Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Week's Worth O' Bills. Here are the bills introduced in the House and Senate on Monday, January 26, and Thursday, January 29.



Deadlines Set: It may seem like minutae, but the legislative deadlines often play a huge role in how the business of the legislature unfolds, especially near the end of session. This year, with the major budget challenges facing the state, the deadlines will likely take on even greater importance.

The deadlines are as follows:

First Deadline--Friday, March 27: Last day for policy committees to act favorably on bills in the house of origin (in English, last day for Senate policy committees to act on Senate Files and House policy committees to act on House Files).

Second Deadline--Tuesday, April 7: Last day for policy committees in either body to act favorably on bills or companions of bills that met the first deadline in the other house (in English, House policy committee may act upon HF XX if SF YY met the first deadline in the Senate).

Third Deadline--Thursday, April 16: Last day for House and Senate budget divisions to act favorably on omniubs education funding bills (This is the one the education community watches most closely, as Senator Stumpf and Representative Greiling will have to have the omnibus K-12 bills out of their divisions no later than this day).

Fourth Deadline--Wednesday, April 22: Last day for Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee to act favorably on an omnibus appropriations and tax bills.

Fifth Deadline--Thursday, May 7: Conference committee reports on omnibus appropriations and tax bills must be reported to the floor. This is new for this year and will give the Legislature nine working days to pass their major funding and tax bills and send them to the Governor for signature or veto.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Budget Released. The Governor released his budget for the next two years and I can honestly say that I was expecting it to be more . . . well, harsh. Not to say that this is a friendly document, but slighltly under half of the needed $4.8 correction comes in the form of direct cuts. The remaining revenue comes from other one-time adjustments including $1.3 billion in payment and property tax recognition shifts in the education budget and the federal revenue coming to the state through the federal economic stimulus package (estimated at $920 million).

The surprising part of the budget--and a pleasant surprise it is--is the increase in K-12 spending contained in the bill. Of course, these gains are balanced by the short-term borrowing costs that will result from the changes in the payment and property tax recognition timelines and the elimination of the $51/PU in one-time money passed last session and the $55/PU in technology aid passed during the 2007 session that was appropriated the past two school years.

The Governor's budget contains two revenue enhancement programs for school districts. The first requires all districts to submit an application for the Q-Comp program, which is increased from $260/PU to $300/PU. Under the Governor's proposal, all districts would have to develop a plan and submit it to MDE for approval. Then there's the tricky part. MDE is not required to approve the application and the teachers in the district can vote not to participate. In other words, the only mandatory part of mandatory Q-comp is putting together the application.

I generally agree with the concept of Q-comp. Steps and lanes are a somewhat antiquated way of paying employees and there are inherent costs that have to be absorbed whether or not the district has revenue growth. Q-comp gets away from that somewhat and I have always supported the staff development component of Q-comp as well.

But the way the system is applied is troublesome. Not every school district has the personnel in place to dedicate the person hours necessary to put together a well-reasoned and comprehensive Q-Comp plan. Cuts to MDE staff haven't helped matters in this regard.

With the Legislator's Auditor's report on the educational effectiveness of districts with Q-comp out soon, there will be yet another set of data to inject into the discussion.

The other portion of the Governor's recommendation that would bring revenue to school districts is his "pay for performance" provision that would reward schools for students making at least one year of progress--1% of the basic formula per student making one year of progress, and 2% of the basic formula per student making more than one year of progress--every academic year. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the six-box growth model grid that MDE uses to map district progress, but the simple explanation is that districts will receive funding for students in four of the six boxes. The only students not receiving increased funding would be those making less than one year of progress during an academic year.

One part of the budget that hasn't been talked about a whole lot is the special education formula. There is no change in the funding mechanism, which means that once again costs will outpace the growth factor, which at least was not eliminated. But further prorations will result and the cross-subsidy will once again grow.

Main Budget Page:

Education Budget Document:

Federal Stimulus Package Moving. The federal stimulus package passed the US House on Wednesday evening and will now head to the Senate, where it will meet approval within the next week or so. There will likely be changes that will force a conference committee, but it appears that the President's goal of having the bill passed and signed by mid-February will be met.

As I have written previously, there is a nice chunk of federal money for education in the bill. I found out today that there is language in the bill that would allow states to apply for a waiver that would allow school districts to use this increased special education revenue to address cross-subsidy issues. Currently, 50% of any increase in federal revenue can be used to address state formula cross-subsidies. If Minnesota would request a waiver that would loosen this control and that waiver were granted, more revenue could be dedicated to protecting school districts' general funds.

I will keep you posted of the progress of the federal stimulus package and how state policy makers are reacting to the measure.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Budget Day Tomorrow. Tomorrow the abstract becomes concrete as Governor will release his budget. As has been amply reported, the state is approximately $5 billion behind where it needs to be if it wants to maintain spending at the $37 billion current law amount. The Governor has stated that he only plans on calling for spending of $32 billion so as to avoid proposing any state tax increases.

Tomorrow, the rhetorical fog lifts and we all see the first iteration of the state budget for the next biennium as it rolls out in a series of specific budget proposals that will undoubtedly be sparse (at least by most definitions) and controversial. Legislative reaction to the Governor's statements leading up to the release of the budget have been surprisingly muted. Everyone--both in the Administration and the Legislature--has been uttering the word "bipartisan" with an amazing amount of regularity. How long bipartisanship remains the zeitgeist of the session is anyone's guess at this juncture, but I don't expect legislative reaction to the Governor's proposed budget to be incendiary right out of the gate.

The excitement surrounding the release of the budget is almost enough to inspire poetry. Something like,

'Twas the night 'fore the budget
And all through the state,
Government programs
Awaited their fate.

Lobbyists lurked
In their usual style
With interested legislators
All on speed dial.

I was on my computer
While answering my phone
When I was distracted
By a blood curdling groan.

And what to my wondering eyes
Should I see, it's hizzoner
Governor Pawlenty and
His slate of commissioners

"On Seagren! On Campion!
On Hanson!" And more.
He shouted quite loudly
As he came through the door.

Armed with computer runs
And some Powerpoint slides
The Governor hit the podium
With a spring in his strides.

"Listen," he started,
Then eloquently did wax
"We'll balance this budget
Without raising a tax!"

Now the Speaker retorted,
"This could be a killer."
And she then turned to
Senator Pogemiller.

And this is the end
Of the tale to this point.
The poet would continue,
But fears he'd disappoint.

He could easily ramble
Further on with this ditty,
But he's run out of rhymes
And his meter's quite. . .uh, sugary.

But you needn't worry.
He'll finish this digression.
Sometime in November
During the third special session.

Apologies to Clement Clark Moore and all of the powerful people upon whom my livelihood rests featured in this poem.

Interesting Hearing Today. The House K-12 Budget Division and the House Tax Committee held a joint hearing today to discuss the property tax ramifications of the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPED) bonding legislation passed during the 2008 legislative session. The total levy increase resulting from the passage of this provision is approximately $24 million, about twice of what was estimated during the 2008 session. 33 districts have utilized this bonding provision.

It's not that this provision hasn't been helpful to a large number of districts or that it is wrong-headed, but there are real questions of equity, exacerbated by the fact that this, again, is another unequalized levy. In other words, there are districts that don't offer these benefits (an equity issue for staff in those districts) and differential levels of property wealth in these districts. In other words, unlike multiplication, where two negatives make a positive, this is addition, where two negative numbers put together result in a larger negative.

There probably won't be many changes to this language this year, but this will be provision to watch in the future, especially if it grows significantly.

Bill Introductions. Here are the bill introductions from Thursday, January 22.


SF 153--Vandeveer--Repeal 2008 Green Acres Changes:

SF 172--Lynch--Removes staff development distribution restrictions:

SF 205--Sparks--Removes wind energy production tax from county apportionment:


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thanks to Everyone. The SEE Legislative Kick-off was a rousing success. It was great to see a full house of SEE members and SEE area legislators. I heard a lot of positive comments after the meeting from members and legislators. My deepest thanks go out Deb Griffiths who worked tirelessly putting the program together and working with membership to devise a strategy to promote legislator attendance and all of the presenters--Deb Henton, Greg Vandal, and Pete Willcoxon. I thought the program provided the legislators present with a clear idea of what SEE is about and what our short- and long-term priorities are.

I had a message on my phone from Commissioner Alice Seagren explaining that she would not be able to attend(but alas, my cell phone was off (just like at the movies) and I didn't get the message until after the meeting was over. The Commissioner was in a meeting, as we did find out midway through our meeting, and sends her regrets. It would have been nice to have Commissioner Seagren there to describe some of the Governor's initiatives, but I am certain we will have a chance in the future to visit with her.

Again, thanks to everyone who helped with this morning's event.

Economy Getting Worse. The Minnesota Department of Management and Budget released its January update and unfortunately, things are getting worse. Revenue collections for November and December of 2008 were another $131 million below forecasted amounts. Whispers around the Capitol are that the budget deficit may shoot up to nearly $7 billion after all is said and done. This obviously makes the prospects of any new money in the coming biennium even more slim. The hill is getting steeper, but we must avoid going backwards in all of this. We need revenue (and flexibility) and we have to stay focused on our goal in the coming months.

MMB January Budget Update:

Great Hearing This Afternoon. The House K-12 Budget Division heard from Dr. David Johnson, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota (and former Rockford School Board member) and faculty in that college about research that is being performed at the University of Minnesota and how that could prove helpful to the Legislature in its work.

Joining Dr. Johnson were Drs. Jennifer McComas, Kyla Wahlstrom, Kay Hertig Wahl, and Stuart S. Yeh. Each of these professors outlined research projects they had completed and provided concrete examples of how this research could be of considerable assistance to staff and learners in the state's elementary and secondary schools.

The University is coming forward with a proposed Interdisciplinary Research Institute on Education and Human Development to assist school districts in developing programs and testing learning strategies. There are, or will be, several other proposed research centers discussed in the coming session, as continued cuts in the Minnesota Department of Education has made it increasingly difficult for them to perform research operations. Further, since the Education Commissioner has become a gubernatorial appointment, legislative trust in the agency has diminished and by extension, the education field throughout the state has viewed the agency as being as much a political as professional body.

While this view is somewhat unfair to the great personnel at MDE, there can be no denying that the research and development mission of the department have been compromised over the past two decades. It's unfortunate that a new research arm may need to be created, but it is probably for the best that a new initiative for these purposes be developed rather than grafting these responsibilities onto the current MDE framework.

The innovation section of HF 2 (the PS Minnesota bill) isn't talked about a whole lot, but if a considerable amount of new revenue is invested into the education funding system, it is likely that policymakers will want to make certain that there is some measure of strategy accompanying the investment. I will keep SEE membership posted on progress in this area throughout the session.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Light Schedule Today. The only two hearings of pertinance to the education community at the Capitol today were held in the House of Representatives, where both the House K-12 Education Policy Committee and the House K-12 Funding Division met. The House K-12 Policy Committee took testimony from education groups on their policy goals for the 2009 Session. The House K-12 Funding Division took testimony from the Minnesota Department of Education on their priorities for the coming session. A lot of very good information, but more in the vein of outlining the parameters of the discussion that will take place this year as opposed to anything substantive. That's going to change a lot next week when the Governors budget was announced.

Interesting Proposal. Former Minnesota Revenue Commissioner (and Independence Party Candidate for Attorney General in 2006) John James sent me a comprehensive state budget proposal he has developed and I must say it looks very interesting. It's about 60 pages long and contains some interesting proposals for the funding of education, much of it in the same vein as what is proposed by PS Minnesota. I hope to either post the document on the SEE web page or provide all of you with a copy.

John James is one of the brighter policy minds in the state and anything he develops is worth studying closely.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Witnesses to History. It was truly moving to observe the inauguration of President Obama today. Watching the event, I was impressed with his acceptance speech. I'll admit it
took me a bit by surprise as it didn't soar to the extent that a number of his campaign speeches did. Instead, it had a quiet gravitas befitting the occasion. I was impressed how in 18 minutes Obama covered a whole range of issues, both foreign and domestic.

Another impressive aspect of the speech is how it evoked the entire spectrum of American history and posed this moment as another point, albeit an important point, on this arc. He cited Washington and Lincoln specifically, but it seemed as though he got the flavor of just about every President, save for Franklin Pierce and Warren G. Harding, in his comments. He also, at least according to my fuzzy memory, the first President to mention the Viet Nam war in his inaugural address as he cited the battle of Khe Sanh in praising the sacrifice of veterans.

In my estimation, Obama accurately posited the challenge before the nation. He outlined both the promise of community while not following the one-time conventional liberal line that government is the answer of first resort. The tone set was one of hope, shared sacrifice, and a recognition that a new set of tenets may govern our lives as we move into the next stretch of American history.

Former Dean at the Humphrey Institute Harlan Cleveland once said something to the effect that we need "less government and more governance." Obama's remarks seemed to echo that sentiment as we seek to establish a new social contract where all are included and respected without having to resort to government action to ensure that goal. Tall order indeed, but perhaps the country is ready for this.

Testimony in House K-12 Funding Division. The inauguration festivities didn't bring legislative action to a screeching halt. Representative Mindy Greiling's House K-12 Funding Division met this afternoon and took testimony from a number of education interests regarding their priorities for the session ahead. SEE was obviously included in the slate of testifiers.

I was joined by Rockford School Board chair Gordy Thomas and we both testified on the SEE platform and the need for greater equalization. Of course, HF 2--the new Minnesota Miracle--is at the top of SEE's priorities for 2009 and although sufficient revenue will not be in place to fully implement that bill, it is extremely important that the Legislature consider laying the groundwork for a new formula that provides both the funding adequacy and equitable distribution of that funding needed to ensure that all students throughout Minnesota have access to a high-quality education.

Gordy provided solid examples of how Rockford's situation mirrors a large segment of the state's school districts in their inability to pass a referendum levy. It was great to have him along to help drive home the point that the lag in updating the equalization factor to match the growth in property values has had an adverse effect on low-property wealth districts. I encourage any district interested in testifying to let me know. It certainly helps our cause to have member districts describe their exact situation to the Legislature. I can provide abstract depictions of the challenges faced by member districts, but the member districts themselves can paint a much more vivid and concise description of them.

News from the Potomoc. The inauguration wasn't the only big news coming out of Washington. The proposed education funding allocations contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill have been posted on th.e website for the House Education and Welfare Committee. Simply hit the Minnesota link at the following link and you will be taken to a spread sheet (that prints on 11 x 17 paper) showing an estimated amount each Minnesota school district would receive under the bill in its current configuration.

One big question that needs to be considered is how the special education revenue will be treated. As many of you are aware, federal special education revenue must be used to "supplement" and not "supplant" state special education revenue. Translated, that provision of federal law means that you have to "buy new stuff" with increased revenue as opposed to "paying for existing commitments" with the money. Hopefully, we will be able to garner a one-time variance for this revenue so that the current, and growing, special education cross-subsidy can be addressed with this money.

House Education and Welfare Committee Spreadsheet:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Day. I know a number of you were able to take the day off and I hope you had a chance to relax and refresh, as we're all back in the saddle tomorrow. The legislature (in fact, all of state, federal and most local governments) was closed today. With the inauguration tomorrow, it will be another light schedule at the Legislature as a number of legislators will be in Washington, D.C., to commemorate President-elect Obama's swearing-in as President.

One fairly notable hearing will be held tomorrow afternoon in the House K-12 Funding Division chaired by Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville). Representative Greiling will be taking testimony from a number of education interest groups regarding their 2009 priorities and legislative initiatives. I will be testifying and hope to make a number of points regarding SEE's short-term and long-term priorities. It will be interesting to see where everyone else comes down on the issues facing the state, but my guess is that we all will stress the difficulty we will be facing in the coming two years without any increase in the revenue we get or relief from some of the mandates--especially those that are unfunded--that force school districts to deliver services in a manner that may not be the most cost-efficient.
One point I will be making is that the equalization factors for the operating levy and debt service equalization programs have not been improved in fifteen years. With the number of districts going before the voters likely to be considerable this coming November, enhancing the equalizing factors may be something that will have to be studied. With the extreme revenue shortfall, leveraging any state revenue to assist in moderating the property tax burden in low property wealth school districts will be difficult, but it should at least be discussed.
I will report on the testimony in tomorrow's blog.
Speaking of Unfunded Mandates. I have been working with other education interest groups assembling a list of mandates that are making life more difficult for school districts. This work was done in response to the meeting many of us had with the Governor and legislative leadership about two weeks ago. At that meeting, we were urged by all of the decisionmakers present that they would welcome and seriously consider the results of such a "mandate safari."
The document resulting from our work will be available tomorrow and I will forward it to Deb and hopefully there is a way that each SEE member district will be able to have it no later than Wednesday. Please take a look at the list when it becomes available and let me know if there are any additions you would like to make.
Two Movies This Weekend. With the holiday weekend, my wife and I got to see two movies. Friday night, it was Last Chance Harvey starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson (pictured at left). This is a sweet little movie (especially for those who have hit age 50), but this could have easily turned into something more syrupy than a vat of Mrs. Butterworth's if not for the efforts of Hoffman and Thompson. The story revolves around Harvey Shine's (Hoffman's character) trip to London for his daughter's wedding. Harvey's ex-wife, portrayed expertly by Kathy Baker, isn't making things comfortable for Harvey and it grinds him pretty much down to a nub, so much that Harvey decides to blow off his daughter's wedding reception to fly back to New York to attend to some pressing business issues. The airline industry isn't cooperating, however, and Harvey is stuck in London. Harvey has a chance encounter with Kate Walker, played by Thompson, and from that point forward the movie accelerates (but with no car chases).
Defiance is the other movie we saw this weekend. Based on a true story, Defiance is the story of the Bielski brothers and their almost superhuman efforts to keep Jews alive in Belorussia during the early stages of World War II. When I say superhuman, I mean it. The efforts these brothers made on behalf of the disenfranchised Jewish population are simply astounding. The movie stars Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber (pictured at right) as Tuvia and Zus Bielski, the elder pair of the three Bielski brothers. The Bielskis initially saved a handful of evicted Jews while they themselves were hiding in the forest. Word spread quickly of the Bielski's settlement in the forest as persecution of the Jews increased as the Nazis and soon the brothers found themselves trying to make a life for hundreds of refugees.
Word of the Bielskis also spread to the Nazis, who sought out the camp in an attempt to destroy it and take the Jews who sought refuge there captive. I won't give anything away and I would highly recommend this film to all who are interested in both World War II history and seeing a good movie.
I would be remiss if I didn't include this essay published in last Sunday's New York Times, regarding the raft of World War II movies, especially those that have featured aspects of the Holocaust in their theme, that have been released in the past few months. I found this essay interesting, as it takes a different angle on the what these movies may mean when seen through a different set of lenses. Not being Jewish, I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully comprehend the horror of the Holocaust in the manner that it has affected the Jewish people. This essay helped me see a little more deeply into an angle I previously hadn't considered when contemplating perhaps the darkest hour in Western history.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

State of the State. I don't think one would have had to watch, listen to, or read Governor Pawlenty's State of the State address to know the state of the state. It's bad.

In today's "dog bites man" story, it was revealed that Minnesota is looking at some major challenges. State government is sitting with a revenue shortfall of just over $5 billion that will likely get worse as job losses continue to mount. With Baby Boomers poised to retire, stress on a number of state services will also rise, hitting the budget crisis from the expenditure end. The phrase "perfect storm" has become more than a bit cliched, but it's hard to describe our current predicament in any other way.

I have to give the Governor credit. He's an upbeat guy and it sounds as though he is willing to tackle this crisis with a smile on his face and a song (hopefully not a funeral dirge) in his heart. He also put forward an olive branch to the DFL-controlled Legislature and urged bi-partisanship as steps are taken to correct the state's budget woes. Of course (not trying to sound like a cynic), bi-partisanship is a lot easier to talk about in the second week of January than it is in the third week of May, but the feeling I get during the first two weeks of the session is that there is a tone that may lend itself to avoiding the type of partisan breakdowns that plagued the last two sessions. It's a simple fact that the budget rock is so big this year that no one arm of the decision-making process can successfully get it up the hill. To try would be to be flattened by the rock as it rolls backward.

The problem will be to come to agreement on how to solve the budget crisis and the Governor laid out some proposals today that may make agreement difficult. First, the Governor's economic stimulus package--the Minnesota Job Recovery Act--contains several tax cuts that have arched more than a few legislative eyebrows. The most prominent of these proposed tax cuts is a phase-down of the Minnesota corporate income tax rate from 9.8% to 4.8% over the next six years. There has been a long-standing debate over the efficacy of corporate income tax rates (which I will probably cover in a future blog entry), but this move would likely take revenue off the bottom line in the next fiscal year or two. The Governor's other suggested tax cuts are a $50 million tax credit for small businesses, a 25% refundable tax credit for small business owners who re-invest quickly in their businesses, a capital gains exception for investors in eligible Minnesota companies, and a 100% exemption from the sales tax on business equipment purchases as opposed to a six-year deprecation schedule.

I'm not going to say that tax cuts won't (or will) help the current situation, but state government does not have the latitude that the federal government has in addressing economic challenges. The state budget has to be balanced every year while the federal government can run a deficit (don't we know that!) . The Governor's proposed changes may help the long-term economic health of the state, but the short-term effects may simply add another stream of red ink to a lake of it that has spilled over its shores. It's going to be an interesting debate.

The Governor also made some recommendations regarding K-12 education, including putting more money into the system. The Governor made five points regarding education and education funding. They are:

  1. More exhaustive teacher preparation programs with minimum standards for teachers.

  2. Implementation of QComp in all districts.

  3. Revenue to districts with high test scores and/or test score growth

  4. Binding arbitration for district/teacher negotiating impasses.

  5. Implementation of a comprehensive shared services purchasing program (SF 10)

In addition, the Governor called for a pay freeze for all units of government that accept state money, including schools.

There was a bit of a miracle today in New York City when a plane, under duress, landed in the Hudson River. The biggest surprise is that there were no casualties (at least at this writing). To accomplish this, it took a set of pilots and passengers who were cool under pressure and worked together to avoid tragedy. Everyone who knows me know that I can't help but belaboring an obvious analogy, but when I heard about that plane crash, I couldn't help but think of the similarities between that plane and the Minnesota ship of state. Like that plane, we as Minnesotans need to land our state safely and to do that, we--and I mean all of us as providers and consumers of services and as taxpayers, along with state government--have to remain cool under this pressure, use our creativity, and put ourselves down safely. Big challenge.

(Photo credit: Julie Pukelis & CNN)

Link for 2009 State of the State Address:

MSBA Convention. I got to spend most of the afternoon at the MSBA convention and it was great to see so many of you there. It looks like MSBA has done another great job of putting together a conference full of valuable and interesting speakers and pull-out sessions.

One of the highlights of MSBA's January conference is that awards are given to board members and school boards for outstanding performance and completion of board training classes. It was great to see so many SEE-member districts featured in the awards section of the program. The following is a summary of those in SEE districts who were recognized:

2009 All-State School Board: Cary Linder, Dassel-Cokato; Elizabeth Lawson, Stewartville.

District Award of Distinction: Faribault

MSBA Service Awards--30 Years: Robert Shuey, Pine City.

MSBA Service Awards--20 Years: Donna Setter, North Branch; Jackie Magnuson, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan.

Advanced Board Academy Graduates: Clark Johnson, Cambridge-Isanti; Sue Nelson, Faribault; Richard Olson, Faribault; Kirby Ekstrom, North Branch; Deb Henton, North Brach; Kim Salo, North Branch; Karen Saltis; North Branch; Katy Botz, Pine River-Backus; Dawn Rubner, Pine River-Backus.

2008-2009 Ambassadors: Dr. Teri Wallace, Owatonna.

President Awards: Sue Nelson, Faribault; Jack Nelson, Hinckley-Finlayson; Kay Snuggerud, LaCrescent-Hokah; Steve Odegard, Pine City; Jim Fisher, Pine Island.

Director Awards: Deb Davis, Faribault; John Lorenz, Faribault; Deb Pauley, Jordan; Chester Hoernemann, Lester Prairie; Kirby Ekstrom, North Branch; Katy Botz, Pine River-Backus; Nadine Schnettler, ROCORI

Leadership Development Certificates: Anthony Cuda, Braham; Daniel Klemz, Braham; Craig Hammond, Braham; Pat Dougherty, Cannon Falls; Suzanne Berger, Faribault; Michael McGraw, Hutchinson; Ed Trager, Maple Lake; Karen Steinbrecker, Ogilvie; Rebecca Schumann, Pine Island; Nadine Schnettler, ROCORI; Lisa DeMuth, ROCORI; Ellen Ayers, South Washington County; Bettie Lechtenberg, Stewartville; Scott Papke, Stillwater; George Hoeppner, Stillwater; Natalie Fleischman, Stillwater.

Congratulations to all of you!

Bill Introductions.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Emerging Issue. One education issue that will soon be coming into the discussion at the State Capitol is that of the creation of an independent entity to provide research for legislators and other policy makers as they develop initiatives to meet the state's education needs. Given the presence of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), there are those who believe the creation of such a center would be redundant and an unwise investment given the state's budget woes.

This proposal should be discussed and the simple presence of MDE shouldn't dismiss the importance of the creation of this proposed research center. There are a variety of good-sense reasons why this proposal deserves consideration. The first lies in the fact that the Education Commissioner has been a political appointee for the past 25 years. This role has been filled by a number of exemplary people, incuding current Commissioner Alice Seagren, but it's not the person that's the problem. The problem is that politicization of education has pretty much become unavoidable and instead of providing balanced information on the pros and cons of proposed policies, MDE is thrust into the uncomfortable, and I would argue inappropriate, position of having to promote the policies of various governors instead of formulating policy based on best practices. Again, it's not the particular policies that have been promoted--there have been a number of great policies promoted by each of the four governors who have operated under the appointed-commissioner framework--it's that the policies take on a political flavoring whether or not they are overtly political and education policy debates become ping-pong matches between the executive and legislative branches.

Second, MDE is woefully understaffed given the current needs of Minnesota's school districts. It pains me to say this. I have worked closely with a number of top-notch MDE employees in my various roles in education policy development and implementation and I have the utmost respect for the talent and dedication of the personnel at MDE. The simple fact of the matter is, however, that almost twenty years of personnel reductions have put a significant crimp in MDE's research and policy development roles. There have been countless penny-wise and pound-foolish staff cuts at MDE since 1991 when the unfortunate trend began with a 20% cut of the department's budget. That will continue this year as the budget is reconciled. Right now, there are so many empty cubicles at the Department that I feel like I'm on the set of a Left Behind movie when I'm over there.

There will be several research center proposals coming forward this year. The Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) has been working on one and that will be introduced shortly. Their proposal calls not only for a center that would conduct research, but that would also provide staff development and other assistance to districts.

The second proposal comes from the University of Minnesota, which will be advocating that a new center be established in the College of Education and Human Development. The University's proposal has some innate strengths, seeing that a staff of PhDs and PhD students are already there and they often have their finger on the pulse of the latest developments in trends in education policy.

A third proposal may also be taking shape. Several State Senators have mentioned the possibility of creating a legislative commission on education policy that would seek foundation money until state resources become available to fund a center that would distribute grant dollars to public and private agencies that would perform research on topics in education policy.

Each of these approaches would have strengths and weaknesses and hopefully, if the establishment of such a center is pursued, and effort will be made to create a center that combines the best of each proposal.

None of these proposals has been formally introduced at this point and I will provide you all with details once they are. This should be an interesting discussion.

StarTribune editorial on Education Research Center:

See you at the MSBA Convention. The big doings at the Minneapolis Convention Center tomorrow will be the MSBA's annual convention and I can hardly wait to see a lot of you there. The camera battery is fully charged and the voice recorder is ready to go. I'm just looking for interesting subjects to photo and interview. So if you see me and don't want to be featured run. . . very fast.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Type III Bill Passes First Hurdle. SF 33, the bill authored by Senator Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris) to exempt teachers, coaches, and other providers of transportation on a non-regular basis from the requirements needed to drive school vans and cars passed in 2008, was passed on a voice vote in the Senate Transportation Committee and re-referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will likely receive a hearing within the next week.

Senator Olseen (pictured at right with Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Superintendent Linda Mitchell and two MSAD students) convened a working group at several junctures during the interim to find language that would successfully reverse the interpretation in regard to Type III driver standards by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

As many of you are aware, when we left last session, the Type III driver requirements were thought to not apply to teachers, coaches, and other personnel who are not hired by a school district to provide full-time transportation services. Midway through the summer, DPS ruled that occasional drivers were subject to the new requirements and had to take physicals and receive training in order to drive these vehicles. This caused a lot of scrambling in school districts throughout the state, especially smaller districts, where budgets are tight already (and yes, these things cost money) and a furor among staff who were unaware they would be subject to these requirements until relatively late in the summer.

SF 33 should remedy the situation. Under the bill, those we believed to be exempt after last session are now clearly exempt from the new requirements of last year's bill.

I will keep you posted as to when the next hearing will take place.

Information Needed. Deb Griffith sent out a quick survey Tuesday afternoon asking each SEE member district to gauge the amount of cuts they would be subject to if no new revenue is forthcoming during the 2009 session.

The House K-12 Funding Division will be holding a hearing next Tuesday in which they will try to determine the pain that flat funding of schools would inflict on districts. I will be testifying and would like to have as much solid information as possible when I do that.

GRAD and Growth Model Discussed. The GRAD test and the new growth model developed by MDE were discussed in the House K-12 Education Policy Committee this morning. I was unable to attend the entire hearing, but discussion was spirited when I was present. One of the things that will be discussed this session is the number of tests students are forced to take in Minnesota and the costs for the state and local districts of these tests. One of the real problem with a lot of these tests is that they do not provide either districts or MDE with much in terms of the type of interventions that are needed to enhance student learning.

With revenue being very dear in the near future and perhaps beyond, resources will have to be marshaled in ways that ensure that the public is getting the most bang for its buck. Simply giving students tests without having those tests supply information to teachers and admininstrators that can be used to improve student learning is not the best way to spend money.

Interesting Event Coming Up. The Roseville Area Schools Legislative Action Committee will be hosting an event on Monday evening, January 26, 2009, at 7 PM entitled Why Invest in Education--Even in Difficult Times. The event will be held in the Roseville Area Middle School Auditorium located at 15 East County Road B2, Little Canada. The featured speakers are State Economist Tom Stinson and State Demographer Tom Gillaspy.

Stinson and Gillaspy gave a presentation to SEE a few years back when the economy was doing much better and it will be interesting to see if, and by how much, their message as changed in the struggling economy.

Richard Wassen, currently on staff at the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota (and formerly on staff at MDE and the State Board of Teaching) is one of the organizers of the event. Stinson and Gillaspy always (and I mean always) provide great and pertinent information and I am certain will prove to be no exception.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Back to Work. The weekend's over and it's back to work for the feisty lads and lasses who comprise the Minnesota State Legislature. It was an extremely quiet day in the state senate, where the floor session lasted all of ten minutes. A grand total of 26 bills were introduced in the Senate, a surprisingly low number for the opening days of any legislative session. I guess it's amazing what a $5.2 billion revenue shortfall can do to stem the flow of spending proposals.

On the other hand, the House floor session (its first working session of the year) turned out to be quite the display of partisan theater as the Joint Rules were discussed. For those of you who don't follow the legislative process that closely, it may sound like a debate over the rules is about as exciting as a bunch of Lutheran church basement ladies swapping recipes involving the magic ingredient of cream of mushroom soup and while the annual debate over the rules usually involve phrases that have been dusted off each year since 1858, the debate never seems to disappoint. The majority is always cruel and the minority consistently aggrieved and never the twain shall meet.

Today was no different as the Republican minority came forward with a raft of amendments that aimed to make the DFL majority look authoritarian, arbitrary, and profligate. The DFL responded that the Republicans were simply being obstructionist. It's funny, but I swear I heard the same arguments three years ago when the roles were reversed and the Republicans controlled the House. In the end, today's debate won't have much of an effect, if any, on the final results of the session. Still, it's nice to know that the state's fiscal collapse hasn't totally caused total atrophy in the two parties' political muscles.

Bill Introductions.


HF 40--Peterson, S.--Quality Rating System for Early Childhood Programs:

HF 49--Morgan--Modifies Alternative Teacher Pay Calculation for Intermediate Districts:

HF 75--Brown--Increase in pupil weighting for all-day, every-day Kindergarten:

HF 79--Brown--Removes wind energy production tax from county apportionment deduction for school districts:

HF 91--Slocum--Allows health and safety revenue to be used for elevator repair:

Last Charter School Working Group Meeting. Today was the last meeting of the Senate/House Working Group on charter school funding and policy. The discussion today centered around charter school facilities policy, especially as it pertains to lease aid and its uses.
The task force will be assembling its recommendations for introduction as a bill in the next few weeks. The Minnesota Department of Education will also be developing changes to current charter school policy, some of which will echo concerns expressed in the Legislative Auditor's report on charter schools.

Movie Review. My wife and I manage to catch a movie pretty much every weekend and I've decided to share my wide range of cinematic tastes with all of you. Last weekend, we were in the mood for something light and so instead of seeing the critically-hailed Gran Torino, we opted for (brace yourselves) Bride Wars. Calling this a chick flick is akin to calling Wilt Chamberlain (for the younger set: tall.
I have to admit, the movie was pretty funny. I had two step daughters get married in the past couple of years and although neither one of those weddings came within a light year of matching the histrionics portrayed in the movie, as anyone who has been even marginally involved in a wedding, there are plenty of opportunities for missteps and hi-jinks.
In brief, this ain't Bergman (as in Ingmar, as Candice Bergman--Oops. I meant Bergen--was in the movie). Besides, it would have been called Brud Krig in Sweden and Bergman would have had the brides play a chess match with Death or something equally depressing. This is simply light fare that succeeds for an hour-and-a-half at getting one's mind off the deplorable condition of the state budget. I give it four atomizers out of a possible five on the Chickflick-o-Meter.

So guys, if you want to let the lady pick the movie for a change, this one's alright in my book. You could do worse than watching Kate Hudson's zany antics and Ann Hathaway's unwavering talent on a chilly Friday night. Be forewarned, there are no car chases or use of semi-automatic weapons.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Meeting with Governor and Legislative Leaders. The Governor and legislative leadership had a meeting with the education community this morning (Friday) and I had the honor and pleasure of attending. It was a very interesting meeting with spirited discussion of the current economic challenge and its effects on every aspect of Minnesota society and how the E-12 system fits into this. It was a somber meeting at a level, as the point was made time-and-again regarding the condition of the state budget and how it will be difficult to provide any state money for any purpose this coming session. At the same time, it was an exciting meeting, as we are heading into uncharted territory for government in general and E-12 education in particular.

Some of the usual culprits came up in the discussion of how schools can be provided more flexibility in this environment, namely mandates. There are currently several working groups discussing the topic of mandate relief and it will be important for everyone in the field to share what type of mandate relief would be in order. Please e-mail me your ideas on mandate reduction. Any and all ideas are welcome.

The discussion was free-flowing and there was honest give-and-take. The problem, of course, is that there is little or no hope for getting any increase in revenue this year. That makes the discussion, while interesting, a bit one-sided in terms of solutions and admittedly a bit depressing.

Still, my kudos to the Governor and the legislative leadership for suggesting and holding this meeting. Joanne Knuth, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, made one of the key points early in the meeting; that being that there needs to be a common vocabulary used by all parties as we navigate through these difficult straits. I could not agree more and I believe everyone in the room felt the same way.

We are looking at one tough destination, but hopefully we can make progress this year toward re-tooling the system and preparing for the challenging times ahead.

Bill Introductions. I am going to post links to the more prominent education-related bills on the blog to give readers the opportunity to see what is being introduced and the language in these bills. The Senate was the only body meeting on Thursday, so here are the major education-related bills introduced.

SF 10--Bonoff--Shared Services:

SF 11--Saxhaug--On-line learning changes:

SF 16--Olseen--Repealing 2008 changes to Green Acres law:

SF 19--Wiger--Increasing compulsary attendance age to 18:

SF 21--Wiger--Establishing P-20 Partnership:

SF 23--Wiger--Repealing Labor Day start:

SF 33--Olseen--Type III changes:

Hopefully, this will be a good way to keep everyone informed as to what is being discussed at the Legislature.

Comments Please. I am going to be using the blog a lot this year and I need to hear if it is working for you. My e-mail link is on the blog's main page, so feel free to drop a line.