chance than he postulates).  I think the other thing that might happen is that an education bill may simply materialize without any further conference committee proceedings, similar to what happened in 2011 during the shutdown.  I think all sides know the priorities of each of the major players and sitting around in conference committees haggling over language doesn't accomplish much other than the appearance of transparency.  Here's hoping for a solid target with a strong commitment to the basic formula (and facilities and QComp) with everything wrapped up prior to next Monday.

Anyway, here's link to Doug Grow's MinnPost article:  What a Budget Deal Might Look Like

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Still No Progress.  An APB has been put out for the elusive targets that the Legislature and the Governor cannot seem to locate.  Legislative leadership and the Governor are all holed up at the Governor's mansion with negotiations going great guns to try to find common ground (and then agreement) on the targets for the tax bill and the budget bills.  Republicans are charging the DFLers with trying to run down the clock to force the Republicans to make a deal that would be lighter on tax cuts than what they would prefer, which could possibly be the case or things may just be going slowly.  I have thought all along this session that the budget bills may be light on policy and if the target-setting process goes on much longer, a lot of policy initiatives will likely fall by the wayside as there won't be enough time to negotiate agreements.  It could be a year when it's pretty much all about money.  I will let you know how things shake out once they start shaking.

Monday, May 11, 2015

In Search of Targets.  There were no education conference committee proceedings today.  Senator Wiger had the gavel today and could have called a meeting, but it was decided that in the absence of a budget target, a meeting would not have accomplished much.  The primary differences in the House and Senate bills have been discussed as well as the difference in overall investment between the House, Senate, and the Governor so there isn't much need for further explanation.  The priorities of each body and the administration have been well defined so there shouldn't be a lot of difficulty in putting together a bill rather quickly once the overall budget target is set.  The complication in setting targets may have more to do with wrangling over the tax bill and the health and human services bill as opposed to the education bill and seeing you can only spend a dollar once and a dollar spent on tax cuts is equal to a dollar spent on education in terms of setting the overall budget and even with a budget forecast surplus of nearly $2 billion.

One factor that may play a large role in determining the final budget and tax targets is the number of states with significant budget gaps cropping up.  A number of the states that are experiencing budget shortfalls did not (or have not yet) raised state taxes or fees, which Minnesota did in a big way in 2013, so it is difficult to tell whether the states with budget gaps are having cyclical problems based on revenue fluctuations  resulting from changes in economic performance or structural problems where expenditures (often based on entitlements and on-going formulas) are simply out-stripping resources beyond economic projections.  Here is an Associated Press article from the Sunday Minneapolis StarTribune describing the problem:  States' Budget Gaps Sound Fiscal Alarms

Portent of Things to Come.  A state that has been having budget problems is Kansas and one of the ways that Governor Sam Brownback and the Legislature are trying to solve the problem is changing the way that schools are funded in the state.  Kansas recently passed a block grant system first proposed by Governor Brownback in March.  While I don't know how the magnitude of each district's block grant is calculated, the logic of the approach from the proponent's side is that it gets rid of categorical funding and gives total flexibility to school districts in meeting their own individual needs.  The problem is that this reminds me a bit of the approach taken by the Reagan Administration back in the early-1980s when they collapsed a bunch of Federal programs into block grants and then shipped them to the states where the money could be used more flexibly than under Federal law.  That did two things:  (1) it did give states flexibility, but state goals are often for better or worse different (sometimes radically) than the vision that went into the development of the programs that composed the block grants, and (2) the block grant amount usually--but not in every state--was smaller than the sum of the individual program appropriations.  The old "you need less money if you have complete flexibility" argument has been around for decades and it usually means school districts (or whatever recipient of the grant) ends up not having enough money to get what they need done.

Here are some articles on the Kansas situation, including a blog entry from Dr. Bruce Baker's Education Finance 101.  For those of you not familiar with Dr. Baker, his blog is a pretty good repository on education finance and education policy.

March story from the Wichita Eagle announcing block grant proposal:  Republicans Unveil Block Grant Plan

Late March story on plan approval:  Brownback Signs School Block Grant Funding Bill

Recent story on school district reactions:  Many Kansas Schools Bemoan Block Grants

The plight of the Silver Lake school district:  Kansas School District Running Out of Options to Meet Cuts under Block Grant Formula

The possibility of litigation:  School Funding Lawsuit Seeks to Find Out Constitutionality of Block Grants

Dr. Bruce Baker's perspective:  Education Finance 101

It is important to remember that Kansas had a monumental school finance lawsuit--Montoy v. State--that found Kansas' education funding system to be unconstitutional.  The Legislature brought the funding system up to a level that was considered constitutional, but then, of course, the recession came trotting along and all the best laid plans fell apart.  So it's been an interesting couple of decades in Kansas as it relates to school funding and we have now embarked on a new chapter.  One of my worries is that if the block grants are found to be constitutional, it will be an approach that will be suggested in a number of states, especially those in which there are budget issues.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Conference Committee Day 3.  It's a short report today.  The conference committee began today's hearing at about 2:30 PM and met for around two hours, covering two subjects.  The first subject was extended time revenue.  Both bills change the label extended time revenue to extended time support revenue in both bills, with the House adding just under $2.5 million to the program.  Both bills also allow area learning centers, alternative programs, and contract alternative programs to utilize extended time support revenue for academic purposes during the school day.

The discussion then turned to the Early Childhood Scholarship Program and a number of interests spoke in favor of that program.  The House bill increases the Early Childhood Scholarship Program by $30 million and the Senate increases the program by $5 million.  The Senate's early childhood education program centers around a significant increase in the Learning Readiness Program instead of a significant expansion in the scholarship program.  Neither bill embraces the Governor's universal pre-kindergarten program either in scope or magnitude.  This issue area is the one area that will require considerable negotiating to put the bill to bed next week.  It's kind of like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors in that the House has made a strong statement against the Governor's plan and has instead stressed the Early Childhood Scholarship Program.  The Governor has gone in the opposite direction and the Senate appears to be finding Baby Bear's "just right" position on the issue by putting some money in scholarships and investing heavily (and implementing a number of new requirements) in the Learning Readiness Program and putting a bit more into Early Childhood Scholarships.

The conference committee will not be meeting again until next Monday.  There is a rumor going around the the E-12 budget targets will be delivered on Monday, but I find that a bit difficult to believe unless the tax target is announced at the same time.  I don't think anything happens in any budget area until the tax target is determined.  If that all breaks on Monday, it is likely that the budget bills could be put together in a week and a special session avoided.  Needless to say, it is going to be ten days of pandemonium.  I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Conference Committee Day 2.  The E-12 conference committee held its second hearing today featuring public testimony on three items, two of which were Senate initiatives.  After finishing review of the side-by-side comparison and the budget sheets that outline the differences between the two bills, attention turned to the facilities issue.  As I've reported before, the Senate bill contains a provision from the School Facilities Finance Task Force that would provide school districts throughout the state with expanded access to deferred maintenance revenue.  Currently, 25 school districts qualify for the Alternative Facilities program that allows them to either bond or levy on an on-going basis for facility repairs.  This is a huge advantage for those districts and the Senate bill seeks to redress this inequity by providing the districts currently not eligible for the Alternative Facilities program with increased equalized levy authority and phasing in increases in that authority over the next three years.  I was happy to testify in favor of this provision and I was very happy to be joined at the witness table by Forest Lake superintendent Linda Madsen and Forest Lake business manager Larry Martini.  Forest Lake is on the cusp of qualifying for the Alternative Facilities program, but has been continually turned away in their efforts to be allowed to join the program.  Passing the Senate bill would put Forest Lake and districts in similar situations with a necessary tool to plug a hole in their general fund that is currently dedicated to funding deferred maintenance projects.  What is often forgotten in this whole discussion is that districts don't go out looking to spend money on needless things.  Districts have on-going deferred maintenance needs and to fund those needs, they have to dip into their general funds--often to a considerable degree--to complete needed repairs.  If they haven't got room in their general funds to take on these projects, the projects get delayed and school physical plant--and often times students--suffer as a result.  Other groups testifying included MREA and MSBA.

The discussion then turned to the Senate's provision to eliminate the cap on the Alternative Compensation (QComp) program and allow those districts (over half the districts that contain slightly less than half the state's students) not participating in the program the opportunity to do so after having their plan approved by the Commissioner of Education.  Over the years, the pool of available revenue for districts seeking to employ the program has grown slowly and often erratically.  This has left a number of districts that are ready to put an Alternative Compensation plan in place waiting for enough money to be put into the program so that they can implement the plan.  The revenue gap between districts participating in QComp and those that don't is up to $260 per pupil unit.  With all districts now mandated to perform the duties related to the Teacher Development and Evaluation program, districts that are participating in QComp have a distinct advantage (and revenue stream) in addressing the costs related to that program.  While it's not a perfect fit in many districts, districts without any on-going revenue for teacher development and evaluation--like districts that don't have access to revenue in the Alternative Facilities program--have to dip into their general funds to pay for the cost of teacher evaluation.  A delegation from Stillwater school district testified about the importance of the Senate provision to their school district.  Stillwater has developed a QComp plan that has been approved, but unless their is additional revenue put into the program, they will not be able to participate.

Revenue for facilities and teacher evaluation are currently the two sore thumbs in the education funding system and the Senate chose to close these funding gaps with their bill.  It is disappointing that the Senate did not put more revenue into the general education basic formula, but with a target only slightly more than half of that of the Governor, the money didn't go very far.  Hopefully, the target for the E-12 budget will improve once a global agreement is reached on the overall funding framework and a bill that balances money for all school districts while addressing some obvious inequities can be constructed.

The last issue that was dealt with today was the testing issue.  Both bills address the testing issue and try to eliminate the testing burden on school districts and students.  The problem is that the Federal Government whistles the tune on this issue, which constricts how much Minnesota can do as it moves to make the testing program less cumbersome and more useful to school districts.  Commissioner Cassellius testified on the confines of the issue as it relates to their work and also shed light on the technical problems that shut down testing for several days last week.

The conference committee will be meeting again tomorrow and will take testimony on the early childhood scholarship program.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Conference Committee Begins Meeting.  The education funding and policy conference committee began its proceedings this afternoon.  There isn't a whole lot to report.  The bulk of the committee time was devoted to going through the side-by-side comparison of the bills.  They didn't get all the way through that task, leaving a bit of staff description of the various provisions in each bill for tomorrow.  Senator Wiger has the gavel tomorrow and announced that he is planning to convene the meeting at approximately 2:00 PM, floor session willing.  Senator Wiger wants to take testimony on several Senate initiatives that are not in the House bill, particularly school facilities funding and the elimination of the cap on the QComp appropriation (which would allow the remaining districts in the state who are not participating in the alternative compensation program the opportunity to do so).

We are 13 days away from the constitutional adjournment date for the regular session and a lot is going to have to get done in a hurry if a special session is going to be avoided.  That's not to say it can't be done.  Once the targets are set, things could fall together rather quickly.  There isn't a ton of policy in the education bills, so money questions will dominate the discussion in that conference committee to an even heavier degree than they usually do.  We'll have to see and I'll fill you in as it happens.

Tremendous Press Conference.  A press conference featuring parents, teachers, school board members, and school administrators was held yesterday and it was a rousing success.  The room was packed and the press coverage was solid (and positive).  The message delivered at the press conference is that the budget targets for education in the House and Senate are far too low to truly meet the needs of school districts throughout the state.  The presenters composed a broad range of education concerns (students, parents, school board members, teachers, and school administrators) all did an excellent job describing how at the proposed legislative budget targets, significant cuts will have to be made to programs throughout the state.  While the Governor's target is double that of the highest legislative target ($694 million to the Senate's $350 million), he dedicates half of his budget to a new program--universal pre-kindergarten programming--which won't protect current programs to a great extent.  Here's hoping the press conference has the desired effect and legislative leadership comes forward with a budget target that more closely mirrors what is needed for school districts throughout the state to meet their needs.

A lot of people helped plan the event and execute those plans flawlessly, but I think a big shout out should go to Chris Williams, the press secretary for Education Minnesota.  Chris is a former reporter with the Associated Press and his expertise was vital to the event's success.  It goes without saying that our friends at Parents United for Public Schools--most notably Mary Cecconi and Ann Hobbie--also did a fantastic job of mobilizing parents, which filled the room with concerned citizens, many holding signs with messages of clear concern.  To make this session a success for public education, more revenue is going to be needed in the budget targets and yesterday's press conference provided a clear message to legislator outlining that concern.

Conference Committee Begins Today.  The education funding and policy conference committee begins its work this afternoon.  With final budget targets yet to be determined, the initial meetings of the conference committee will likely be dedicated to the adoption of language items that are the same or similar in each bill and discussing provisions that are in one body's bill and not the other's.  In other words, slow going until the larger money decisions are made by leadership.  I will keep you up-to-date on the proceedings.

Here are the conferees:


Senator Chuck Wiger (Chair):  Bio

Senator LeRoy Stumpf:  Bio

Senator Kevin Dahle:  Bio

Senator Alice Johnson:  Bio

Senator Eric Pratt:  Bio


Representative Jenifer Loon (Chair):  Bio

Representative Sondra Erickson:  Bio

Representative Ron Kresha:  Bio

Representative Bob Dettmer:  Bio

Representative Roz Peterson:  Bio

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Senate Passes Education Funding and Policy Bills.  Yes, you read that right.  Bills, as in two separate bills; one containing the funding provisions and one containing the policy provisions.  The debate was a bit longer than it was in the House with more amendments offered and more of those amendments requiring roll call votes.  The Republican minority centered in on the 1% increase in the general education basic formula in each of the next two years as the spot they sought to address through amendments, but they were unsuccessful in those efforts.  One area they tried to move money from was the proposed increase in school readiness aid contained in the bill.  The Senate bill increases School Readiness Aid dramatically, investing an additional $50 million in the second year of the biennium, and some believe that is simply more than a majority of school districts want or need to accomplish their goals with respect to early childhood education.  It certainly is a healthy investment, but the Senate proposal does fit within the existing School Readiness program and is certainly not the overgrown program suggested by the Governor.  That said, it is a healthy increase and it will likely be a target for discussion as the bill moves to conference committee.  The education funding bill passed on a vote of 39-28, with 5 Republicans (Three of whom serve on the Education Funding Committee) voting for the bill and 5 DFLers voting against it.  That pretty much assures that there will be a Republican member of the conference committee.  The vote on the education policy bill was even stronger, with a final tally of 53-13.  A dozen Republicans joined the DFLers to come to that total.  The was only one amendment requiring a roll call--an amendment similar to the one approved by the House on Saturday--that would have mandated separate dressing rooms and rest rooms for transgender students.  That amendment failed on a vote of 25-40 with three Republicans joining the DFLers to defeat the amendment.

The question now is how things will advance procedurally.  The House combined its policy and funding bills into one bill while the Senate has chosen to keep them separate.  That doesn't mean the bills couldn't be negotiated simultaneously; it would just require some fancy footwork.  The Senate appears to be following the pattern of passing separate funding and policy bills for each major issue area and the strategy behind that may be to keep horsetrading of money for policy off the table, especially given that the House budget targets are all much lower than the Senate budget targets.  The Senate may be trying to prevent having to consider taking House policy in return for the House accepting a higher budget target.  That's inside baseball to most everyone--and truth be told, the process starts to resemble a blender on puree during the session's waning days--but all types of considerations take on a fairly large role in the procedural calculus.

It is unclear when the conference committee will begin, but it is my guess the festivities will kick off next Monday with a walk-through of each bill.  We will know then how the "separate bill" issue will be resolved.  I will provide perspectives as information becomes available.

Thanks.  Thanks to all SEE members for participating in our district-by-district survey of how a 1%/1% basic formula increase over the biennium would affect their districts.  It looks like about $89 million in cuts accompanied by a reduction in budget reserves and the prospect of attempts to raise additional revenue through voter-approved referenda.  Not a pretty picture and it helps make the case as to why the final budget target has to be bigger than what either the House or Senate has proposed and how additional revenue needs to go on the basic formula.  Thanks again for getting back to Deb with this useful information.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Weekend Update.  The House passed their version of the omnibus education funding bill on Saturday afternoon.  The debate/amendment process took about four hours, but it was remarkably uneventful.  Changes in House rules over the years have made it extremely difficult to add money to bills on the House floor, which really takes a lot of steam out of the opposition.  Given the House target is so small, I halfway expected a little bump coming from money left on the bottom line in the budget resolution, but that wouldn't have meant a whole lot one way or the other so the majority decided top simply ride it out.  Two somewhat controversial amendments were offered.  One would have allowed school to start prior to Labor Day in any year when Labor Day fell on September 6 or September 7, but that was defeated on a voice vote.  The other amendment--which passed--limits restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms to students' birth sex, somewhat changing the policy passed by the Minnesota State High School League last winter.  There was also an amendment that changes policy on the MTLE to allow teaching candidates who have neither passed the MTLE or reached the requisite ACT or SAT score to remain as teachers if they were evaluated as an effective teacher in each of the three years they have been teaching.

After the amending was done, there were a few fiery speeches that changed no one's mind and the bill was passed on a vote of 69-61.  No DFLers voted for the bill and not Republicans voted against it.

Next up, it will be the Senate on Wednesday, where they will pass their bill.  With rules being slightly different and with a bit more money to play with (and the money spread through a few more programs), the amendment process may be a bit more exciting, but that's not a sure thing.  What has been happening more often this year--with the tax/spend battlelines being what they are--the minority caucuses in both houses appear to be employing a macro-strategy that stays at the 30,000 foot level and works the press and the blogosphere.  It's all about battling worldviews (or in this case "stateviews") that will clash in the 2016 election.  Until then, it will likely be a streamlined process until conference committee, where I expect the machinery to get gummed up a bit and the gears will likely be sticking across all of the major tax and spending bills.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

House Education Funding Bill Clears Ways and Means Committee.  HF 844 cleared the House Ways and Means Committee on a party-line voice vote Wednesday afternoon.  There was only one witness--the president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers--who provided testimony and that testimony was critical of the House target.  We've heard a lot about the House budget target for E-12 of $157 million over the past month and while I always take statements at face value, there were enough comments provided by members of the majority caucus insinuating that they are more than willing to increase their spending on education as the final bill is negotiated.  What is a little maddening is that so many members of the majority caucus keep referencing the $1 billion biennium-to-biennium increase in education funding.  It always has to be pointed out that this number signifies an increase in the base funding for education that is the result of decisions made last biennium, especially two full years of kindergarteners being weighted as a full student.  Add to that increased pupil growth in terms of actual bodies entering the system and automatic increases in special education funding (which still doesn't address the massive shortfall school districts throughout the state experience in terms of special education funding) and the increase in funding due to changes in Local Optional Revenue (and referendum levy increases).  So, while $1 billion is surely a nice chunk of change, it doesn't address inflation in the general education formula at all.

The Senate omnibus funding bill--SF 811--will be up in the Senate Finance Committee at some juncture tomorrow.  The Senate Finance Committee convenes at 8:30 AM, but the Senate Transportation funding and policy bill is first on the agenda.  It is likely that bill will take quite a bit of time to review and discuss, which may push discussion of SF 811 into the early afternoon (or perhaps evening).  Stay tuned.  There usually isn't much in terms of attempts to attach major amendments to bills between the time they leave their finance division and the floor, but that doesn't mean attempts won't be made to re-direct some of the dollars in the bill to different purposes.  I will certainly let you know what, if anything, happens.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

House Bill Clears Tax Committee.  With the House embroiled in the transportation funding debate today, there hasn't been a whole lot of action on education-related issues.  HF 844 cleared the House Tax Committee yesterday.  There was some concern expressed over the property tax increases to the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth school districts that result from a cut in aid for integration revenue and alternative facilities revenue.  Because revenue levels remain the same, this requires a shift from aid to levy in these districts and the increase is considerable.  HF 848--the House tax bill that cuts taxes by over $2 billion--was also heard on Monday.  HF 848 contains a number of education-related tax changes and a number of education interests testified.  Rather than provide oral testimony, I supplied the committee with a list of comments that encapsulated earlier testimony I had given on a number of provisions when they were before the Education Funding Division.  Here are a list of the education-related provisions in the tax bill:

  • The education tax credit is expanded to include private school tuition and tuition to early childhood programs.  The income eligibility ceiling for the credit is increased and indexed to inflation.
  • An income tax credit of up to $2,500 is provided to a teacher who achieves a master's degree in their area of licensure.  Credit could be claimed in the year in which the candidate achieves their degree and could only be claimed once.
  • Limits capital levy elections to November of each year.  Only operation levies held in districts in statutory operating debt could be held in a month other than November.
  • Operating referendum question language would have to contain a amounts levied by board through the local option levy and the $300/PU board-approved referendum.
  • Provides credit of 50% of taxes paid on agricultural property for debt service.
The statewide property tax is phased out over six years, with the first $500,000 of value of a commercial/industrial parcel and first $250,000 of a seasonal/recreational parcel exempt from the the statewide while the phase-out is in effect.  The student achievement levy of $20 million was repealed in the House E-12 funding bill.

HF 844 (back to the E-12 funding bill) will be in the House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow.  There will likely be very little testimony with discussion centering around the size of the budget target and little else.  It is unclear when the Senate bill will be heard in Senate Finance and the Senate Tax Committee.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Can I Get a Witness?  They didn't have to look too far for one or two (or a couple of dozen) in the House and Senate Education Finance Divisions today to find a person willing to talk.  The day began in the Senate Education Funding Division.  After a short bill run-through, the attention turned to witnesses from various education interest groups providing their viewpoints on the bill.  The Senate bill, as described yesterday, covers the waterfront in terms of initiatives.  The centerpieces of the bill are the deferred maintenance program that will provide assistance to school districts throughout the state with on-going building repair needs, a $70 million increase in school readiness (more about that later), a 1% increase on the basic formula in each year, and $20 million in additional revenue to the alternative compensation (QComp) pool.  If there is a criticism of the Senate bill is that it doesn't increase the general education formula at the level of inflation (and that is a valid criticism).  But when your target is $350 million (a little more than half of the Governor's target of $694 million, you don't have a lot of leeway to put money on the formula if you are pursuing anything other than the formula.  If the entire $350 million were put on the formula, it would amount to approximately 2%.  In fairness to the Senate, they have matched the Governor's 1% on the formula (and, as stated above, the Governor proposed a much larger target that is largely devoted to universal school-based pre-kindergarten programs).  The recurring theme in most of the testimony today was if the final budget target for education increases beyond the Senate's $350 million, that increment should be directed toward the per pupil formula,  The other question that is hovering over the bill is the nature of the school readiness increase.  Is this program more like the current school readiness program or the universal pre-kindergarten program proposed by the Governor?  These and many other questions have yet to be answered.

The testimony in the House is a little tougher because there target is so low and what can you say about a low target?  There are some interesting things in the House bill that will be helpful to SEE member districts.  Non-metro districts will get a little revenue bump through a change in the equity formula and there's an equalization enhancement for districts with high levels of seasonal/recreational property.  It is interesting to point out that the percentage of target devoted to the general education basic formula is higher for the House bill than it is for either the Governor's proposal and the Senate bill.  Of course, that advantage becomes relatively meaningless given the fact that the House target is so low, but I think it does indicate that the House's top priority for funding is the basic formula.

Both divisions intend to amend their bills tomorrow and it will be interesting to see how many amendments are offered and the nature of these amendments.  I will provide a report tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Eagles have Landed.  The House and Senate Education Finance Divisions both released their bills today and below is a brief summary of the primary provisions contained in each bill.  The House target of $157 million is almost $200 million lower than the Senate's target of $350 million.  Both of these targets are dwarfed by the Governor's target of $694 million, but there are some inventive provisions in both bills.  So starting with the House, here are the highlights in that bill:

  • $33/PU increase in the general education basic formula for next year and an additional $34/PU in the subsequent year.  This constitutes a  formula increase of approximately 0.6% in each year of the biennium and costs $97 million.
  • Change in compensatory formula.  Current levels of funding generated with formula including concentration factor is held harmless.  Future revenue distribution does not include concentration factor.
  • Repeal of the Student Achievement Levy--the new general education levy created in 2013--of $20 million.  This levy is then spread to several other programs, sometimes without directly generating any new revenue.
  • Increase in the equity formula for non-metro districts in the second year of the biennium.  This provides an additional $8.5 million for non-metro districts ($2.5 aid/$6.0 levy).
  • $2.5 million in increased extended time aid for school districts and $2.0 million in increased extended time aid for charter schools.
  • $9 million to pay for costs associated with concurrent enrollment.
  • $6 million for the Minnesota Reading Corps.
  • Cuts in aid for integration and alternative facilities aid.  The aid reduction is offset by levy increases, leaving the total revenue amounts largely the same.
  • $9.5 million increase in School Readiness over the biennium ($4.5 million in FY 16 and $5.0 million in FY 17).
  • $30 million increase in Early Childhood Scholarships.  Amount for Pathway 2 scholarships capped, but Pathway 2 not eliminated.
  • $3.6 million reduction ($1.8 million per year) for Minnesota Department of Education.
Here is a link to the documents.  Bill:  HF 844 delete-all  Summary:  HF 844 Summary

And now to the Senate:

  • 1% increase in the basic formula in each year of the biennium.  Total cost is $173 million.
  • $20 million for districts not participating in QComp to perform teacher evaluation duties.
  • $ 4 million to pay for costs associated with concurrent enrollment.
  • $ 8 million in incentives to hire student support personnel.
  • Long-term facilities revenue program created at $200/PU in FY 17 (Pay 16), $300/PU in FY 18 (Pay 17), and $400/PU in FY 19 (Pay 18).  $63 million in aid to equalize levy associated with the program in FY 17.
  • $4.6 million for Reading Corps.
  • $70 million increase in School Readiness
  • $5 million increase in Early Childhood Scholarships.
Documents:  Bill:  SF 811 Delete-all  State Aid Tracking Sheet:  SF 811 State Aid Amounts/Changes
School Readiness Run:  SF 811--New School Readiness  General Revenue Run:  SF 811--General Education Change

So there you have the outlines of the two bills.  Again,the lower legislative budget targets have made it difficult to a bill that truly meets the needs of the state's education community.  The Governor has the highest target, but with so much of it invested in universal pre-kindergarten programs, it leaves room for little else.  Right now, the biggest increase in the general education basic formula amount is 1% (shared by the Senate and Governor) and that lags well behind the lowest measure of inflation.  There are good things in both the House and Senate bills, but the centerpiece of school funding is largely ignored.  It's difficult to be too critical at this juncture because there is a lot of territory yet to be covered before the May 18 adjournment, but if there were ever a year when education could have been "caught up" to a great extent after a decade-plus of uneven funding, this was the year to do that, especially after the forecast surplus ballooned to $1.9 billion.

There's still time to right the ship.  I would say that if you took the Senate framework with the Governor's target (the difference between the targets going on the formula) and incorporated in some of the elements from the House bill, you'd have one heckuva bill.  So, here's hoping things fall together.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Week that Will Be.  It's not Que Sera Sera time yet, as the contents of the omnibus education funding bills have yet to be introduced.  That means there is still some time to get some last-minute lobbying in (and I have been doing a little on both sides of the street).  It's difficult to discern at this precise moment what the bills are going to look like.  The Senate target of $350 million is almost $200 million more than the House target of $157 million (and both targets are well below the the Governor's target of $694 million).  That gives the Senate a little more elbow room to put together a more wide-ranging bill (it would be difficult to call it comprehensive with the target where it is) and I expect that the Senate bill will contain provisions on facilities, student support personnel, and early childhood education in addition to an increase on the basic formula.  A 1% increase in the formula costs between $55 million and $60 million per year, which would mean a biennial increase for a 1% increase in both years of the biennium between $165 million and $180 million.  That's the formula increase in the Governor's budget recommendations and that would absorb half of the Senate budget target.  One advantage for the Senate is that because there are property tax implications with most any facilities revenue increase, any state aid costs related to the equalization that would likely accompany any levy increases would only have to be carried in the second year of the biennium (Pay 2016/FY 2017), which would in effect cut the cost of any change in half for this biennium (I'm assuming--always dangerous--that if there is an increase in facilities revenue it will not come in the form of "aid only").  I still don't know what the tea leaves have in store in the Senate.

In the House, I think things will get really inventive.  Given the $2.2 billion tax cut target in the House budget resolution, there may be the opportunity to carry the state aid costs that would accompany changes in education-related levies, but given the calculations on what it costs to put money on the basic formula, the House cannot even match the Governor's 1%/1% unless they de-link compensatory revenue and sparsity revenue from the basic formula increase (and even then it gets really tight).  The possibility exists that some revenue categories could be combined with money moving toward the basic formula as a result, but it's hard to see which categories could be the target of such a strategy.  Needless to say--and this goes for all three of the budget targets (Governor, Senate, House)--there are going to be a lot of districts contemplating going to the voters for a referendum if the general education basic formula is only increased by 1%.

I was WRONG!  Mark it down (you've probably got a notebook full of my mental miscues and misstatements already, so this is nothing new).  Last week I reported that the funding bills had to be out of their last committee by April 24.  That is not the case.  The bills only need to be out of their funding division by that point.  Given we are five weeks away from the constitutionally-mandated adjournment date for the regular session, that might constitute a distinction without a difference, as the Education Funding Divisions appear intent on getting their bills of committee a week before the April 24 deadline.  That means they could conceivably clear the Tax and Finance/Ways and Means Committee treks before May 1.  That would give the conference committees two full weeks to put together a package to bring to the respective floors of the Legislature.  That seems like a tight time frame and in some respects it is.  But it certainly isn't an impossible task.

Interesting Bill.  HF 983 authored by Representative Eric Lucero was heard last Friday afternoon in the House Education Finance Division.  This bill takes a bit of a different tack on providing funding equity for low-funded school districts.  The bill targets revenue to districts that are both in the bottom 20% of per pupil general education funding (minus referendum) and the bottom 20% in referendum market value per pupil unit.  Of the 21 districts who meet these two criteria, 11 are SEE member districts (as Gomer Pyle would say "Surprise!  Surprise!  Surprise!).  All but a handful of SEE districts fall well below average in per pupil general education funding (with or without including the referendum) and we are property poor districts.  The projected biennial cost of HF 983 is approximately $19 million, which makes it a tad on the pricey side for the House target of $157 million, but that doesn't mean it can't or won't happen.  At the very least, the bill is another reminder of how so many SEE districts find their way to end of the line with limited resources at their disposal and impaired ability to improve their revenue position with voter-approved levies.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Testimony on Governor's Supplemental Budget.  Lots of bills heard today in both the House and Senate Education Finance Divisions, but most of the attention was paid to testimony on the Governor's supplemental budget recommendations, which have driven his budget target for the E-12 budget area up to just under $700 million.  Given the House's E-12 target of $157 million and the Senate's of $350 million, we're all hugging up the Governor's target.  The problem is that out of his $700 million target, he has managed to recommend only a 1% increase in the general education basic formula amount for both years of the bienniums.  Paraphrasing Mr. Rogers, "Can you say 'cuts,' boys and girls?"  It's difficult to see how the situation will get much better given the targets in the House and Senate, but I wrote about that yesterday.  The other highlights of the testimony centered around concern over the Governor's recommendation for universal all-day pre-kindergarten.  One witness testified for the concept, but most everyone else mentioned it as something that the state isn't particularly ready for because of space and transportation concerns (that was a consistent message from the education community) or it's simply an unwise use of resources (that was coming from the private early childcare providers).  Given the House's budget target, I don't think we'll be seeing any revenue dedicated toward this initiative of the Governor's.  What happens in the Senate remains to be seen, but indications are (and again, given the size of the target) that the reception on that side of the street won't be that much warmer.  I'm guessing there will be money for early childhood scholarships in both the Senate and House bills and maybe some revenue from School Readiness.  I've been wrong before, but that seems to be the way the wind is blowing right now.

Other than that, the testimony centered on things that weren't in the Governor's budget:  less than stellar support for the general education basic formula, no increase in support for deferred maintenance for school districts, and no revenue to pay for teacher development and evaluation.  Dr. Jim Behle, St. Michael-Albertville superintendent and SEE Legislative Chair, provided SEE's perspectives on the Governor's budget recommendations.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

We're Back in the Saddle Again.  The Legislature has returned from its Easter/Passover break and the next two weeks are going to be extremely hectic with the deadline for all of the finance and tax bills to be out of their last committee and referred to the floor just over two weeks away.  The Senate Education Finance Committee announced its schedule for the next ten days at this morning's meeting.  The remainder of this week will be dedicated to hearing bills heard in the Education Committee that were referred to Education Finance due to fiscal implications contained in the bills along with measures that either create new programs with appropriations or increase the appropriations for existing programs.  The formal funding proposal for the division will be posted online next Tuesday, with review and testimony taking place next Wednesday, and final mark-up of the bill taking place Thursday with amendments offered.  The bill will then go to the full Finance Committee and the Tax Committee, which would take place the week of April 20.  The schedule for the House bill has not been announced yet, but I assume it will be similar.  The only difference is that the House bill will go to the House Tax Committee and then Ways and Means as it makes its way to the House floor.  The last week of April and the first week of May will involve marathon floor sessions at which all of the appropriations bills will be passed.  Conference committees to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills will likely start the first week of May.  With the curtain on the 2015 legislative regular session slated to end on midnight May 18, that would mean a mad rush to the finish line.

Shock and "Aw, Shucks."  That's how I'm describing the education budget target situation in  the House and Senate.  I reported when I blogged last that the House budget target for E-12 was $157 million, less than 25% of the Governor's target of $694 million.  The Senate released its budget target on Friday, March 27, and they announced a target of $350 million, just over 50% of the Governor's target.  Hence, the "shock" of the House budget target being so low and the "aw, shucks" that the Senate budget wasn't higher so that the reconciliation of the final budget target could be pushed up as high as possible.  I hate to overreact in these instances.  Chronologically, we're nearing the end of the session, but in terms of the work of the session, we're basically in the third inning with a lot of game to be played.  That said, it is disappointing in a year in which we are looking at a very healthy budget situation that the targets could be higher.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

House Target Announced.  It's always difficult to predict where the exact spending targets are going to be when they are announced, but veteran Capitol observers were all pretty much surprised when the House budget targets were released yesterday.  The biggest surprise was the budget target for E-12 education, which came in at $157 million above base, which is approximately $400 million below the Governor's proposed level of spending (after the release of the Governor's supplemental budget).  The House budget resolution (which is linked below) pares back spending below the base in Health and Human Services and reduces increases in other areas of the budget in order to propose $2.2 billion in tax cuts.  The tax cuts are unspecified, but $2.2 billion is a lot of moolah, so the possibilities are pretty much endless.  Some tax targets may include the statewide business property tax that was implemented in 2001 as part of the negotiations that eliminated the state general education levy.  There will also be efforts to reduce property taxes on agricultural property, but that's not expected to amount to more than $100 million to $200 million over the biennium (big money, but even at $200 million, it would leave $2+ billion in other tax reductions).

The size of the E-12 education budget is a bit puzzling to many.  The House has been hearing a lot of bills (and a lot of them cost money) and indications were that the House wanted to put revenue on the general education basic formula in excess of the 1% increase in the Governor's budget.  At $157 million, that simply will not be possible.  Further, the House has shown some support for the Early Childhood Scholarship Program, but again, with a target at this level, any significant investment in any program could be difficult to accomplish.  As disappointed as some of us are (and count me among the disappointed), the House has left $315 million in revenue unallocated in their budget resolution and it is possible that some of that revenue will be moved into the E-12 budget category as the process continues.

The House Ways and Means Committee met on Tuesday night to pass the budget resolution to the House floor and amendments were offered.  Representative Mary Murphy offered an amendment that would have pushed the E-12 budget target up to the Governor's recommended level of spending, but that was defeated on a party-line vote.  There were several other amendments offered to either direct portions of the proposed budget resolution in certain directions or raise/lower recommended target amounts, but like the education budget amendment, they all failed on party-line votes.

It will be interesting to see how the process unfolds from this point forward.  The Legislature is breaking for a week starting Friday and legislators will be holding meetings in their districts and the budget will be discussed.  Reaction from the public during the spring break has sometimes (not often) brought dramatic changes in approach as legislators return to St. Paul for the remainder of the legislative session, so if you are upset by the budget targets, it is important to talk to your legislator (politely of course) about the needs of your school district.

The Senate will be releasing its budget targets on Friday and I will make no predictions as to what their targets will look like.  Hopefully, it will be in the range of the Governor's recommended levels of spending and perhaps a little more on the education side of things.  I will certainly post the numbers and my thoughts on Friday.

Link:  House Budget Resolution

Bill Introductions.  Wednesday, March 25.


SF 1995--Dahle--Creates Ag2School debt service property tax credit.


SF 2098--Ward--Appropriates money for the child and adult care food program.

SF 2113--Carlson--Modifies special education payment schedule for certain charter schools.

SF 2115--Swedzinski--Modifies school district reporting requirements and requires Commissioner of Education to annually eliminate obsolete reporting requirements.

Monday, March 23, 2015

On To Education Finance.  With the omnibus education policy bill passing its first hurdle last week, the focus will now turn to the Education Finance Committees in both the House and Senate.  Although the first policy committee deadline has passed, the committees dealing with education policy in the House and Senate have one more week of hearings to cover bills moving individually that have cleared the policy committee in the other body.  There aren't a lot of bills in this category, as most education-related bills get folded into the omnibus bills.

The latest engrossments of the omnibus policy bills have been posted.  Engrossments are versions of the bill into which the amendments passed in the previous committee are incorporated.  If one wishes to see the language of the amendments and where they were placed, the House or Senate Journal contains the committee report for a bill and lists the amendments.  The engrossment is simply the final product.

HF 1591:  First Engrossment

SF 1495:  First Engrossment

Bill Introductions.  Wednesday, March 18


SF 1833--Rest--Makes year-long student teaching program part of teacher preparation--

SF 1864--Jensen--Creates grant program to increase robotics programs in Greater Minnesota--

SF 1872--Hayden--Appropriates money for grant to Urban League for 13th grade--


HF 2004--Peterson--Establishes a global education to workforce initiative--

Bill Introductions.  Thursday, March 19.



HF 2031--Whelan--Appropriates money for grant to Urban League for 13th grade--

HF 2047--Christensen--Provides for information technology certifications through public-private partnerships--

Bill Introductions.  Monday, March 23.


SF 1927--Thompson--Modifies transportation procedures for non-resident charter school students--

SF 1933--Nienow--Creates a financial incentive for districts that enhance proficiency for English language learners--

SF 1935--Wiger--Removes obsolete language in general education revenue statutes--

SF 1936--Wiger--Removes obsolete language in general education revenue statutes--

SF 1939--Johnson--Clarifies that children under 7 who voluntarily enroll in school are subject to compulsory attendance law--

SF 1955--Kiffmeyer--Creates new revenue stream for school districts with low per pupil unit general revenue and low per pupil unit property wealth--


HF 2064--Nornes--Appropriates money for Minnesota Learning Resource Center--

HF 2068--Dettmer--Increases cap on basic alternative teacher compensation aid--

HF 2088--Kahn--Proposes Constitutional Amendment to lower voting age for school district elections to 16--

HF 2096--Peterson--Appropriates money for global education to workforce program--