Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Back in Business. I knew it had been awhile, but I didn't realize it had been almost two weeks since I last posted. Sorry about that. First off, there hasn't been a whole lot happening at the Capitol and further, I've been a bit busy with other SEE matters.

The Capitol was pretty much an education ghost town last week, as it was rumored each day that the House was planning on taking up the education policy bill, with that event never coming to pass. The conference committee on HF 1812--the budget bill--covered the education provisions in the that bill last Thursday night, but no final action was taken as those discussions continue.

The education highlight last week was the Senate Education Committee meeting where students, teachers, and mentors from Eagan High School's Team 2220 gave a presentation on the FIRST program. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Eagan High School has done a tremendous job with FIRST, using it to enhance the state's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiative, but providing opportunities for students to apply engineering skills through projects. Shown at the left are Jim Lynch, John Condon, and Mark Lawrence--all participants in Eagan High School's FIRST program. Shown with them is a robot built by Team 2220 for a regional competition of FIRST programs held in Milwaukee in March.

For more information on both FIRST and Team 2220, follow the links below:

FIRST: http://www.usfirst.org/

Team 2220: http://team2220.org/

Congratulations to all of the students, staff, and volunteers at Eagan High School who provided the Legislature with a very informative presentation on this extremely valuable program.

Moving to This Week. The House took up SF 3001 (the Education Policy bill) yesterday and managed to chew off just about seven hours of less-than-riveting debate. Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Chair of the House Education Policy Committee and House author of the bill, pared down the bill greatly early in the deliberations by excising a number of provisions in the bill that the Governor has said would produce a veto. Included in the provisions eliminated from the House bill was the changes to the school report card that center around the creation of a growth model to replace the criterion-based model that is currently in place.

One provision that Representative Mariani did not remove from the bill was that of the proposal mandating comprehensive sex education for all districts in the state. With that provision still part of the bill, about two hours of discussion and amendments were added to the proceedings. As was the case in the Senate, debate was heated on this proposal and tempers flared at several junctures during the debate. I halfway expected to look down into the House gallery and see Dr. Phil, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Drew, and Dr. Feelgood discussing the finer points of what constitutes a quality curriculum for comprehensive sex education. Efforts to significantly water down the mandate failed, but some minor changes to the effort we successful.

Conference Committee on SF 3001 will begin tomorrow. The conferees are as follows: House--Representatives Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato), John Ward (DFL-Brainerd), Linda Slocum (DFL-Minneapolis), and Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City). Senate--Senators Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury), Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), and Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake). It will be interesting to see how these proceedings unfold. Even though the House bill no longer contains what could be politely called "veto bait," the Senate bill does have a number of provisions that the Governor adamantly opposes. In a year when there is likely to be a few more showdowns between the Legislature and the Governor, some of those confrontations may come as a result of this bill. I will keep you posted as the discussions begin.

Nice Job by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association. The Minnesota Taxpayers Association's policy conference last week was quite the hit. I only attended the presentation given by Dr. Daphne Kenyon on property taxes and school funding (which was excellent although I don't agree with all of her conclusions), but the rest of the program also looked to be both interesting and timely. So, congrats to Executive Director Mark Haveman and the rest of the team at the MTA.

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