Sunday, March 09, 2008

Backed Up End o' the Week. Sorry I didn't get entries onto the blog for the last Thursday and Friday. It was extremely hectic with night meetings and a regional meeting wedged in on Friday. Along with that, all sorts of shenanigans were breaking for me on Friday afternoon, all of which made it nigh on impossible for me to get any of the late-breaking events to you.

Thursday was an extremely action-packed day, with a very interesting hearing taking place on Thursday morning in the House Education Committee. I have written briefly in a past edition about HF 3596 (Faust)/SF 3317 (Saltzman). This bill would put an extremely high burden-of-proof on the Minnesota Department of Education in the areas of rule-making and rule enforcement.

In fact, it is MDE's position that they would be prohibited from providing any input or interpretation on a piece of legislation if this were to become law. The bill is drafted very tightly and I suppose an argument could be made that in the strictest sense, MDE's abilities to provide guidance to districts would be greatly curtailed, but it is not the intent of this bill to prevent MDE from doing its job. Rather, the bill's intent is to limit MDE to implementation of legislative directives and to not "free lance" into areas where the Legislature has been silent.

Another misconception is that the furor from which this bill springs is the recently promulgated special education rules that are currently before the Administrative Law Judge. Again, this is totally untrue. Granted, there is frustration with those rules (and the fact that MDE appears to be enforcing them before they have taken effect). Many of these rules exceed federal rule and statute and should have been subject to the task force review authorized by the Legislature last session. Efforts to have them included in that process were gruffly rebuffed by MDE, causing no small amount of irritation.

No one is entirely blameless here. The Legislature should write tighter laws and maintain a stronger presence when rules are necessary. Hopefully, this bill will create a better balance between the legislative and executive branches and policy will flow more smoothly into the enforcement system.

This bill is the Minnesota Administrators of Special Education's number one legislative priority during the 2008 session. Shown at the right (from left to right) are Robbinsdale Program Director Daryl Miller (a fellow graduate of the "Harvard of the Midwest"--that's Augsburg College for those of you keeping track at home--who was an All-American wrestler during his time there) and Representative Tim Faust (DFL-Mora) comparing notes after the bill was heard in the House last Thursday.

SF 3317 (Saltzman) will be heard on Monday evening in the Senate Education Policy Committee.

HF 3596/SF 3317 Link:

Governor's Budget Released. I don't know if the Governor reads my blog (one never knows, of course), but when I looked at his budget shortfall solution, I couldn't help but think that he went with my suggestion to employ Felix the Cat's Magic Bag of Tricks in the efforts to close the budget gap.

I don't want to cast "aspargus" (as one malapropping legislator used to utter), but the Governor's proposal makes Felix's Magic Bag (carried by Felix at left) look like a wallet. The Governor is using a lot of one-time money, making some cuts, and, get this, proposing the sales tax be lowered by 1/8 of a cent to: (1) offset a proposed increase in the corporate tax for foreign operating corporations, and (2) as an economic stimulus.

The proposed sales tax cut is not that far-fetched in one respect; that being offsetting the expected the 3/8 cent sales tax increase that would take part of the "Outdoors and Arts" amendment passes this fall and the recently-enacted increase in the gas tax. That makes sense at a level. Although it's been awhile since I cracked anything resembling an econometrics text and performed any multiple regression analysis on economic behavior (and I actually did both of those things once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away), a 1/8 cent cut in the sales tax would have little, if any, effect on economic activity, especially given the other pressures at work in the economy.

In the realm of education, there are no cuts proposed and a few isolated proposed programmatic increases. These increases for the Fiscal Year 2009 are for the following programs:
  • $2.7 million for increased teacher training delivered through the Math and Science Institute.
  • $1.0 million for the Minnesota Virtual Education Program.
  • $400,000 for the Principals' Leadership Institute.
  • $250,000 for Minnesota Teach, a program that provides an alternative pathway to teaching for mid-career professionals.
  • $250,000 for the UTeach Program at either the University of Minnesota or MnSCU to recruit math and science teachers.
  • $158,000 for declining pupil aid for the Rushford-Peterson school district.
Although there is nothing earth-shattering here, each of these programs would provide some assistance to Minnesota's education system in several focused ways. However, none of them will do anything to arrest the level of program cuts taking place at school districts throughout the state.

Minneapolis Star Tribune Story on Governor's Supplemental Budget:

Governor's Office Link to Materials:

Improved Ability to Respond is Forthcoming. I have been told that membership would like to respond to some of my blog items without posting a comment. I will be talking with Shell Perrington--webmaster extraordinaire with whom the organization works--about putting an e-mail link on the site so that all of you can submit your bouquets and brickbats. I look forward to improving this aspect of the blog because I really enjoy hearing from each and every one of you.

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