Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Budget News Good!  Minnesota's financial outlook remains solid with the state's projected bottom line moving up another $250 million with the February forecast.  It's difficult to know what this means.  Most majority legislators see it as an opportunity for more tax cuts.  A number of legislators are urging caution, especially given the uncertainty of what will happen at the Federal level.  Me?  More equalization please!

The Governor will likely release a revised budget proposal and the Legislature will set its budget targets in the next week.  Stay tuned.

Here's a link to the February forecast page at Minnesota Management and Budget:  February Forecast

Wall to Wall Committees.  All three education-related committees met today and it was a long day of testimony.  The day started in the House Education Innovation Policy Committee with "everyone to the LIFO boats!" with the discussion of HF 1478, Representative Jenifer Loon's bill that would provide school districts with greater flexibility in instructional staffing decisions.  This is at least the fourth time in the past decade when this bill has received serious discussion, but the Governor has always vetoed this provision or refused to have it in the final conference committee report (under the threat that he would veto the entire bill).  I would expect that this will once again be part of the House's omnibus bill, but there is no Senate companion as of this writing.  The committee also heard Representative Kelly Fenton's HF 547, a bill that would move administrative responsibility for the Federal Child and Adult Care Food Program from the Minnesota Department of Education to the Minnesota Department of Health.  Representative Randy Jessup's HF 1398 was also heard.  HF 1398 would change the terminology for the GED to "Commissioner-selected High School Equivalency."  Last but not least was Representative Dean Urdahl's HF 149; a bill that would create an education funding task force.  I testified in favor of Representative Urdahl's bill for several reasons.  First, it seems that every time there is an education funding task force (and there has certainly been a few of those), some progress is made toward greater adequacy and equity in funding.  Second, I think the bevy of overlapping and confusing education funding formulas we now have is too complex and it's time to clean the barnacles off the hull of the SS Education Funding.

The House Education Finance Committee heard HF 1476, Representative Bob Dettmer's bill to fund the MN Starbase program.  The MN Starbase program is a comprehensive and rigorous science and engineering program that is jointly funded by the state and the Department of Defense.  The committee then turned to HF 1289.  This bill is authored by Representative (and House Education Innovation Policy Chair) Sondra Erickson and encourages schools to make certain students know about the availability of AP and IB courses.  Lastly, the committee got to hear a real treat in the testimony of Alicia Robinson, a Minneapolis South and University of Minnesota graduate who now works for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration.  Robinson's testimony was inspiring and she provided a lot of input regarding how to get inner city students--both boys and girls--interested in math and science courses.

The Senate E-12 Policy Committee also heard Ms. Robinson's testimony leading of its hearing.  It then turned to SF 1061, Senator Steve Cwodzinski's bill that would require a one-half credit course in civics in order for a student to graduate.  Senator Cwodzinski is a retired civics teacher, and like Representative Dean Urdahl in the House, he has a passion for the teaching of civics and government and sees it as crucial for a truly educated citizenry.  It is difficult to say what will happen going forward, but it did not seem that the committee is willing to add another required course credit to the curriculum.  Senator Franzen's SF 264 was next up.  This bill would require school districts to implement certain STEM programs with grants they receive under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Senator Wiger's SF 333, a bill that would require all students take a nationally-normed college entrance examination in order to graduate was the next bill heard.  The final bill was Senator (and Senate E-12 Finance Chair) Carla Nelson's SF 953, the Senate companion to Representative Randy Jessup's 1398, which was also heard today.

SEE Days at the Capitol.  It's been great to see so many folks participating in our SEE Days at the Capitol.  Deb Griffiths does such a great job putting these days together and this year's excursions appear to be especially well-attended.  I've been able to sit in on a couple of the legislative visits and it's always great to see SEE members provide real-life examples of the challenges faced by low property wealth school districts.  So thanks to all for making these visits a success!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hectic Week Begins.  With the first committee deadline a mere eleven days away (March 10), this promises to be a very busy week, with policy committees likely meeting into the night to accommodate the numerous hearing requests submitted by bill authors.  The Legislature set very early deadlines this year and with so many new legislators (and new party control in the Senate), a lot of bills didn't get introduced until relatively recently.  That means there is a bottleneck and the only thing that can take care of that is a set of long committee meetings (or a lot of officially dead bills).

The Senate E-12 Finance Committee was the only education-related committee that met today and it covered six bills.  Senator Gary Dahms had two bills before the committee:  SF 1033, a bill that modifies the regional library support system, and SF 618, a bill that creates an agricultural educator grant program to help facilitate summer programs for students interested in agriculture by reimbursing agriculture teachers for providing summer programming.  Senator Bill Weber's SF 1038, a bill that would increase the state reimbursement for every school lunch provided was also heard.  SF 859, Senator Senjem's bill to create a grant program to the Girl Scout Valleys for the ConnectZ program, provided some compelling testimony from a number of young women who have been helped by the program.  Senator Wiklund's SF 1356, which would provide a grant for the Works Museum--a museum that concentrates on providing support for STEM programs--was heard as well.  Lastly, Chair Carla Nelson's SF 945 was heard and referred to the floor.  That bill clarifies the calculation of general education revenue.



Senate (169 Bills Introduced Today!)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Good Article on Representative Kresha.  MinnPost does a great job of covering the Legislature and Erin Hinrichs put together this great article on Representative Ron Kresha for last Thursday's edition.  In his legislative career that is now entering its third term, Representative Kresha has shown himself to be someone who is willing to take on the tough issues and this year has been no exception.  He is sponsoring two of the education bills--removing the word "willfull" from the description of behavior that can get a student suspended and an expansion of private school choice--that are generating the most discussion this session and the discussion on those bills is far from over.  Hinrich's article does a good job of outlining the framework surrounding both of these bills and the advocates and those opposing the bills.

Meet Rep. Ron Kresha, the man behind two of the most controversial education bills at the state Capitol

Bill Introductions.  Here are the education-related bills that were introduced on Thursday, February 23.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

Delayed Blogging!  I have to apologize for being two days behind in my blogging and not providing a timely update to Thursday's proceedings at the State Capitol.  All I can say is:

The Thursday committee hearings covered a number of interesting issues.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee led off the day with the discussion of three bills.  The first of these was Representative Dave Baker's HF 1254.  HF 1524 would create an incentive program for school districts and school bus contractors to convert their fleets to propane from diesel.  The money for the grant program would come from the settlement Volkswagen reached with the Federal government arising from Volkswagen's falsifying of emission data.  An issue that has arisen in regards to this proposal is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's wanting to make certain that legislative earmarks don't endanger Minnesota's chances of receiving its fair share of the proceeds under the settlement.  As many of you know, there are always stipulations that accompany any court settlement and those will have to be followed.  Nonetheless, Representative Baker's bill would provide a shot in the arm toward making school bus fleets run both more cleanly in terms of emissions and more effectively in terms of starting in cold weather.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee also covered HF 1289, Representative Erickson's bill encouraging school districts to make certain students are aware of AP/IB opportunities that exist, and HF 1376, the Governor's technical bill also carried by Representative Erickson.

The House Education Finance Committee covered two bills.  The first was HF 1380.  This bill is carried by Representative Kelly Fenton and seeks to build upon the grant program that helps paraprofessionals work toward their teaching licenses.  The testimony on the bill featured several paraprofessionals who have taken advantage of the program and it was quite compelling.  Most using the program are working toward a special education teaching license and as we all know, the shortage of teachers in that area is both keen and statewide.  The committee then turned to HF 1255, Representative Loon's bill to increase the number of school-linked mental health clinics in the state.  As in the case of the previous bill, the testimony provided for the bill was quite compelling.  Dr. Sandy Lewandowski, superintendent of Intermediate District 287, along with a teacher and parent associated with the district provided a very concise description of the challenge being faced by the intermediate districts and special education cooperatives throughout the state in terms of the complexity of students they are serving in Level 4 settings.

The day ended with the Senate Education Policy Committee, which covered SF 768, the Senate companion to the HF 1255 carried by Senator Greg Clausen.  The same witnesses who provided testimony in the House did so in the Senate.  And for those who think that repetition doesn't accomplish much, they are wrong in this instance.  The testimony on his issue is compelling regardless of how many times one hears it.  In fact, it picks up strength with each presentation.  The Senate also heard the Senate version of the Governor's technical bill carried by Senator Eric Pratt, SF 1222, the companion to HF 1376.

While I am on the Cartoon Kick.  As I was watching the SE Minnesota school closing crawl across the bottom of my television screen on Thursday night, I couldn't help but think of Underdog's nemesis, Simon Bar Sinister, and his diabolical snow-producing ray gun featured in the adventure "Go Snow."  For your entertainment, here's the first installment of that thrilling adventure.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday Report.  There were two education-related committees, but the day began in terms of education issues with the House Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division where the Governor's property tax proposal was discussed.  There are two provisions in that bill that are high priorities of SEE:  (1) the Ag Bond Credit that was part of last year's vetoed tax bill, and (2) an increase in the debt service equalization program.  I testified on behalf of SEE and outlined both the organization's support for these provisions and the preference that these programs be funded in the tax bill.

The House Education Finance Committee met early in the afternoon and covered five bills.  Two of the bills--HF 946 and HF 947 (both authored by Chair Jenifer Loon)--were technical in nature.  HF 734, authored by Representative Barb Haley, would provide funding for the education partnerships that were funded last biennium.  These partnerships bring together the community, the school, and other local government agencies to provide full-service learning communities.  Representative Tama Theis's HF 1052 would expand the number of "recovery schools" in Minnesota.  "Recovery schools" provide school environments for students in recovery from addiction.  There are currently four such schools and Representative Their's bill would increase that number by two.  The testimony on the bill from a teacher and student was very compelling and provided a clear message why these schools are needed.  The last bill of the day was HF 1164.  This bill is authored by Representative Mary Murphy and provides seed money for the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library to create the Minnesota Center for the Book.

The education day ended with the Senate E-12 Finance Committee meeting where four bills were covered.  SF 877 is the companion to HF 1052 and is authored by Senator Jerry Relph.  The same witnesses who provided support for "recovery schools" in the House reprised their testimony.  SEE member Forest Lake provided the primary testimony for SF 1026, Senator Karen Housley's bill that would provide funding for districts that with deficits in their transportation funding.  The need for this bill is very straightforward.  When transportation funding was rolled into the basic formula in 1995, all districts were held harmless, but since then a number of changes in transportation patterns within districts have changed and the elimination of the hazardous transportation funding category that was part of the 1995 change has left a number of districts running considerable deficits in trying to provide the transportation services they must provide.  The approximate cost of the bill is $31 million and would provide increased funding for 185 school districts and charter schools.  Senator Andrew Lang's SF 494 would provide additional revenue to the Willmar school district for learning year programs at their Prairie Lakes Center and Lake Park School.  SF 936, authored by Senator Bill Weber, was the final bill of the day.  Senator Weber's bill would fully fund the internet access equity aid program and rename it the K-12 broadband equity aid program.




Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Full Day of Committees.  Tuesday started with the Education Innovation Policy Committee spending its time with two bills.  The first was HF 1107, a bill that clarifies how a joint powers board can apply for grants.  But that was just the appetizer.  The lion's share of the committee's time went to HF 140 (what is posted here is the delete-everything amendment that the author-Representative Sondra Erickson-has constructed with committee members).  The committee meeting actually spilled over its regular time slot and the committee re-convened at 5:00 PM to finish is work.  The bill's highlights are as follows:

Article 1 

  • The creation of an 11-member board that would be called the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.  The board would be comprised of six teachers, 2 superintendents, 2 principals, and 1 member of the general public.
  • Report on teacher and administrator preparation and performance.
  • Approval of teacher preparation programs.

Article 2  

  • The creation of a tiered-licensure system that would clearly spell out the requirements for earning a teaching license in Minnesota for individuals in a variety of circumstances (teachers from other states, community experts, etc.).
  • Allowance for licensure by portfolio.
  • Changes in career and technical educator licensing
The bill does not directly increase the supply of teachers, but many of the proposed changes should clear the landscape for those seeking to become teachers and facilitate entry into the field from some non-traditional teaching candidates.

The bill was recommended to pass and re-referred to the Government Operations Committee, where all bills dealing with the creation or alteration of state boards have to go before they can be approved.  If recommended to pass there, it will go back to the Education Finance Committee where a determination will be made as to whether it should go on its own to the House floor or be folded into the omnibus education policy bill.

The House Education Finance Committee covered the subject of compensatory revenue, hearing from four districts about how they spend their compensatory revenue allotment.  The four districts included SEE members Anoka-Hennepin and Austin.  The other two districts were Minneapolis and St. Paul.  It was a very instructive session and legislators were clearly interested in the similarities and differences between district spending patterns.  One common thread was that the districts are using compensatory revenue to back-fill the revenue shortfall resulting from the lack of funding coming from the English Language funding formula and the costs of providing needed language services for non-English speaking students.  

The final committee of the day was the Senate E-12 Policy Committee.  The committee heard Senator Chamberlain's SF 453, a bill that would add a dyslexia specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education and require districts to report the number of students who continue to have trouble reading to a teacher past third grade.  The committee also heard SF 587, Senator Dahm's bill that would allow districts to renew a food services contract an additional three times, and SF 736, Senator Pratt's bill relating to character education.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Equalization Bill Introduced in Senate.  Sticking with the space theme of last week when the "Eagle" landed, the LEM (Legislative Equalization Measure) made its way to the Senate from the Sea of Tranquility (known as the House of Representatives) with the introduction of SF 1206.  SF 1206--authored by Senator Dave Senjem--is the companion to HF 1381, the comprehensive equalization bill introduced in the House last Thursday (and authored by Representative Joe McDonald).  Both bills have been initially referred to the education funding committees in their respective houses and will likely receive a hearing sometime in early March.  There will also likely be other equalization bills introduced during the session and we cannot forget that the Ag Bond Credit that was part last year's vetoed tax bill will also be front-and-center in legislative tax discussions.  All in all, it should be a big year for discussion of how the property tax fits into various elements of the education funding system and that may translate into tangible results.  So, stay tuned.

SF 1206

Great Education Funding Article on MinnPost.  Greta Kaul wrote a comprehensive article at MinnPost giving a very concise description of Minnesota's oft-confusing education funding system.  I have provided the link below.  The education funding system can seem incomprehensible at times (and seems to find a way to become moreso with each passing session), but Kaul does an excellent job in the article of presenting the various nuances that comprise the formula in plain language.

The Legislature is going to be debating education funding again. How, exactly, does Minnesota pay for its schools?




Committee Report for Monday.  The Senate E-12 Finance Committee was the only education-related committee meeting today and it covered three bills.  The first of these was SF 709.  SF 709 provides the tax relief portion of the commitment made to districts that were part of the maximum effort loan program that re-financed their loans early and provided the state with $50 million in savings last year.  The revenue part of the agreement for those districts was handled in last year's supplemental appropriations bill.  SF 709 was recommended to pass and re-referred to the Tax Committee.  The committee also heard Chair Nelson's SF 722, a bill that clarifies charter school lease aid, and Senator Wiger's SF 13, a bill that would provide a grant to the "Rock n' Read" program. The "Rock n' Read" program is a music-based program that has shown promise in helping young students experiencing reading problems reach proficiency.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Equal(ization) Has Landed.  Representative Joe McDonald's HF 1381 was introduced today.  This is the equalization bill I helped put together over the past couple of months along with the Minnesota Rural Education Association, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, and the Minnesota School Boards Association.  The bill proposes to spend $80 million annually split almost evenly between referendum and debt service equalization.  This would be property tax relief in addition to--not in place of--the Ag Bond Credit that was part of the tax bill that was passed by the Legislature last spring.  The Ag Bond Credit is in the Governor's 2017 tax proposal along with an increase in debt service equalization.  The bill has 26 co-authors in addition to chief author McDonald.  The slate of co-authors spans the entire state and has members of both parties signing on to the bill.

The Senate companion authored by Senator Dave Senjem will be introduced on Monday.

Here is a link to the bill:  HF 1381

Full Day of Committees.  The education-related committees had a full slate on Thursday starting with the House Education Innovation Policy Committee at 8:15 AM.  The committee covered a lot of ground and tackled a couple of bills that generated a considerable amount of discussion.  At the top of the list was HF 905, Representative Kresha's bill to remove the word "willful" from suspension policy.  Advocates of the bill contend it would give teachers and administrators needed tools to maintain a positive school environment while opponents believe removing the language would only serve to increase the number of minority students who are suspended from school.  The debate was spirited and Committee Chair Sondra Erickson did an expert job of managing the discussion of a very emotional issue.  The committee also heard Representative Haley's HF 734, a bill that would fund existing education partnerships and hopefully increase their number.  Representative Gruenhagen's HF 998 was also heard.  This proposal would require an outside evaluation of Minnesota's special education system and perform a cost/benefit analysis.  Opponents of the legislation pointed out that Minnesota's special education system has been studied repeatedly over the past two decades and another study won't accomplish much without changes in Federal law.  HF 652, Representative Kresha's bill that would allow a school district to extend a food service contract by an additional year (from three to four) was also heard.  All the bills were laid over for possible inclusion in the House Omnibus Education Policy Bill.

The House Education Finance Committee heard HF 489, Representative Fenton's bill to fund the Minnesota Principals Academy.  The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the House Omnibus Education Funding Bill.  The committee then heard presentations from a number of districts that are participating in the state's QComp program.

The last hearing of the day was the Senate Education Policy Committee.  That committee heard SF 711, Senator Eric Pratt's companion to Representative Haley's HF 734 on education partnerships.




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Two Days of Hearings.  The House and Senate education-related committees have been holding a full schedule of meetings.  Here is a recent summary of the committees' proceedings.

Tuesday, February 14

House Education Innovation Policy.  The committee heard four bills, three of which produced a significant amount of discussion.  The three bills that consumed most of the committee's time were HF 675, Representative Quam's bill that would allow school districts to maintain a supply of asthma inhalers; HF 538, Representative Christensen's bill that requires schools to develop personal learning plans for all students not reading at grade level by the end of third grade; and HF 341, Representative Thissen's bill that would implement strategies to prevent the over-identification of students of color for special education services.  The committee also heard Representative Bly's HF 281, a bill that would clarify the language requirements for students studying Latin.

House Education Finance.  Five bills were tackled by the committee starting with bills funding the Minnesota Math Corps and Minnesota Reading Corp.  Representative Peterson is carrying HF 719 to fund the Math Corps and Representative Bennett is carrying HF 646 to fund the Reading Corps.  The committee also heard HF 602, Representative Sarah Anderson's bill that would make pre-kindergarten education expenses eligible for Minnesota's education tax credit; HF 574, Representative Urdahl's bill that would create a tax credit to assist teachers who are obtaining a master's degree in their curricular area financial help in that effort; HF 832, Representative Mariani's bill to reinstate funding for a college-level entrance examination program.

Senate Education Policy.  The committee heard three bills:  SF 574, the Senate version of the asthma inhaler bill carried by Senator Senjem; SF 504, Senator Clausen's bill that would create an endorsement that would meet the requirements of the Higher Learning Commission so high school teachers could teach concurrent enrollment programs; and SF 570, Senator Nelson's bill that would make changes to the PSEO program and graduation incentives program.

Wednesday, February 15

House Education Finance Committee.  The committee heard two bills:  HF 379, Representative Swedzinski's bill that would expand the program at Southwest State University that helps special education paraprofessionals obtain a special education teaching license, and HF 689, Representative Erickson's bill that provides grants for STEM programming.  The committee also heard a presentation from the Rock N' Read program.

Senate E-12 Finance Committee.  The committee spent its time listening to perspectives on funding issues related to the Teacher Retirement Association's unfunded liabilities.  It was a very informational hearing.  Here is a link to the powerpoint that TRA used in its presentation:  TRA Powerpoint.  Mark Haveman from the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence also provided solid input with this presentation:  MCFE Powerpoint




Monday, February 13, 2017

One Hearing Today.  The Senate E-12 Finance Committee met today and spent its committee time listening to feedback from a variety of education lobbyists providing perspectives on the Governor's budget.  The basic message is one of appreciation for:

  • A target of over $600 million.
  • 2% in each year on the general education basic formula.
  • Assistance with the projected deficit in the teachers' retirement fund with funding coming from outside the basic formula.
  • $40 million for an increase in the special education formula.
  • Increase in debt service equalization that will be carried in the tax bill.
There were also floor sessions today, so here (along with Thursday's introductions) are the E-12 related bills that were introduced.


House (Thursday, February 9)

House (Monday, February 13)

Senate (Thursday, February 9)

Senate (Monday, February 13)

Before I Leave.  Here's an article from a recent web update from The Washington Monthly about home-visitation early childhood education programs.  Minnesota has had similar success to that highlighted in the article over the past decade.  The Washington Monthly is decidedly left-of-center, so take some of political rhetoric with a grain of salt.