Thursday, February 14, 2008

Moving Right Along. I promised you yesterday that I would give you my impressions of the State of the State Address and here they are. About midway through the Governor's speech, I started thinking, "This doesn't sound like a State of the State Address. It sounds more like a eulogy." Now stay with me here. I don't intend that comment as a slam against the Governor. William Faulkner, describing the actions of one of his characters, explained the difference between a "monument" and a "footprint," in that a "monument" tells you where you've been and a "footprint" tells you where you are going when you start up again. And in that sense, the address had a eulogy feel to me as we celebrate 150 years of Minnesota history and move toward the future.

Some very real challenges stand in front of us all as we define Minnesota's next steps going into the future. Can we--and should we--maintain all the strong Minnesota traditions we have constructed? If we discard some of these traditions, which ones should be move on without? In the area of education, what changes do we have to make to remain competitive? How much will that cost? Given new costs, how is that revenue generated? New taxes? Cuts in other government services? Each of these questions begs a thorough review of how we develop and deliver government services in Minnesota and while the Governor's address dealt mainly with the narrow specifics of what will be addressed during the 2008 Legislative Session, there were some interesting suggestions--including the creation of a commission to study the state's tax structure--that may provide valuable input as we attempt, as a state, to move ahead.

The Governor addressed education relatively late in the address, but did talk about two or three distinct initiatives he would like to see get greater attention. The creation of a post-tenure review for teachers, more money for the regional math and science academies, increased recruitment of teachers--including through alternative licensure pathways--to improve teacher quality, and greater emphasis on the use of technology in instruction are all subjects the Governor touched upon. The big disappointment, though not unexpected, was the Governor's failure to mention the tough financial straits in which many districts find themselves and how increased reliance on the referendum is becoming a very real problem for both school districts and taxpayers.

The State of the State Address in audio, video, and print can be accessed at:

On to the Capitol. Hearings are commencing at a rapid rate. For those lobbyists thinking there was going to be a first week lull, it's been (doing my best Gomer Pyle imitation): "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!" The House has had a pretty much full slate of activities and they aren't working simply on minor pieces of legislation. The Legislature plans to have a transportation package--including a gas tax increase and metro area sales tax increase for transit--to the Governor in the next couple of weeks. The House and Senate both passed HF 2285, the 3/8 cent sales tax increase for cultural and environmental preservation constitutional amendment ballot question on Thursday (by votes of 85-46 in the House and 46-17 in the Senate). This measure now goes directly to the November, 2008, ballot.

The House Education Policy Committee met this morning. One of the highlights of the meeting were the reports from the working groups that met over the summer. Representative Denise Dittrich (D-Champlin) (pictured at right) reported on her High School Redesign working group. The work of her group dovetails readily with the P-16 and P-20 efforts that are being discussed along with a number of other proposed reforms. Dr. Rodger Bybee of the Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS) , former Northfield resident and Carleton College professor provided some very solid insight about science education needs facing students throughout the United States. Dr. Bybee stressed the importance of educating all students and how high school redesign will play a major role in that effort. At the risk of appearing like I am cherry-picking statements from Dr. Bybee's testimony, he was straightforward in stressing that more money is going to be needed to infuse the kinds of reforms we need into the educational system.

More information on BSCS can be found at their homepage:

I will have more comments tomorrow, as the House Property Tax Division will be discussing the Legislative Auditor's report on the Green Acres program. It should be an interesting meeting (Okay. Okay. I'm a policy geek. I admit it.)

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