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: http://edlabor.house.gov/selected-allocations-for-school-districts-under-the-american-recovery-and-reinvestment-bill/index.shtml

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