Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Busy Day in St. Paul. It was a long and busy day for those of us who follow education issues at the Capitol. The day started with a spirited hearing in the Senate E-12 Budget Division chaired by Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls). The only bill heard today was Senator Tom Saxhaug's (DFL-Grand Rapids) SF 3125. SF 3125 would add an additional 2% to the general education basic formula for the 2008-2009 school year and would also fully fund the special education formula. Even with last year's infusion of revenue, the special education formula is underfunded by over 10%. Part of this funding shortfall is due to the change from funding on a two-year lag to funding on a current year basis, but it also appears that special education needs are outstripping funding as well.

Testimony for the bill was provided by the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse (shown at the right). From left to right, they are: Mary Cecconi (war), Sam Walseth (death), Scott Croonquist (strife), and me (pestilence). Seriously, each of us took an angle on the current funding crisis and I believe we made a strong case for increased funding for next school year.

I want to thank SEE membership for providing input to the survey that Deb Griffiths distributed early yesterday. 45 of 61 SEE members answered the survey and the results were eye-opening. Of the 45 respondents, 40 are either making cuts or reducing their fund balance in the year ahead and 20 are doing both. This is clear evidence that the system is underfunded and that the passage of an emergency funding bill is absolutely essential this session.

Steve Dickinson and Chris Hunter from Brainerd were also at the hearing. Hunter (pictured at the right with Dickinson, Chris is on the right) is a media specialist at Riverside Elementary in the Brainerd School District and he provided some extremely compelling testimony regarding the cuts that Brainerd will be facing as it prepares for next school year. Testimony from the 30,000 foot level, which describes aggregate statewide situations can be helpful in outlining a problem, but nothing hits home better than testimony that describes what funding shortages mean in the classroom and for students. So, thanks Chris, for making the dire funding situation more real in the Legislature's eyes.

Link to SF 3125:

The remainder of the hearing was devoted to a presentation of Minnesota's Promise. Most of you are familiar with Minnesota's Promise, a joint venture of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators and the University of Minnesota. The proposal was presented by Dr. Charlie Kyte, the MASA Executive Director, and Dr. Kent Pekel, the Executive Director of the Consortium for Postsecondary Academic Success at the University of Minnesota. Pekel is shown on the left talking with Senator Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake) after the hearing. (No, he wasn't dancing the hitch-hiker.) Minnesota's Promise provides a bold vision for the future of education in Minnesota and could provide a workable blueprint.

Link to Minnesota's Promise:

Afternoon in the House. The House K-12 Funding Division heard:
  • HF 3206 (Rukavina): a bill that is similar to those introduced by Representative Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) that takes the money generated through the Permanent School Fund and adds revenue--for technology in this bill--to the amount received by school districts instead of serving as an offset to the general fund contribution to K-12 funding.
  • HF 2981 (Carlson): a bill that allows intermediate school districts to borrow in anticipation of revenue payments.
  • HF 2650 (Brown): a bill that appropriates money to the Principals Leadership Institute (that appropriation was line-item vetoed by the Governor last session).
  • HF 2559 (Brown): a bill that removes the wind energy production tax from the county apportionment for school districts.
All of these bills will receive further consideration as the House's version of the omnibus education funding bill is put together this year.

The Senate ends the Day! The Senate Education Policy Committee hearing was the last piece of business in the education arena today.

The bills that received the most attention in the Senate Education Policy Committee were SF 3156 (Saltzman) and SF 2822 (Rummel).

SF 3156 is the result of an interim working group chaired by Senator Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) and Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) (shown at right listening to questions from the committee) dealing with early intervention for reading and math. The bill has ruffled a few feathers, most notably in the higher education and teacher licensure communities, as it calls for a reading instruction pre-test and training in a number of reading intervention strategies. It will be interesting to see how the discussion on this bill unfolds as the session continues.

SF 2822 is the Senate version of the report card and assessment changes arising from the working group chaired by Senator Rummel and Representative Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato). The testimony in the Senate was similar to that provided in the House. Dr. David Heistad, the Director of Evaluation for the Minneapolis School District, again gave a very detailed description of what the proposed model will try to accomplish and how it is better than the current evaluation framework. Heistad did such a good job that I now understand what a trichotomous model is and how it can be used to gauge school effectiveness.

Batten Down the Hatches. The February Budget Forecast comes out tomorrow and all indications are it is going to be ugly with a capital UG. I will provide you with all the necessary links tomorrow.

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