The Day Has Finally Come. With a press conference today, the Legislature has stepped forward with the introduction of an earth-shattering education funding reform bill. Billed as "The Second Minnesota Miracle," the bill is based on the work of PS Minnesota and seeks to add $1.75 billion annually to the education funding formula. This is obviously a significant chunk of change and this won't happen overnight (or over many nights), but it is great to see this proposal introduced, even though it is late in the legislative session.
The press conference was attended by nearly 40 legislators, which is really saying something because both houses were in session. Legislators of all four caucuses were in attendance, although the flavor of the press conference tasted a bit more DFL than Republican. Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher (shown at right) led off the press conference, hailing the measure as needed to make certain that every Minnesota elementary and secondary student receives the funding they need to make their education both meaningful and applicable toward the next life step, whether that be a 4-year college, 2-year college or technical college, or straight into the workforce. Speaker Kelliher seemed genuinely excited about the injection of this bill into the discussion of how we can keep the Minnesota economy competitive, both now and in the future.
Kudos should go out to all of the members of the task force that took the PS Minnesota recommendations and molded them into the bill that was introduced today. Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), who chaired the Senate delegation to the Education Finance Task Force, is shown on the left providing the Senate's perspective on the process used to develop this bill. While the House has been more aggressive in promoting the cause of comprehensive education funding reform, once the Senate named its task force membership, they showed its share of enthusiasm in joining the House's lead. In order to achieve this massive (putting it mildly) goal, both Houses of the Legislature and the Administration are going to have to fully embrace the notion that the current system must be fixed and funded. And this doesn't pertain to just this Governor and set of legislators. This is going to involve an on-going effort that will most likely take two or three bienniums to fully implement, meaning it will require support in both the short and long terms.
Again, I don't think enough can be said about the leadership of Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) is keeping this concept alive and kicking when it looked like the minister was on the way to preform the last rites and the undertaker was on the telephone. Representative Greiling kept on pushing and kept the discussion going.
Text of the bill--HF 4178/SF 3828--can be found at the following link: https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=House&f=HF4178&ssn=0&y=2007
The bill will receive its first hearing on Thursday, April 10, at 9:00 AM in the House K-12 Funding Division. The hearing will be held in Room 5 of the State Office Building. Senate members of the education funding task force will also be at the meeting.
Time to Reflect. Many may not realize where this whole effort started, but it was a joint meeting of the SEE Executive and Legislative Committees in July of 2004, shortly after the education funding task force appointed by Governor Pawlenty had released its report. National education funding experts John Myers and Bob Palaich were in attendance at that meeting and helped provide a framework for the discussion of the report's findings and what some possible next steps could be in the analysis of the report.
SEE enlisted Myers to analyze the report and in December of 2004 released his findings. Primary among Myers' findings was the call to dig more deeply into the methodology used by Management Planning and Analysis (MAP), the consultant used by the Governor to analyze Minnesota's education finance system; "unpack" the data; and provide a price tag to the MAP work.
At this point, SEE was joined by AMSD and MREA in enlisting John Myers, along with the staff and Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates, to do this extremely important work. As the Executive Director of SEE, I cannot express enough gratitude to AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist and then-MREA Executive Director Jerry Ness along with their respective boards for joining with us to complete this work. Without their timely cooperation, the effort that became PS Minnesota would have been stillborn.
John Myers completed the analysis and calculated that the gap between the current funding level and the needed funding level was approximately $1 billion in general education revenue using the methodology advocated by the Governor's own consultant. This report was released in December of 2005 and legislation introduced during the 2006 session called for the creation of a legislative task force to perform further study and come up with a set of funding recommendations that would create an adequate and equitable funding system.
The effort to successfully create a task force failed in 2006, but this Myers' study also demanded further validation. The effort that produced that validation was PS Minnesota, an expanded consortium of educators that once again enlisted Myers and his band of number crunching and multiple regression analysis loving cohorts to perform an even wider set of analytical tools to the Minnesota's education funding data. As expected, even when using different analytical tools, the $1 billion number (for general education alone) describing the gap held up. The completed study was presented to the 2007 Legislature and a task force to develop legislation to embody the data was successfully included in the 2007 omnibus education funding bill.
Which brings us to April 7, 2008, when the aforementioned press conference was held. I cannot stress enough how every SEE member should be proud of their involvement in this effort. Others may in the end claim credit for this effort, but those of us who were there will always remember sitting in a hotel meeting room on a sunny July day and putting this effort in motion. I can honestly say that I have never been prouder of this organization for the leadership that it has shown and the principles it continues to espouse as it spearheads this effort.
The legislation that was introduced today is not perfect. There will be changes. There will be resource questions. There will be challenges. But adequate and equitable education is a goal worth pursuing and it may be time for the faint of heart to take a later train. The rest of you, check your bags, it's going to be a bumpy ride.