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.

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