Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Pause in the Action. The next week will be the last quiet one for awhile, as everything seems to wind down for the holiday season. Rest assured, things will be picking up right after the New Year arrives with the Legislature convening on Tuesday, January 6, 2009, at high noon (Gary Cooper will not be there).

I am sure you have been reading the same news reports (and variegated tea-leaves) that I have and this promises to be one of the ugliest sessions since the sessions (and multiple special sessions) of 1981 and 1982. It was session upon session back then, as every time Governor Quie and the Legislature would balance the budget, the next revenue projection would come around and announce once again that the state was in a hole. Governors have considerably more power now and budget reserves have been created (although they are now pretty much depleted) to help avoid the constant ducking in for special sessions, but I fully anticipate that we are going to have multiple sessions in 2009, especially given the considerable task of re-designing a number of state programs in an attempt to keep long-term costs under control.
There was one ominous--and almost totally ignored--line in the Governor's press conference relating to the mega-deficit we are now facing. That line went something like "I will be proposing some education reform during the 2009 session." Given the entirety of the budget picture, it isn't surprising that no one in the media picked up on it, but it is something we are going to have to be prepared for in 2009.

So here's to a relaxing holiday season with friends and family. In that vein, please accept the warmest in holiday wishes from the three cats that live in the Lundell basement. From the left they are Thater Chip, Button, and Puffy. Thater and Puffy each go 20+ pounds and Button hits the scale at around 13. They are just about the friendliest cats on terra firma and they love people just about as much as they love their food dish. So, from everyone in the Lundell household (including the two cats that outweigh Ol' St. Nick himself), have a pleasant and safe holiday season.
Just a Little Clean-Up. Representative Linda Slocum (DFL-Minneapolis) and Senator Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) had their third in a series of four working group meetings related to charter schools last week. As with the second meeting, testimony was spirited and surrounded the question "how are charter schools really doing?" The working group will hold one more meeting in early January before drafting legislation. It is expected that legislation will be introduced from several quarters--including that of strong charter school supporters--to tighten up rules pertaining to charter school sponsors and provide training for groups and school districts interested in sponsoring a charter school.
In the school reform arena, I had breakfast with former Minnesota Commissioner of Education Bob Wedl and former MASA Executive Director John Maahs this week and we discussed their proposal to allow sites within a school district to basically become charter schools. The design is similar to that of relating to area learning centers and alternative programs as districts would get to keep a portion of the general education revenue associated with a student for district purposes. It will be interesting to see if proposals moving in this direction will have any legs given the budget deficit.
If any of you are interested in what Bob is proposing, he'd love to talk with you. He can be reached at robert_wedl@yahoo.com.
And last but not least, the St. Paul Conservatory, a charter school headed up by former Northfield superintendent Dr. Terry Tofte, was featured in Monday's Minneapolis StarTribune. Hey Terry, we miss you and don't be a stranger.
While we're citing the StarTribune, yours truly was quoted in this story by Norm Draper outlining the cuts being faced by metropolitan-area school districts as they prepare for next year. One thing we need to do, and we will be getting a survey ready for the legislative kick-off on January 22, is to gauge the cuts in SEE member districts. Look for that survey early in the new year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank You SCRED. I want to thank the staff at the St. Croix River Education District (SCRED) for inviting me to their annual meeting. The meeting was at Grand Casino-Hinckley (don't worry, I didn't make a massive cash withdrawl and blow the entire SEE budget on slots) and was very informative. Four of the five SCRED members are also SEE members (Hinckley-Finlayson, Pine City, Rush City, and Chisago Lakes) and SCRED invited other SEE members Braham, Cambridge-Isanti, Mora, and North Branch to attend the meeting as well. It was like a SEE regional meeting where I didn't talk (and many were thankful for that).

First-year SCRED Executive Director Dr. Kim Gibbons gave a very informative presentation on Response-to-Intervention (RtI) and how SCRED's long history with RtI has fared. For those of you who don't know, SCRED was "RtI before RtI was cool" (paraphrasing Barbara Mandrell here) and has been working to incorporate greater use of curriculum-based measurement and response to identified learning issues with research-based intervention for over 20 years. It hasn't always been easy, as they have tussled with the Minnesota Department of Education on the use of RtI, but they appear to be winning the day as RtI is now becoming a nationally-recognized success at improving learning.

SCRED is lucky to have Dr. Gibbons at the helm. She has a national reputation as a leader on RtI and her work is helping school districts throughout Minnesota understand how this system can improve achievement and, if applied correctly, lower the identification of children with specific learning disabilities. I don't think I need to tell everyone how once a child enters special education they often become a "high cost" student. Special education is extremely important, but for it to be effective, it must be the appropriate placement for the student. RtI helps make certain that children are not being shuffled off to special education simply because there isn't another program to handle their needs.

Dr. Gibbons has provided me with a copy of the Powerpoint of her prensentation to a national leadership conference held this fall in Rochester, MN, and I will pass that on to anyone who is interested.

The rest of the evening was dedicated to discussion with local legislators. Representatives Jeremy Kalin (DFL-North Branch), Rob Eastlund (R-Cambridge), Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson) and Tim Faust (DFL-Mora) and Senator Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris) were in attendance and fielded a number of tough (but politely asked) questions from the crowd of school admininstrators and school board members. In the picture on the right, Hinckley-Finlayson Superintendent Jack Almos is moderating a discussion between (from the left) Representative Bill Hilty, Representative Tim Faust, and Isanti and Pine County school districts.

The universal response--and appropriately so--is that the budget negotiations are going to dictate everything. The deficits, both for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next biennium, appear to be getting worse given the continuing lay-offs. Given that, the legislators present were extremely reluctant to make any projections on what may happen, good or bad.

The one thing, and I believe it is positive, that was broached was how this may be the optimal time to talk about transforming how government services, including education, are delivered. With the entitlement programs we have in place and the baby boom now just beginning to consume those entitlements, it is going to be difficult for society to continue propping up the status quo.
What we need to be concerned about in SEE is that any transformation of education leads to greater equity. As we know, and I did touch on this informally with a couple of the legislators present, is that while this may be an opportunity to close some funding gaps, the temptation on the part of a number of legislators in an era when state resources are tight will be to let those districts who have higher property wealth "take care of themselves" while everyone else will be left to muddle along. That simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Charter School Echoes. It didn't take long for the dust to get kicked up after last Tuesday's legislative hearing on charter schools. Sean Kershaw, Executive Director of the Citizen's League, wrote the editorial for the StarTribune (at the link below), weighing in on the issues discussed at the hearing.

Kershaw Commentary: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/35571339.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:U0ckkD:aEyKUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU.

I want to start my response by saying I don't have any particular problem with the concept of charter schools. In my waning days on legislative staff nearly twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to sit on a couple of working groups that discussed expanding school choice to include the ability of school districts--and back then, it was only school districts in the discussion--to create charter schools. Through these discussions, I developed a healthy respect for many of those who advocate for charter schools that remains to this day.

But what is troubling in this whole episode is a reluctance on the part of charter school proponents to recognize that Myron Orfield, the Director of the University of Minnesota Law School's Institute on Race an Poverty, is more reporting facts than making value judgments about the performance of charter schools and how the enrollment patterns in charter schools are exacerbating racial isolation. Where Orfield appear to make a judgment is in the embrace of current laws pertaining to the desegregation rule.

I am not going to weigh in on that because I can see both sides of the argument. I have never believed that creating and maintaining racial balances will, in and of themselves, promote greater achievement. If it did, all we'd have to do is get out the ol' slide rule and watch the magic happen. And I can understand the frustration of the minority community with a system that sometimes appears to be more intent on developing student ratios than promoting student learning and seek to have more control over their community's education through the establishment of charter schools. The testimony of Minneapolis Councilman Don Samuels, Eric Mahmoud, and former St. Paul Councilman Bill Wilson bore that out and the achievement levels in the schools in which they are directly involved are promising. Unfortunately, many charter schools aren't doing nearly as well and are often rife with management issues.

Where I start to get a little bent out of shape is when people seemingly give charter schools a pass on their achievement scores. The law is clear. It's not like Orfield was at the State Fair handing out "Charter School Criticism on a Stick" in the same way that the Minnesota Department of Education was handing out school scores "on a stick" in 2003. His report simply reported raw data and made similar judgments regarding charter school performance that are made when public school test scores are released and usually accompanied by damning headlines at every daily newspaper in the state.

What is particularly maddening is that charter school supporters tend to pull out the same explanations mainline schools use to explain whatever difficulties they are having. It just seems when the explanations come from public schools, they are viewed as excuses while the same reasons, when cited by a charter school, are met with an understanding nod of the head. There needs to be, and at least Kershaw admits this, a single, meaningful standard of measurement developed that will look at student performance realistically and support further achievement in a dynamic manner as opposed to simply taking a snapshot of student achievement levels on a given day.

Three consecutive administrations have placed a lot of stock in charter schools (less so in the Ventura Administration, but heavily in the Carlson and Pawlenty Administrations) and have promoted them, sometimes at the expense of the mainline public school system. Programs like charter school lease aid have produced some questionable decisions and have cost the state a considerable amount of money. Rules relating to sponsorship of charter schools have been loosened, allowing the establishment of some charter schools that should not have been created and allowing charters to be created without having a formal agreement from the school district in which they are located. Management of some charter schools has been nothing short of atrocious. There can be no excuses when problem like this arise, even from the most ardent charter school supporters. This isn't "poor little charters" being descended upon by critics from the vicious education cartel. It's a matter of following the law and meeting expectations.

There desperately needs to be a truce here. Continuing an "us vs. them" in this area serves no one's, especially the students in all Minnesota schools, district or otherwise, purposes. Charter schools are public schools with public school students, just like those students in area learning centers and alternative programs. In the discussions surrounding measurement of student achievement, there are threads of an agreement beginning to reveal themselves. This could be the opportunity that will, if not eliminate the tension, at least put everyone on the same plane in terms of operation and measurement.

MSBA Delegate Assembly. I forgot my camera, so I didn't get any quality candids of the many SEE board members in attendance at the 2008 MSBA Delegate Assembly. It was nice to see as many of you as I did run into and the discussion of the resolutions was interesting.

There were two positive developments during the proceedings. In her address to the delegates on Sunday evening, Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), chief author of the PS Minnesota bill, announced that increased equalization will be part of the comprehensive funding reform bill she intends to introduce early in the 2009 Legislative Session. HF 4178/SF 3828--the comprehensive funding reform bill introduced in 2008--did not include increased equalization although both authors voiced support for the concept.

The other development was the passage, by the delegates, of a resolution urging support for the comprehensive funding reform bill. While some may view this as a "no-brainer," there are concerns from some regarding elements of the proposed reform and it is very expensive. At any rate, on a vote of 94-12, the delegates voiced (more accurately, punched their support on their voting keypad) support for the bill. Hoo-rah.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

If It's Not One Thing, It's the Same Darn Thing. My cousin Melvin told me that many years ago and I have to say it is one of the more simply profound statements I have heard and sadly fitting when looking at the state budget heading into big-time negative territory for the second time this decade. Yes, that's the SS Minnesota to our right, leaking red ink like there's no tomorrow. Maybe it hit the iceberg of the housing bubble or was attacked by a submarine firing tight-credit torpedos (or maybe I should just stop with the analogies).

At any rate, it was announced today that the revenue shortfall for the remainder of this fiscal year (which ends June 30, 2009) is projected to be $426 million. That's small change, if anything in the hundreds of millions can be described as "small," compared to the projected revenue shortfall for the 2010-2011 biennium estimated to be $4.8 billion, a more than five-fold increase in the shortfall from the $936 million shortfall estimated at the end of session.

The largest portion of the change comes from a $3.3 billion drop in state revenue since the end of session. The remainder of the shortfall comes from a $580 million increase in state expenditures (most of which are in the area of health and human service costs) over the same time period. Add these two numbers to the $936 million end-of-session shortfall and you've got a nice, tidy, $4.8 billion shortfall.

It was a very somber message delivered by Chief State Economist Tom Stinson (pictured speaking) as he outlined the reasons for the downturn in state revenue. According to Global Insights, the firm hired by the State Department of Managment and Budget (formerly the Minnesota Department of Finance now combined with the Minnesota Department of Employee Relations), the recession (yes, it is a recession) began in late 2007 and will likely last at least until late 2009. This basically stunts state revenue growth for an entire year. What makes this particular recession even more puzzling is that given the breadth of the economic crisis and the degree of damage in some sectors, knowing when the turn-around will begin is more difficult to gauge. The only safe assumption at this point (if there is a safe assumption in economics) is that this recession is going to be more severe than those experienced in the early 1990s or shortly after the terrorist attacks in September, 2001.
So, where from here? Needless to say, this is going to be a painful, painful legislative session. The budget story in the StarTribune this morning said as much, as legislators acknowledged that there is no way to "tax our way out of this" and that cuts will have to be made. What further complicates matters is that every reserve or pot of possible one-time money has been tapped over the past six years, so all cushions are gone. One area that will receive a lot of attention is that of health and human services, which continues to grow at a rate well above inflation. It will likely take a combination of state tax increases (if they can get around the Governor), program cuts, and property tax increases to get things to balance. Needless to say, I won't be planning a June vacation.
I don't know what to say about the prospects for education. Given the magnitude of the budget problem, I wouldn't expect any increase outside of the money going onto the formula from the change in the permanent school fund, but at its current amount, that won't even replace the loss of the $51 in one-time money approved last session. There is the possibility that the funding shift could be changed from 90% current year/10% subsequent year to something lower. That generates "balance sheet" money, but raises school district borrowing costs, making it a less-than-optimum option. Further, there is no guarantee that any revenue generated would stay in education.
Harry Truman once said, and I paraphrase, something to the effect, "give me a one-handed economist, because they are always saying 'on the other hand.'" I only wish Tom Stinson and his team would have been able to go to another hand for a rosier synopsis this morning. The only positive about having one hand today is that we didn't need to go to a second hand to count the number of billions we are in the hole. Hopefully, that will hold true as we move through 2009.
Minnesota Managment and Budget Documents: http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/fu-2008-nov

But There was a Demonstration. The small group pictured at the right showed up outside Room 15 of the State Capitol and chanted for higher taxes, especially on those in the upper-income brackets, to avoid making cuts to health and human service programs. In the background, you can see a State Trooper approaching. Right after I took this shot, the Trooper instructed the demonstrators that they could no longer chant or wave their signs and being polite Minnesota protesters, they complied. I honestly don't know how I feel about this. Scandinavian that I am, noisy demonstrations make me a bit uncomfortable--heavens, all those emotions--but in my advancing years, I realize that these people are ticked off and as long as they aren't taking hostages, why not let them scream (well maybe not scream, but shout with vigor) and wave their signs. I'm sure they'll be back during the session. Frankly, I'd be worried about the state of our democracy if they weren't.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Charter School Hearing Kicks Up Some Dust. One of the really great things about my job is that each and every day is different and every now and then you stroll into a legislative hearing and are just flat-out blown away by the passion and insight provided. Such was the case at yesterday's hearing of the House/Senate Charter Schools Working Group. With all of the controversy surrounding charter schools, both in terms of performance and administration, arising in the past few months, the House and Senate Education Policy Committees have convened a working group to study where we sit in terms of this school reform 17 years after Minnesota passed the first charter school legislation in the nation. Shown on the right (from left to right, are working group chairs Senator Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) and Representative Linda Slocum (DFL-Minneapolis) along with Senator Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake).

The hearing began with a discussion of the Office of the Legislative Auditor's evaluation report on charter schools. The report was presented by its evaluation manager, Judith Randall (pictured at left).

While finding that after adjustments for different demographic and student attendance patterns are considered, differences in achievement between charter schools and regular public school are minimal, the report does make five recommendations. They are as follows: (1) Clarification by the Legislature of roles of the Minnesota Department of Education and charter school sponsors, (2) Implementation of standards for sponsors by the Minnesota Department of Education, (3) Requirement for all charter school board members to receive financial management training, (4) Expansion of conflict-of-interest laws as they relate to charter school boards, and (5) Repeal of the requirement that a majority of a charter school board be teachers.

When the Office of the Legislative Auditor embarked on their effort, many believed the result would be much more hard-hitting. Even if the report does not "blow the roof" off anything, neither does it give charter schools a clean bill-of-health. The report clearly points out the challenges facing charter schools, their sponsors, and the state as it grapples with an education movement where 24,000 Minnesota students receive their education.

Minnesota Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Morgan Brown responded to the Legislative Auditor's report and informed the working group that the Department will be introducing legislation that will address some of these concerns.

The "polite fireworks" of the day began with a presentation by former State Representative and current University of Minnesota law professor Myron Orfield's presentation. Orfield (pictured testifying at left flanked by Institute researchers Baris Gumus-Dawes on his left and Tom Luce on his right), who heads the Institute on Race and Poverty at the Law School, provided data and research from a report prepared by the Institute showing that charter school performance lags behind that of the regular public schools and, further, are serving to "re-segregate" inner city and inner-ring suburban schools Orfield has worked for years on issues related to poverty and whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, his methodology is meticulous.

A panel of inner-city charter school leaders--Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, Eric Mahmoud, and for St. Paul City Council member Bill Wilson (pictured in order from right to left)--defended the performance of charter schools, which are primarily comprised of African-American students. The African-American students at each of these schools is out-performing the African-American cohort of student not only in the inner cities, but also in a number of suburban districts. They also defended a number of charter schools that are not doing as well, citing the relative newness of those schools.

It was a commendable performance by all involved in the hearing, as charter school performance, especially as it relates to the performance of minority students can be a difficult subject to discuss. People on both sides of the issue spoke with both expertise and passion as they staked out their respective intellectual territory on the issue.

My take on the issue has less to do with charter schools and more to do with how we measure student performance. It's really too bad that this hearing couldn't have followed the Monday's hearing on assessment. What is clearly needed to clear up performance concerns in both charter and regular schools is a valid "growth" model for judging student performance year-to-year and building-to-building.

As controversial as charter schools have become, I don't foresee a day without them being part of the educational landscape in Minnesota. I can also appreciate the desire of many Minnesota's minority communities to have as much input as they can in the education of their children and how they can somehow feel stunted in these efforts by large school environments. What is needed is greater transparency in how charter schools operate and the encouragement to share more between the charter and regular school frameworks, so that best practices--moving in both directions--can find their way into more classrooms.


Legislative Auditor's Report: http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/ped/2008/charterschools.htm

Institute on Race and Poverty Report: http://www.irpumn.org/website/projects/index.php?strWebAction=project_detail&intProjectID=57

StarTribune Story on Institute on Race and Poverty Report: http://www.startribune.com/local/stpaul/35109429.html?elr=KArksUUUU

Monday, December 01, 2008

And So It Starts. The beginning of the 2009 Legislative Session is more than a month away, but looking at my December calendar, it looks like it is already arrived. The starting gun went off today as the Senate and House Education Policy Committees held a joint hearing to discuss the high-stakes 11th grade mathematics test and other accountability issues.

The hearing began with an appearance by MDE Commissioner Alice Seagren and MDE Testing and Assessment Director Dirk Mattson describing some of the options being considered by MDE as the 2009 Legislative Session nears. The cause of the furor surrounding the high-stakes test springs from the fact that the passage rate is expected to be less than 50%. Because of the high-stakes (that's education lingo for "no pass/no diploma") nature of the test, it would prevent a significant portion of this year's juniors from receiving a diploma. Needless to say, this would be both alarming and inaccurate.

Several groups then provided their reaction and possible solutions to the problem. Dr. Ric Dressen brought in a team from the Edina School District, which is in the process of designing and approving an alternative path to a diploma for students who fail the high-stakes test. It's quite an comprehensive and rigorous pathway, but when Edina testifies--and they are impressive--it always makes me chuckle a bit. Edina is a well-staffed school district that simply has more people in the position to develop and implement this type of program. Most SEE districts simply don't have the additional people-power to make a change as significant as this one.

Which again leads us to the inevitable discussion of why MDE isn't providing more in terms of leadership on this crucial issue. I imagine as we move forward, we are going to hear all about possible waivers and other devices that will simply avoid the issue as to what the goals of the state's testing initiatives are and how to implement these goals in a way that will provide an accurate and helpful (for students, teachers, and the community-at-large) information about student achievement. In fairness to MDE, after almost two decades of having the stuffings knocked out of them in terms of personnel, they also are lacking the people to deliver the types of services that are helpful to school districts in this realm.

For my own part, I continue to be frustrated by the notion that somehow the subjective can be made transparently objective. What do I mean by that? The value of learning is often subjective. There are certain objective items that all students must know that can be measured very straightforwardly, but the ability to apply knowledge in a meaningful way is subjective to a great extent. Yet, in the wake of NCLB, states try to develop strictly objective criteria and measuring devices to give a snapshot of their progress in meeting, in my estimation for a great number of students, these foggy goals. Not foggy in the sense that the score on the test is not clear, but foggy in the sense that we don't really know if the knowledge being measured is authentic.

This discussion will continue as we head toward session. Senate Education Policy Chair Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) stated that a working group will be assembled to come up with a legislative response to this issue with the goal of having a bill ready to go early in the session. It would be great to get this taken care of during the first month of session, as the likely budget agony is going to take center stage starting in late January and having important initiatives like this one get gummed up in the budget negotiations would be frustrating. Decisive early action would be a much preferred route.

Now if I Can only Teach Him to Shovel Snow. Sunny has turned one and as a yellow lab, he is turning me into a gray terrier (I'm yapping at him all the time and turning grayer by the day) with his antics, but I will have to admit that he is the smartest dog on the block. Just a couple of weeks ago, I left the rake by the side of the house while I went in the house for a minute or so and when I returned, Sunny, as you can clearly see, was raking for me. What a thoughtful dog!
More Movie Reviews. I ran into Bob Porter at a legislative hearing this summer and he told me in no uncertain terms that he wanted to see more movie reviews. My wife and I usually see one movie per weekend and today, I'll report on Baz Luhrmann's epic homage to his homeland "Australia" which opened last weekend.
Kidman! Jackman! Other people! Awesome!
This is truly a fine movie. It hasn't received universal praise from the critics and at times, Luhrmann seems to be trying to tell the entire history of Australia beginning with the Pleistocene epoch in a mere 2 and a half hours making things seem a bit hurried, but it's been a long time since I've seen an "important" movie with less navel gazing and more concentration on broad (sometimes seemingly larger than life) themes.
For SEE members, it also instructive that Northern Australia is clearly a low property wealth part of that continent. So see it if you get a chance during this hectic month.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Don't You Wish It Could Go on Longer? Well, election day is finally behind us (except for the recounts) and my guess is that most Minnesotans and Americans are relieved. Some may not be pleased with the results, but the die was cast with high turnout and little mention of voter impropriety, so it's difficult to argue that somehow things could have turned out differently.

The thing that struck me most, especially after the bitter campaign season, the grace and dignity with which both Senator McCain and Senator Obama carried themselves as they conceded and declared victory respectively. I've been listening to speeches for what seems like forever (I'm not sure I was actually at the Gettysburg address, but it sure feels that way some days) and I cannot recall two more inspiring and moving speeches delivered within such a short time frame. Both speeches were magnificent and really laid out the challenges facing this nation clearly. Further, the message coming from both men--reminiscent of their campaign themes of "Country First" and "Yes, We Can!"--spelled out the shared vision that although differences exist in the "hows" of building and maintaining our nation, the "what"--our United States--is something we all share.

And the Winners Are. I don't know how many of you out there are wrestling fans or can remember the booming voice of wrestling announcer Rodger Kent, who would utter in total disdain after a villian (usually Nick Bockwinkel or someone of that ilk) would defeat another opponent through dastardly means, "There's your winner, like him or not." Well, we have declared winners (in all but a handful) of the 136 legislative races held yesterday. There were some close ones.

The results for the two state senate races can be found at this link: http://ww2.startribune.com/news/metro/elections/returns/mlgssm.html?elr=KArks8c7PaP3E77K_3c::D3aDhUoaEaD_ec7PaP3iUiacyKUU

On its face, Princeton School Board Chair Lisa Fobbe's 86-vote victory over Alison Krueger is an upset, but there was the issue of the write-in campaign for former State Representative Mark Olson who garnered the Republican endorsement for the seat this summer after incumbent State Senator Betsy Wergin was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission. Olson lost to Krueger in the primary, but Olson's supporters vowed to commence with a write-in campaign and they did. It is difficult to determine whether or not the write-in totally did in Krueger, as one can never tell whether or not voters writing in Olson or someone else would have voted or voted for Krueger. Needless to say given the political complexion of that district, the Republican tends to win. Lisa Fobbe is, however, an excellent candidate, so it is difficult to discern how things would have turned out in the absence of the write-in effort. Needless to say, the write-in didn't help the Republican cause.

The House DFL caucus picked up two seats, but fell short of the 90 needed to make the House veto-proof. As I predicted yesterday (we'll get to those predictions later), I expected the DFL to pick up a few seats, but also believed that they would not maintain all of the seats they gained in 2006. While picking up six seats--Kulick Jackson over Erickson in 16A, Kath over Kuntz (vacant seat) in 26A, Sterner over Lindsay (vacant seat) in 37B, Obermueller over Wardlow in 38B, Rosenthal over Schneider (vacant seat) in 41B, and Newton over Cimenski (vacant seat) in 49B--the Democrats failed to hold onto four seats they won in 2006. Those seats were in 28A where Kelly defeated Wohllschlager, 31B where Davids (in a return to the Legislature) defeated Tschumper, 37A where Mack defeated Madore, and 51A where T. Sanders defeated Hamilton (vacant). Two things are important to note: (1) two of the DFL pick-ups (41B and 49B) were districts where Republicans who overrode the Governor's veto of the transportation bill either retired or were defeated in a primary, and (2) all four seats taken by the Republicans were against first-term DFLers--it's nit-picking, but 51A's first-term DFLer Scott Kranz chose not to run again--who took over a Republican-held seat in 2006.

The House race results can be viewed at: http://ww2.startribune.com/news/metro/elections/returns/mlghsm.html

About Those Predictions. Needless to say, I won't be heading to Vegas this year, as I used up all my luck with my predictions yesterday. I undershot on Obama's electoral vote total and the Coleman/Franken race was closer than I expected (and may be reversed after a recount), but other than that, my guessing skills were pretty decent.

Apologies. In my haste on Monday, I neglected to mention that St. Cloud school board member Joanne Dorsher, another candidate with SEE credentials, was also a candidate for the State House of Representatives against incumbent Steve Gottwalt. Three of our four candidates with roots in SEE did not win yesterday. In addition to Dorsher, Sue Bruns, and Otto Luknic all lost their races. Jerry Newton, as mentioned above, was successful in his race.

More tomorrow!

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Great Swami Sees All, Tells All, and is Occasionally Correct. Well, we're about nine hours away from seeing an advertisement for something other than a political candidate. I know that you are all dying to know what is rolling around inside my fifty pound head (Yes, you are! Admit that you are!) and I am about to tell you. The spirits of elections past are being summoned and they will speak through me to give you the lowdown so you can rent a movie tomorrow night instead of staying up until 6 AM to see who won the Ramsey County Judge race.

I'm guessing that Obama wins the presidential race, comfortably but not overwhelmingly. My estimate is that he'll get 338 electoral votes to McCain's 200 and probably roll in between 52% and 53%. If you want to play along, a good place to put together your final prediction is at http://www.270towin.com/. There you can designate a state for a candidate and have a running total.
There are still a ton of states in play, but I just don't see how McCain can make a run on undecideds that is going to tilt them all this way. A lot of Democrats scoffed at Howard "Arrrrrrrrrrrrgggghhhhhh" Dean when he became head of the Democratic National Committee and insisted that the party try to run everywhere instead of staying within their electoral citadels and dig deeper for votes there, but that concept appears to be paying off, as Obama has made considerable inroads in the West, particularly in Colorado and Nevada. That alone wouldn't have been enough to put Obama in the White House, but I believe Dean's strategy is one of the underreported stories of the campaign season.

Moving on to the Minnesota US Senate race. I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to think that these guys like each other as much as they seem to by the looks of their commercials. Talk about mutual respect and warmth toward your opponent. I've never seen a set of campaigns that have taken to the high road and stayed there throughout the dialogue. . . . Oh, sorry! Nodded off there. I was dreaming about a land of milk and honey. Let me see what I wrote.
Hey, that's not right! As most of you know, I've been in this business for 30+ years and I don't think I've ever seen a campaign quite like this one. I wouldn't call it scurrilous and both parties have been taking their shots. It all kind of reminds me of this great scene from "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," which rivals "Gone with the Wind" and "The Godfather" as the greatest American movies ever made. The clip can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOGWbzUM-y8. The cinema at its finest!
Seriously, I'm guessing the incumbent, Senator Norm Coleman pulls it off with about 42% of the vote. I think challenger Al Franken will come in around 40% with Dean Barkley netting the remaining 18%. I think the latest allegation against Senator Coleman, regarding some supposed campaign financing shenanigans that alleges a Washington insider funneled money to the Coleman campaign through his wife's job may actually help the incumbent, as there are some attacks that backfire (anyone else here remember former Senator Rudy Boschwitz' ginormous blunder in 1990--the last week of the campaign "Wellstone isn't Jewish enough" letter to his supporters). Same thing could be at play here.

But Dr. David Schultz of Hamline University (pictured at the left) not to be confused with Dave "the Harmmer" Schultz, former goon for the Philadelphia Flyers (pictured at the right), pointed out on Tom Hauser's show on Sundary morning that the Bachmann race in the 6th congressional district is probably going to spike turnout by Republicans in that district and he equated the current 6th congressional district for the current crop of Republicans with the traditional support for Democratic candidates in the 8th congressional district. Schultz believed that this turnout would, in his estimation, put Coleman over the top.

Speaking of the 6th congressional district, I'm guessing that the incumbent there, Representative Michelle Bachmann will also prevail. The Minnesota 6th is one of the most reliably Republican congressional districts in the country with strong representation in both the libertarian and cultural conservative segments of the Republican Party.

One place where the national Democrats should have put a little more concentration is this congressional district, as Tinklenberg wasn't even on the radar until the Bachmann faux pas while being interviewd by Chris Matthews on "Hardball." Tinklenberg is the perfect Democrat to run in this district, with a solid resume in both local and state government on issues of importance to the 6th district.

This race will be tight and had Bachmann made her misstep a bit later, she may have not been able to get enough commercials on the air to stop the bleeding. As it is, Bachmann has had time to respond and her ads have been solid overall. Further, Bachmann is a tireless campaigner and my guess is that she'll be working until 11:59 tonight to try and get every single vote she can possibly get. (In a late note, I see one national service has this one at 46-45 Bachmann right now and that means it's anyone's game.)
In a final national note, I believe the Democrats will pick up seats in both the House and Senate, but will not reach the magic number of 60, so get ready to be able to spell the word filibuster in your sleep.

Onto the Minnesota House. When the dust settles tomorrow evening, I believe the DFL will still control the House and will maintain a similar margin, maybe up or down a seat or two. This is all going, like two years ago, depend on who wins the close races. In 2006, DFL candidates won an inordinate amount of the close races and that might even out, especially in races in districts that are characteristically Republican where Republican turnout will likely be higher. Further, there are always some surprises on election day, which tend to even things out. In the Democrats favor is that there are interesting open seats which may fall their way.

In a side note, three candidates for the House have been heavily involved in SEE over the years. Former SEE president Sue Bruns is running in House district 35A against incumbent Mike Beard. Anoka board member Jerry Newton is running in the open seat formerly held by Kathy Tingelstad in House district 49B. Faribault board member Otto Luknic is running against incumbent Patty Fritz in House district 26B. Good luck to all of you!

I don't think I have to remind each and every one of you how important, and precious, the acitivites of tomorrow truly are. Everyone pretty much knows I am a big-D Democrat due to my sentiments, but I have always taken greater pride in the fact that I am a small-d democrat as well. All voices need to be heard and appreciated for a democracy to flourish, so get out there tomorrow and vote and remember to do the whole ballot!

I pledge to work with whoever is elected to promote the cause of our organization professionally and effectivley and I know the remainder of the organization feels the same way.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Book Recommendation. For those of you with time to read, I would love to recommend this book to you. I've studied my share of economics over the years, but I have yet to read as well-written account of the differences between supply-side and demand-side economics as that presented by Norton Garfinkle in his The American Dream vs. the Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy. The book is part of Yale University Press' The Future of American Democracy Series.

I am not going to pretend that this book is a simple history without a considerable slant in the material. Garfinkle, a very prominent member of the communitarian movement, has strong negative opinions regarding the supply-side tax cuts of the Gilded Age and the Reagan and Bush eras, but he is also critical of Presidents and other policy makers of different stripes and the decisions made in many different eras. It also gives a very good history of the depression and some of the tax and policy changes that worked along with some that did not.

And, at base level, this is a very readable book with concrete examples of how and why many of the great tax decisions have been made over the past 150 years of history in the United States and the results of those decisions. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for either the professional policy maker or the lay person. It is truly a remarkable little (200 very readable pages) book.

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/American-Dream-vs-Gospel-Wealth/dp/0300126115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1220028109&sr=1-1

We Know Where the Monty Python Vote will go. Oh, wait! That was Michael Palin, not John McCain's somewhat surprising choice as running-mate Alaska Governoor Sarah Palin. As a long-time political junkie, I find the pick a bit intriguing, but stepping back, there is more than a bit of logic to the choice.

Clearly, the fact that she's hasn't served a full-term as Alaska's governor is going to raise more than one eyebrow as she faces scrutiny, but all indications are she shares Senator McCain's maverick bent and is solid, perhaps even more solid than McCain, with the conservative base on a number of issues. Further, this choice will resonate with a number of women who either feel left out of the process due to Senator Hillary Clinton's failure to capture the Democratic nomination for President (and remain disaffected because Senator Obama did not put her on the tickiet) or the fact that the power structure in both parties often ignores bread-and-butter issues that are important to women (remember the Year of the Soccer Mom).
Further, when you consider that she hails from Alaska and served as Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission and has a working knowledge of the energy industry, she brings a background and perspective on a hot-button issue in the campaign on which the McCain camp is trying to take a very aggressive stance on more drilling for oil on American soil. In other words, be prepared to hear a lot about the Alaska Nature and Wildlife Reserve in the next few months.
Whether or not the calculus works for McCain, we'll never quite know, but those whose jaws initially dropped (Mine included. I was thinking it was going to be either Mitt Romney or Ohio Congressman Rob Portman) probably need to step back and see that, at least at some level, the choice makes sense. Further, it shows once again that McCain, at least at a surface level, is not afraid to do it his way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Pretty Obvious School is Right around the Corner. If you pick up a national or local magazine or newspaper this month, it's likely to have an education story in it. It's been a total bombardment! Some of the more interesting articles I have seen are (unfortunately, most of thees articles require either a subscription to view online or a run to the local newsstand for the issue):

Harper's, September 2008 issue, "Tyranny of the Test" by high school science teacher Jeremy Miller, who worked for a year as a tutor for Kaplan. This is a pretty compelling story written from a first-person perspective. Most of it we've all heard before, but it never hurts to hear it again.

Tyranny of the Test: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/09/0082166

The American Prospect, September 2008 issue, "How the Dems Lost on Education" by Kevin Carey. The American Prospect is a left-of-center magazine, but this article certainly doesn't have many nice things to say about one of the key constituencies of the Democratic Party, the National Education Association. In pretty much direct contrast to Miller's Harper's article, Carey provides a spirited defense of NCLB from a left-of-center perspective.

How the Dems Lost on Education: http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=how_the_dems_lost_on_education

Carey is a research and policy manager at Education Sector, an education think tank located in Washington, D.C. Here are links to Education Sector and Carey's biography.

Education Sector: http://www.educationsector.org/

Kevin Carey: http://www.educationsector.org/profiles/profiles_show.htm?doc_id=336135

The American Prospect also has a blog and Dana Goldstein provided this interesting entry in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention. This one is FREE folks.

"The Democratic Education Divide": http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=the_democratic_education_divide

It looks as though education is going to be a hot item in this fall's election and I will keep you posted with the latest articles in the national and local press.

Dueling Executive Directors. Speaking of the local press, there was a spirited exchange in the StarTribune during the past week or so on education accountability between Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Blazar and Minnesota Association of School Administrators Executive Director (and SEE's landlord) Charlie Kyte. Blazar provided the initial comments in a piece outlining questions he believes should be asked by Minneapolis voters as they approach this November's referendum in the Minneapolis School District for $60 million (partially renewal/partially new revenue).

Blazar Editorial: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/27034914.html?elr=KArksUUUU

Kyte Editorial: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/27244314.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:U0ckkD:aEyKUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

Frankly, I thought Bill Blazar would have more than four questions and his questions seem eminently reasonable. But there's always seems to be this undertone with folks writing from the perspective of business that insinuates that schools create an on-going stream of misinformation and verbal legerdemain that masks their basic incompetency. We know that isn't the case and I think Charlie Kyte's straightforward response speaks to that.

In my aside, I would have to say that I don't always "get" business either and I sometimes wish their books were more open to the public. I can't walk into Dick Schultz' office at Best Buy and ask for his sales per square foot at all of his retail locations and tell him, "Look, these numbers improve (and the selection gets better in the music section), or I'm heading to Circuit City from now on!" I suppose business can argue that the fact I have that choice and that they always make decisions based on objective data gives them the right to protect their data and make the decisions they want to make without my input.

I realize that we cannot treat schools on the same model as businesses and that almost any comparison is inappropriate. Everyone is a "stockholder" in public education and businesses, as well as individual voters, have a right to their expectations. At the same time, if all can criticize, all should be expected to roll up their sleeves and help make our public education system the best that it can be and compete in the global economy.

Keep Checking the Website. Deb and I are going to be posting a lot of interesting data and other things in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, it will help every one of you make the case for education funding and reform in the months ahead.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Let's Get Blogging. Sorry about the short absence. The State Fair has started, school is literally around the corner, so we're having some kind of fun how. Things are picking up in the policy development corridor as well, with meetings starting to fill up the schedule.

August served out its usual dose of consternation, as test scores were released. As per usual, the scores were "disappointing" (I think if everyone got 100%, someone would still be disappointed) and more schools have found their way onto the list of schools on some type of double-secret probation.

Here is the link to the test scores and report card data: cards.http://education.state.mn.us/ReportCard2005/index.do

Lawsuit Update. Not here. In South Dakota. Dr. John Sweet from Delano is providing me with updates from the South Dakota adequacy lawsuit.

Fall 2007, Sioux City Journal: http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/articles/2007/04/09/news/south_dakota/bed1680fa5f31716862572b80002c33d.txt

July 2008, Argus Leader: http://www.argusleader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008807270313

August 2008, Madison Daily Leader (I guess all the leaders are in South Dakota): http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/S/SD_SCHOOL_FUNDING_SDOL-?SITE=SDMAD&SECTION=STATE&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

The problem with lawsuits as a remedy are many and varied and a big hurdle has already been thrown in front of the South Dakota suit, as the South Dakota State Supreme Court has ruled that school districts cannot finance the lawsuit. I'd have to have Dick Berge outline the manner in which this was avoided when SEE (then ASGSD) filed the Skeen lawsuit.

It just goes to show how lawsuits in and of themselves are not just on a slippery slope; they are the slippery slope. It's like if all the planets line up and then the Cylons, Klingons, or Romulans (how come alien races always end with an "n"?) came and blew everything up.

This post isn't implying that there will be a lawsuit in Minnesota. Nor is it implying that sometime in the near future, there won't be one. It's just an observation about something happening in a neighboring state that provides us with a perspective--which we already knew--regarding school litigation.

John and I will keep you posted on any developments that happen in the Coyote State (South Dakota has two state nicknames, the other one being, The Mount Rushmore State. Coyote just sounds cooler.).

Not-so-Sweet District 16. Arizona Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, will be choosing his running-mate in the week ahead and if he comes to Minnesota for that choice, I'm relatively certain (make that completely certain) that in the wake of all the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, he won't be picking Representative Mark Olson to stand on the dais with him at the Xcel Energy Center in the first week of September.

Representative Olson was denied party endorsement by the District 16B Republicans earlier this year as the opted to endorse former Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer instead. Some of you may recall that Representative Olson stood trial in 2007 (and was booted out of the House Republican caucus) for domestic abuse and was convicted on a lesser charge. It appeared that Olson was ready to hang up his microphone (those of you who are legislative watchers will get that comment), Senator Betsey Wergin was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission, creating a vacancy in Senate District 16.

In the first week of August, Olson was endorsed over Alison Krueger by the Senate District 16 Republicans in a move that was swiftly rebuked the the Senate Republican Caucus and Michael Brodkorb at his "Minnesota Democrats Exposed" website. For anyone familiar with Brodkorb, he usually saves up his fastballs to go high-and-tight on the Democrats, but he went medieval on one of his own here.

So, what is next. Alison Krueger has stayed in the race, so the primary on September 9, will determine the Republican candidate and the winner there will go on to face Princeton School Board Chair Lisa Fobbe in the general election.

Links on this saga:

Olson Endorsed from StarTribune: http://www.startribune.com/politics/state/26423509.html

Brodkorb Piece: http://www.minnesotademocratsexposed.com/2008/08/13/on-representative-mark-olsons-endorsement-by-the-republican-party/

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

School is Just Around the Corner. Hard to believe, but with the earliest Labor Day possible, public schools will be in session starting in less than three weeks. With that, I suppose it's time I got away from my intermittent posting and get down to regularly-scheduled messages to all those who are interested. So, it's back to the keyboard. I'll be looking for interesting stories and information to pass on to interested parties so if you have something you think would be of interest to those involved in education policy in Minnesota--especially SEE members--don't hesitate to pass it along.

MSBA Summer Leadership Conference. The MSBA Summer Leadership Conference convenes tomorrow for its annual one-and-a-half day run. I plan on being there for most of the conference and look forward to meeting with as many of you as possible. It's always fun to see membership outside of the formal confines of SEE events for relaxed discussion and to catch up on a summer's worth of activity. I'll be the guy with the camera trying to get some quality candids to post on the blog, so don't be shy.

Type III Vehicle Hubbub. One of the issues facing school districts in the coming weeks is going to be the new qualifications for drivers of Type III vehicles (cars and vans). Legislation was passed during the 2008 session that brings many of these drivers under greater scrutiny. The legislative intent was to exempt those drivers, principally coaches and other extra- and co-curricular advisers, from coming under the purview of these new guidelines and instead concentrate on those individuals for whom driving is their principal duty.

The Department of Public Safety has read the law and has decided, in spite of the legislative intent expressed by the bill's authors, to enforce an interpretation of the language that will require that anyone for whom driving is an assumed part of their responsibility to meet the new requirements. This does not necessarily involve placing these drivers into a random drug-testing pool, but it will require greater training and, in some instances, may create a situation where this pool of drivers will drive their own vehicles instead of a school vehicle to transport students involved in a specific activity. I know most of you aren't personal injury attorneys, but I don't have to tell you of the nightmarish situations that could be created when staff uses non-school district-owned vehicles to transport students.

I will keep you updated on this issue as a number of you are in the midst of putting together these transportation plans for the year ahead.

Movie Review. Yep, along with all of the education-related information I provide, I also share my viewpoints on some of the popular culture that is floating about in the ether. Today's review is Kevin Costner's latest "Swing Vote." I went to the movie not expecting a whole lot. Costner's box office swagger has largely evaporated in recent years, as the wrinkles in his sun-weathered face have taken some of the luster from his once boyish California good looks (Hey. I know. He still looks about a hundred times better than me. I get that.).

The first 90% of the movie is pretty much your standard fish-out-of-water tale, as Costner's character--Earnest "Bud" Johnson--stumbles into a very odd state-of-affairs which invests in him the obligation, as a single voter, to choose the next President of the United States. Along with this fish-out-of-water tale is a not-so-veiled critique of the current state of political campaigning. A lot of this stuff is flat laugh-out-loud as the two campaigns vie to mine Bud's mind for the issue that will swing the vote their way and their reactions to Bud's responses.

But it's the last twenty minutes of the movie that are both touching and instructive, as Bud finally realizes the responsibility that has been thrust upon him. Underlying the action is a not-so-subtle swipe at the Baby Boom generation (and as a member of that generation, I cannot say we don't deserve it). I won't give away the ending, but would urge anyone who watches politics in the early 21st century to carve out some time to see this. This isn't Plato or Thomas Hobbes, so don't expect any grand political theories to spout forth, but a message worth heeding does spring forth.

This isn't Costner's first foray into the realm of the political. There was a time in my life when I would do movie doubleheaders on the weekends and one particular weekend, I saw Costner in "The Postman" and the star-studded cast of "Wag the Dog" back-to-back. For those of you who cannot remember, "The Postman" was slaughtered by the critics, while "Wag the Dog" was their darling. Seeing them both on the same day gave me a whole week's worth of food for thought (and I remembered to keep it in the refrigerator so it wouldn't spoil). "Wag the Dog" was an extremely clever, but unbelievably cynical movie. In many ways, it supports the notion that there is this oligarchy of politicians and public relations people who simply make the truth malleable enough to maintain a grip on power. "The Postman," on the other hand, is this homespun (and not particularly well done) paean to the power of individuals to stand up to threats to their ability to run a democracy. In terms of cinematic construction from the script-to-shot, "Wag the Dog" wins hands-down. But as in the case of "Swing Vote," the message of "The Postman" is far more uplifting and elemental.

In its purest form, democracy is rather banal. There isn't much exciting about it. But that is its beauty. Democracy affords all of us the opportunity to design the social contract and map society's destiny. It just takes work and persistence. In this election year, regardless of where one sits on the ideological spectrum, that's an important thing to remember.

Now, if you really want a hoot, go rent the cult classic "Bubba Ho-tep." But don't let yourself escape too far in this election season.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Brad's In Jail. I am sure some of you are saying "Finally!" Lest you worry, there are no criminal charges here. Instead, I have volunteered to go behind bars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual Telethon Executive Lock-up. Any help in raising my bail would be appreciated. I may be calling some of you on Thursday, as I sit behind bars, but if I don't feel free to contribute to MDA anyhow. Any size donation will be greatly appreciated. Some examples of what even a modest donation can mean are: $25 would cover the cost of a flu shot--critical for those who suffer from MD, $65 will keep MDA's worldwide research program going to another minute, $100 covers the cost of a vital support group meeting. The list goes on and on. Please help the MDA continue its research and provide needed services to children who really appreciate your help.

How I Keep Up with National Politics. One of the hidden gems on the internet is that of Rasmussen Reports, a national polling organization that polls major political race and issue preference polls throughout the country. A service they provide is a daily report that is chock full of interesting little tidbits on races and issues that may be of interest to you. At the very least, it provides an opportunity to gauge the public will from a number of angles.

For more information, go to: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/ . In the upper left-hand corner of the page, you can enter your e-mail and receive a free daily update. It's a bargain at twice the price.

More Free Stuff. Education Week also provides a free e-newsletters on a variety of topics. An Education Week subscription is fairly inexpensive (around $70 for 52 weekly issues), but in these tight times, that may prove too steep for many. The top stories on the Education Week website are free and along with the free e-newsletters, you can get a ton of information about what is happening on a variety of education issues around the nation.

Education Week website: http://www.edweek.org/ew/index.html

Thursday, July 10, 2008

An Interesting Possibility. Many of you know Richard Wassen, former staff member at the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Earlier this week, Wassen, now working for the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, called me regarding the college's efforts to bring Clifford Adelman, a distinguished education researcher and former Senior Research Analyst for the United States Department of Education, to Minnesota for a presentation. Adelman now works for the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Adelman has a very distinguished career and has written a number of influential books and articles on education, especially as it relates to the transition from high school to college. Getting Adelman to town would be a true coup and I will keep you posted as to progress toward that event.

One of Adelman's most influential works is Answers in the Tool Box: Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor's Degree Attainment. A link to a summary of that work (along with access to the entire document) can be found at through the link below:

Tool Box:

An effort related to Adelman's work is LearnMoreMN. Information on this exciting work can be found at the link below:

LearnMoreMN: http://www.learnmoremn.org/

Interesting Survey at Minnesota 2020. With the Minnesota Department of Eduction's approval of the MACCRAY ISD #2180's plan to go to a four-day school week, this idea has piqued the curiosity of both other school districts and education policy makers throughout the state.

Minnesota 2020 is taking a survey from interested parties on this question. To participate in the survery, go to this link on thee Minnesota 2020 website.

Four Day School Week Poll: http://www.mn2020.org/index.asp?Type=POLLING&SEC={DEF7F7BE-3CDC-40A4-AF15-B21574248771}

Legislative Committee Approaching. The first SEE Legislative Committee Meeting of the 2008-2009 program year will be held on Tuesday, July 22, at the MASA office complex conference room. The meeting will begin at 9:30 and run until 11:30 when we will end with lunch. We will set the parameters for the 2009 Legislative Platform at this meeting. Since I have been Executive Director (and I believe before I was Executive Director), all members have a standing invitation to participate in legislative committee proceedings. However, if you are planning on attending, please let Deb Griffiths know. Her e-mail is deb.griffiths@schoolsforequity.org.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In the National News. One of the more interesting news items from the past week was Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama's appearance at the annual conference of the National Education Association. Obama's remarks were generally well-received, but were met with a smattering of boos as he mentioned his support for some system of merit pay. Obama also mentioned the need for continued accountability and his support for some portions of No Child Left Behind.

Obama received the NEA endorsement (Okay everybody, do your best Gomer Pyle "Sooo-prize! Sooo-prize! Sooo-prize!) at the convention, so it was interesting to see him challenge the membership on several key issues. How this shakes out during the remainder of the presidential campaign remains to be seen, but Obama will certainly enjoy the NEA's healthy financial backing. At the same time, Republican candidate Senator John McCain, who shares Obama's views on merit pay and No Child Left Behind, will certainly try to make the point that Obama is in the pocket of the status quo in terms of education policy.

Obama Education Platform: http://www.barackobama.com/issues/education/

Minnesota Public Radio Education Feature:

Story at NEA site (with video clip):http://www.nea.org/annualmeeting/raaction/07obamaspeech.html

McCain Education Platform:

Your House Republican Candidates.
State House of Representatives' Minority Leader Marty Seifert held a press conference yesterday to announce his caucus' slate of candidates for the 2008 General Election. The Republicans will have a candidate in all 134 House districts, which should make for some interesting competition. Of course, one of the more watched races up to this point has been in House District 16B, where Republicans endorsed former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer over incumbent State Representative Mark Olsen. Olsen has not announced whether he will run as a Republican in the primary or head straight to the general election as an independent. He has one week to decide, as filings close on Tuesday, July 15, at 5:00 PM.

MPR Story: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/07/08/house_republicans/

Endorsed Republican House Candidates (incomplete list): http://www.mngop.com/candidates/

Note that Faribault School Board member Otto Luknic is the endorsed Republican candidate in House District 26B and former Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School Board member Judy Lindsay is a candidate in House District 37B.

Monday, July 07, 2008

It's After the 4th of July, so Let's Start Blogging. I've been away for about a month and it's high time I get back to my work of keeping you informed. There are numerous meetings going on in the aftermath of the 2008 legislative session and we are just a week away from filings closing for the 2008 congressional and legislative races in Minnesota. In other words, there is going to be plenty of news to report.

This morning, I attended a meeting with several transportation directors, Grace Schwab from the Minnesota School Boards Association, Captain Ken Urquhart from the Commercial Vehicles Division of the Minnesota State Highway Patrol, and Senator Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris). As many of you recall, Senator Olseen authored the legislation that set in place new requirements for the training and background checks of drivers of Type III vehicles.

The problem being experienced in the interpretation of this legislation centers on the word "normal." The legislation exempts from drug and alcohol testing and an annual physical those drivers for whom transporting of students is not considered part of their "normal" duties. As the bill was being passed, the seemingly agreed upon interpretation was that only drivers--mainly teachers and coaches--for whom the transportation of students was not explicitly spelled out in their contract would not be subject to these requirements. However, upon implementation of the bill, the Department of Public Safety has come to the belief that "normal" should include drivers for those activities where transportation of students is implicit in the activity, such as a debate coach driving students to three or four debate meets or a golf coach driving kids to the local golf course during the golf season.

With the school year just around the bend (yes, it's a mere 8 weeks away), it is hoped that an agreement on a working definition for this legislation can be reached so school districts are not taken by surprise after they have hired drivers. I will keep you clued in as work on this important subject goes forward.

Memberships Coming In. Thanks to all of you who are renewing your memberships early. It's always great to see the checks come rolling in and especially gratifying in a year when many of you are having to make difficult cuts. Feel free to have me out to your board if you would like further information on some of the exciting things we'll be pursuing in the year ahead.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Oh! What a Night! Late May back in 2008 in Anoka-Hennepin. . .hey, the meter is off already so it's time I quit channeling Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to describe the kick-off meeting of the "New Minnesota Miracle" held by the House K-12 Funding Committee last Wednesday evening at Jackson Middle School in Champlin. Pictured at the left is Chair Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), flanked on her left by House staff member Tim Strom, Representative Melissa Hortmann (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington).

The hearing served as both a summary of the 2008 legislative session and an opportunity to discuss the education funding plan outlined in HF 4178/SF 3238. This bill provides the template for what is currently being called "The New Minnesota Miracle." The bill requires a significant investment of new revenue--anywhere from $1.0 billion to $1.7 billion depending on how it is configured. One of the real assets to the bill is that it can be phased-in on a scaled basis, with the benefit of each of the formula reforms taking form over time. Given the considerable price tag, the bill will probably require some measure of phased implementation.

The Anoka-Hennepin school district provided, as host, a very solid set of examples as to how the elements of the new formula would bolster and enhance the educational program being delivered in that district. A number of education leaders in the Anoka-Hennepin district, among them Wanamingo's finest Ginny Karbowski (pictured at right), the director of the STEP program for the Anoka-Hennepin school district, gave compelling testimony as to how--in this case, the increased funding for career and technical education--the reforms contained in HF 4178 would be of assistance. Other positive examples cited the rise in basic funding, the increase in funding for special education, and the increase in funding for transportation contained in the bill.

There were several indicators as to how exciting this new initiative is, but perhaps the greatest indicator of this excitement was the presence of two (not one, but, count 'em) former SEE presidents among the spectators. Bill Zimmerman and Russ Funk (pictured at left) came out to observe the proceedings and it was good to see them. Bill and Russ are not only distinguished ex-presidents of SEE, they are also strong supporters of public education and advocates of bringing both greater adequacy and equity to Minnesota's education funding system. It was great to see them and I hope to see them again soon.

R.I.P. Bo Diddley. I don't know about anyone else here, but I grew up watching cheesy music/variety shows on television in the vein of "Upbeat" (Hey, let's go! It's the upbeat show!) and Lloyd Thaxton. It was on these shows that I was introduced to acts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Wayne Cochran, The Fabulous Flippers, and Bo Diddley. I remember those days fondly and it always brings me a bit of sadness as another artist from that era makes their way to the great. For those of us who actually tried to play guitar with any measure of success, Bo Diddley's straight-ahead, no-holds-barred style was always an inspiration. It was often imitated, but seldom replicated.
So Ellas McDaniel (Bo's real name), thanks a lot! You'll be missed.

In another musical aside, was anyone else here feeling sleepy or noticing a little bit of dust today? After all, it was the 3rd of June, which is usually a sleepy, dusty (delta) day. Hey, who is that up on the bridge and what are they throwing off of it? Just drop me a line if you know the answer to this little set of queries from the monster hit of the summer of 1967 (Wow! 41 years already. Seems like just yesterday.).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

After the Lovin'. I wasn't there when this picture was snapped, so I can't honestly say if these three were actually humming that old Englebert Humperdinck hit (unfortunately for you folks, I'm staying with the musical theme) as they stood together announcing the final agreement, but as proclaimed, after all the loggerheading, hair-splitting, and decimation of mountains and subsequent construction of mole-hills, the Legislature ended its work and it has the markings of a very successful session. Certainly, not everybody is leaving the Capitol with a wide smile on their face, but this was a very productive session given the fact that the state is nearly $1 billion short in its revenue projections for the remainder of this biennium. Painful cuts were made to many programs and reserves were significantly reduced, making the challenge facing everyone in 2009 a formidable one indeed. But in the meantime, let's enjoy the fact that rivers of political blood didn't stain the Capitol stairs and take stock of the fact that some measure of bi-partisan comity (and sometimes, comedy) was achieved this session.

As many of you know, I am quite a baseball fan and I've decided that watching the Legislative Session is a lot like watching a baseball game. There are ample opportunites for second-guessing the manager on his strategic choices. During the session, I found myself often wondering "Why did Kelliher bunt there when she should have swung away?" or "Why did Pogemiller pinch-hit for Stumpf in that situation?" or "Why didn't Pawlenty order a brush-back pitch there?" Time to jump off the analogy wagon, given I think most of you are getting it. The game is over for this year and, in a major difference from a baseball game, we don't know the "winner" in terms of either politics or policy. I guess the lesson is that for those of us in the stands, the folks in the dugout are "doing what they are doing" and while we can venture a guess as to the pressures and strategies being employed to meet those pressures, the ultimate expression of that interplay is largely outside of our control--in the short term. In another difference from the game of baseball, we get to vote for the managers and players every election cycle (making--in my estimation--Ron Gardenhire one lucky guy).

So as we enter another election season, I urge all of you to take the time to get acquainted with the issues and the candidates and express your stances to your local candidates. You folks are the ones living with the results of the recent legislative session and only you can determine whether or not these decisions are rightfully being proclaimed as the greatest thing since sliced bread (what's so great about sliced bread anyway?). The election season makes you part of the game. SEE stands ready to provide its members with the tools and information necessary to make your exchanges with legislative candidates both positive and productive.

Governor Vetoes Statewide Teacher Health Pool. HF 1875--this year's edition of the mandatory school employees health insurance pool legisation--was vetoed by the Governor on Sunday, May 18. I have yet to get a gander at the Governor's veto message, but I will have one available for your perusal at Thursday's general membership meeting.

I honestly don't know what lies ahead for this concept. Last session, the bill was vetoed because the pool would have been self-insured. This session, the pool was to provide only fully-insured products. So it's been deemed a loser on both those counts. So the reason it continues to get final approval is beyond that. Could it be. . .(doing my best Dr. Evil here). . .that Education Minnesota continues to insist that participation in the pool be mandatory? One frustration I have with the continued presentation of this concept is that it really ignores the progress a number of school districts and their bargaining units have made in assembling customized health care packages to their employees that save the districts money while providing the teachers and other employees with the coverage they deem most important to their bargaining unit's most pressing needs. So, stay tuned.

Other Items. For Thursday's meeting, I should be in the position to report on education-related items that were in other bills that passed in the waning days of the legislative session. Primary among these is the pension bill, which contains a number of provisions related to education. With the legislative decision not to pass an educational policy bill this year, I've had time to look at the other bills in much greater depth and will be in a position to report on them.

Regional Meetings Set. The schedule for our June round of regional meetings has been set. They are as follow:
  • Monday, June 9--Owatonna District Office
  • Tuesday, June 10--Hojie's Restuarant (Mmm-Mmm Good), Dassel
  • Wednesday, June 11--MASA Conference Room, St. Paul
  • Monday, June 16--St. Cloud District Office
  • Friday, June 20--Creamery Crossing Restaurant (Another Mmm-Mmm Good), Isanti

Hope to see many of you there. These are always productive meetings.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another Park, Another Sunday. Yes, they even write songs about Sundays and I thought I'd remind you of that with mention of this Doobie Brothers' classic. For awhile last night, it looked like I might be titling this entry "Never On Sunday," the catchy tune made popular by the Greek movie of the same name that charted as a hit in 1961 recorded by The Chordettes (Sheboygan, Wisconsin's finest).

Another possible title for this entry--and the one that is most accurate--paraphrases Robert Duvall's classic line from "Apocalypse Now," only this time it would go something like "I love the smell of a roomful of haggard and bedraggled legislators, staff, and lobbyists at 5 in the morning." After a week of being on the physical and emotional yo-yo that is the end of the legislative session, it appears (I have learned to not go further than that), that the final deal has been struck and we have come to the denouement. The budget side of the deal was announced and ratified by the conference committee on HF 1812 just before sunrise this morning and the tax conference committee is receiving its finishing touches. There is some consternation about the tax conference committee, as the Governor appears to have won on the issue of a property tax cap of 3.9% for cities and counties (not counting levying for police) for the next three years. Legislative leadership wanted to have the cap apply for only one year. So, stay tuned.

And the news is comparatively good for E-12. The contents of HF 6, the bill passed by the Legislature last Tuesday and subsequently vetoed by the Governor on Friday, were amended into HF 1812, the mega-ginormous budget balancing bill, and are slated for approval. Again, the primary elements of that bill include:
  • $51 per pupil unit in one-time money.
  • $51 per pupil in one=time transferability from operating capital to the general fund.
  • Increased revenue for pre-kindergarten screening.
  • Increased revenue for the school milk program.
  • An extension of the special education task force.
  • An appropriation for the Principals' Leadership Academy.
  • A correction in the referendum ballot language for referendum renewal questions.
This isn't going to magically make the kinds of deficits we are looking at throughout Minnesota, but it certainly is appreciated and does show legislative support for correcting the financial plight being faced by school districts. I don't want to be accused of taking sides in this, because the Governor did support the proposal in the end, but I don't believe we would have seen this increase accomplished without the efforts of legislators in both the House and Senate, particularly the leadership provided of the respective E-12 funding division chairs: Representatives Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) and Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) in the House and Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls) in the Senate. Kudos to them for not giving up and making certain the cause of increased education funding stayed in front of the Legislature and Governor all session.

Teacher Health Insurance Pool. That bill--HF 1875--has been sent to the Governor and awaits either signature or veto. Thanks to all of you who contacted both legislators as the bill was being discussed and the Governor's office after the bill was passed. I have written a letter to the Governor outlining SEE's opposition to the measure, but it always helps for the Governor and his staff to hear specific examples of how legislation will adversely affect their school districts in real terms. The Governor has another week or so to decide the bill's fate, so keep those cards, letters, e-mails, and phone calls coming!

And Thanks to All of You. I have always kept the blog up-to-the-minute, but by the looks of the counter, membership is using (and I hope appreciating) this tool. Thanks for getting back to Deb and me quickly when we came to you with questions. It always helps to have the latest information to provide legislators as they wrestle with the issues of the day. So, again, thanks for being great members.