Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Labor Day Bill Moves Ahead in the House. HF 195, the bill authored by Representative Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) that would allow schools to start before Labor Day in each of the next two years, advanced through the House K-12 Funding Division today and was re-referred to the House Finance Committee. The vote on the bill was 11-5.

As was the case when the bill was before the House K-12 Policy Committee, testimony was divided. A number of school officials, including Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Superintendent John Currie, testified in favor of the bill, while representatives of the resort industry and the Minnesota State Fair testified against the bill. There were two other provisions in the original bill, the principle one calling for a study of the economic effects of an earlier school start, in the bill, but they were removed on a voice vote, leaving in place solely the pre-Labor Day start for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.

Given the economic downturn and the fact that this will be squeezing the resort industry even harder, it is likely that they will fight this bill to the bitter end. Seeing this is only a two-year exemption, it seems like HF 195 strikes a reasonable balance between the needs of school districts and the likely end of the vacation season. With Labor Day falling as late as it is, I wonder how many families would be heading up North (or sticking around town to attend the State Fair on a weekday) in any event. I could easily be wrong on this, but again, the pre-Labor Day prohibition is only eliminated for the next two years and not in perpetuity.

This bill will be traveling on its own in the hopes that a final decision can be made early in the legislative session to give school districts the opportunity to set their calendars well in advance of the end of the 2008-2009 school year. I will keep you posted, not only on the progress of the bill in the House, but also on what is happening with the bill in the Senate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mandate Update. There has been a considerable amount of effort dedicated thus far this session to giving school districts relief from mandates in the hopes of reducing costs. Part of this effort is fueled by the concerns that there will be little opportunity for the state to provide significant amounts of new revenue to school districts this biennium, but there is some concern--as there should be--that a number of currently-enforced mandates are no longer relevant to the delivery of quality education and should be repealed.

The House Mandate Reduction Work Group chaired by Representative Tom Tilberry (DFL-Fridley) met this morning to discuss the package of mandates that they are proposing should be eliminated. Approximately 25 different mandates were discussed, with most of these discussions receiving comments on both sides of the repeal/retain equation. A number of mandates have been removed from the discussion, as special education mandates are going to be discussed as part of a different effort.

This effort is crucial on a number of fronts and I'm hopeful that it will not be "more heat than light" when all is said and done. Part of the problem, as I shared a bit at Friday's meeting, is that every one of these mandates found its way into state law or rule through the front door. They were all a good idea, or at least an idea that temporarily generated a sufficient amount of support to become law or rule and have managed to survive.

The bigger part of the problem, however, is that there isn't a whole lot of savings in the reduction of mandates that simply exist around the edges of the education enterprise. Certainly, reducing any mandate removes ample levels of frustration in the delivery of education, but to get real and lasting savings, it's important to get to the heart of the education system and consider eliminating elements like mandatory classes and credits and leaving more of those decisions to local school districts. Without going to that level, the amount of savings that can be realized not be substantial. As we move forward on this issue, it's imperative that school administrators, school board members, and parents of students urge legislators to aggressively attack the mandate issue and make certain this effort is fruitful.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tomorrow's Meeting. A number of you have asked about the meeting scheduled by the Minnesota Department of Education and AMSD being held at the TIES building starting at 9 AM that will provide insight on the federal stimulus package and how it relates to education. I am happy to report that Dr. Tom Melcher, Wizard of all Things Education Funding Related, will be accompanying Education Commissioner Alice Seagren to our meeting as well and will provide the highlights of the federal stimulus package to our membership after the Commissioner finishes her presentation on the Governor's initiatives.

This should make the process of choosing between which meeting to attend a bit easier. The possibility still would exist for SEE member districts to bring an additional staff member or two in the car and send them to the 9:00 AM meeting while the SEE representatives attend the SEE meeting. Those additional staff would certainly be welcome to return to the Sheraton Four Points to join us for lunch (on SEE's dime). I am confident that Dr. Melcher will provide ample insight in the half hour he will be with us for everyone to have a better idea of the massive and complex task which lies before the Governor, members of his administration, and the Legislature as they attempt to make the benefits of the stimulus package real in the short term and not lobotomy-inducing in the long term.

So I hope to see you all at the SEE meeting! We have a great doubleheader of presenters, as former Commissioner Bob Wedl from Evolving Education will be giving a presentation on some of the ideas coming out of that think tank and how they will pursue them during the remainder of the legislative session. Add to that, the Commissioner's and Dr. Melcher's comments and this should be well worth everyone's while.

Physical Education Standard. Representative Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) has been working on a streamlined physical education standard for school districts. This proposal is contained in HF 439. I would post the link to the original language, but after about two hours of discussion on Wednesday and Thursday, amendments have been made to the bill that have changed its complexion dramatically in an attempt to give districts more flexibility.

Even with these changes, I have a hard time seeing how a new mandate, regardless of how meritorious, can be made "district friendly" enough to be enacted in a year when the Legislature is looking at ways to reduce mandates. The bill has its share of supporters, particularly the Minnesota Heart Association, and no one would ever argue against the notion that children need more structured physical activity to promote healthy longterm habits, but the sentiment that seems to be reigning right now is that of "less mandates."

The bill passed the House Education Committee on a very divided voice vote and was re-referred to the House K-12 Finance Division. Whether or not it will be included in the House omnibus K-12 funding bill will be decided there. It is extremely doubtful that the bill would proceed on its own.

The Impressive Scholar That is Dr. Angie Eilers. I had the opportunity to catch the last few minutes of a presentation by Dr. Angie Eilers (at right) from Minnesota Growth & Justice before the Senate E-12 Funding and Policy Division this morning. Her presentation was similar to the one she gave for us at SEE recently and the questions from the legislators were in the same vein as those posed by our membership. While the answers also had a familiar ring to them, there was new information that augmented the basic answers and brought greater depth and clarity to a number of the challenges facing the education community as it seeks to raise the achievement levels of all students. Keep up the good work Angie! You are shining a light on some crucially important questions and pointing a way toward improvement through the identification and application of quality research.

Bill Introductions, 2/19

Senate
House

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stimulus Response. No bells rang and the response was hardly Pavlovian, and instead of salavation, all of us assembled were more prone to drooling as our eyes rolled back into our heads as Tom Melcher and Chas Anderson described plethora of nuance and maze of restrictions contained in the federal stimulus package and its effects for Minnesota school districts.

Calling this complicated does not come near describing the situation. Over $800 million is slated to hit Minnesota school districts, but given the description of the various strings, pulleys, and levers that comprise the Rube Goldberg machinery (an example of shown on the left) that is the federal commitment to education, I wouldn't be surprised if the money showed up as convoy of semis all carrying pennies. Putting it bluntly, this, regardless of how appreciated and how well-intentioned it is, is a mess. The revenue numbers we distributed earlier in the week are accurate, but the Title I and IDEA appropriations are only a portion of the revenue slated to come to Minnesota school districts. There is also revenue coming through the stabilization revenue portion of the bill (which is larger than the IDEA and Title I portions), but like the other segments of the bill, one needs a "federal revenue GPS" to navigate the maze of strings and obstacles to getting the money into the bank.
One of the problems with this whole process is that in the rush to get the revenue to the states, all amendments, clarifying and otherwise, were resisted in Congress. The logic is straightforward and airtight in this matter. The minute that one member of either the US House or Senate put an amendment in the stimulus package, the other 534 would have made a mad rush to line up behind them. In an effort to avoid the inevitable slowdown resulting from such a process, only the barest of explanatory language was included in the bill. Hence, the states are left to ferret through the mish-mash to figure out how this contraption works.
So what are the results? After the dust settles, money (and probably a few headaches trying to figure out how much you're getting and how you have to spend what you are getting). AND, most likely a special session in Minnesota. I have always thought that the odds of a special session were about 50/50, but I think the passage of the stimulus package hikes those odds. The stimulus package is really going to put a crimp in some of the Governor's recently announced budget plans due to the maintenance-of-effort portions of the stimulus package (and what actually counts as maintenance-of-effort) and we will see adjustments in the Governor's revised budget that will be released in a little over a week.
Tom Melcher and Chas Anderson will be holding a discussion session on the stimulus package at 9 AM on Friday at the TIES building. AMSD has organized this presentation and unfortunately for SEE members, that conflicts with our monthly meeting. Commissioner Alice Seagren will be the featured speaker at our meeting and it is my hope that we can get Dr. Melcher and Deputy Commissioner Anderson to appear jointly with the Commissioner to shed at least a little light on the stimulus package. AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist has forwarded an invitation to anyone interested in attending to join the Friday meeting and it is my suggestion that SEE districts registered to attend our meeting bring an additional staff person/school board member along and send them to the meeting at TIES. We have an interesting meeting planned, but I wouldn't want our districts to lose out on an opportunity to get as much information as they can regarding the federal stimulus package. Deb and I will keep you informed tomorrow as to what Friday may look like and whether Dr. Melcher and Deputy Commissioner Anderson will be able to attend the SEE meeting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Type III Clears Another Hurdle. SF 33, Senator Rick Olseen's (DFL-Harris) bill to exempt a number of Type III vehicle drivers who were regulated as a result of a DPS ruling in the wake of last year's Type III legislation, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon and will now head to the Senate E-12 Education Funding and Policy Division, which will likely be its last stop on the way to the Senate floor.

Most of the testimony in favor of the bill has been very straightforward, with education organizations outlining the increased costs in ther form of training and medical costs (for driver physicals) that districts have incurred as a result of the decision to subject occasional Type III vehicle drivers to the same requirements as those of full-time drivers. The fact that this decision was made after the legislature had adjourned last May and that there was no opportunity for the legislature to react to DPS' action in a timely manner saddled districts with the costs arising from this new mandate in a very tight time frame.

Another group with a slightly different reason for opposition surfaced early in the discussions to alter the 2008 requirements with a slightly different angle and has been very visible in advocating change. This group, the hearing-impaired community, has testified each time the bill has been heard and has made some very strong points as to how last year's legislation needs to be altered. Shown at the left, flanking Senator Olseen are Minnesota State Academy administrator Shawn Birnig and North Star Academy student Alison Porter. Many of the staff members traditionally entrusted with driving students at these schools are hearing-impaired and were unable to pass the physical instituted as part of last year's legislation, making them ineligible to drive. The sentiment at these schools is clear: drivers with a capability to communicate with hearing-impaired passengers are extremely important, not just as a safety measure, but as a role model for students. Many activities at schools serving the hearing-impaired have been curtailed because of both cost and the reluctance of the schools to use drivers without sign language capabilities. Removing the requirement that these drivers pass a physical would be a great boon to these schools as they strive to provide the state's hearing-impaired students with quality co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.

I will keep you posted as the Type III legislation moves onward.

Special Education Hits the Stage. The House K-12 Funding Division discussed the work of the special education task force that met throughout the summer months during their hearing on Tuesday afternoon. The charge of that task force was to re-visit the work of the task force that met after the 2007 legislative session in an attempt to reconcile differences between Minnesota and federal special education law and rule. As most of you know, Minnesota's laws and rules exceed federal law in many instances, which, while admirable in one respect, has added another layer of cost to be absorbed by school districts throughout Minnesota.

The task force that met during the 2007-2008 interim did a good job of identifying the places where Minnesota exceeds federal law, but could not develop compromises to bridge these differences. In view of this, legislation passed in 2008 re-configured and re-commissioned the task force in an attempt to build compromises on as many of these outstanding issues as possible. Alas, reaching meaningful compromise was rare in these task force proceedings as well, which leaves us pretty much in the same position as before the proceedings started.

Special education policy is going to be discussed extensively this year and today's hearing launched those discussions. My main impression is that there is much work ahead of the education community at all levels if we are to implement meaningful reform in this area. There is no question that we greatly exceed federal law in a number of areas and how much of this actually contributes to stronger achievement levels needs to be determined. The growing cross-subsidy from school district general funds to pay for un-reimbursed special education is putting increasing pressure on districts throughout the state and while we must make certain that we are meeting the needs of students with identified learning issues, whether physcial or cognitive, greater balance between state and federal special education law may be in order.

Alternative Facilities Hearing. Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) brought forward another bill--SF 433--that would change the eligibility requirements for the alternative facilities bonding and levy program. While the bill would only make one more district eligible, it does highlight the need to change this statute to make it more useful to a greater number of districts. Hopefully, this, and bills like the one brought forward last week by Hastings, will bring about needed changes.

There are a number of SEE districts currently not eligible that have expressed interest in this program. If you have a desire to see this program expanded, please let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stimulus Package Passed. After watching the federal conference committee proceedings on the stimulus bill, I came up with the following analogy: The Minnesota conference committee process is to a crock pot as the federal conference committee process is to: (a) a pet show, (b) spontaneous combustion, (c) a horror movie, or (d) a microwave. I suppose how one answers would depend upon one's politics. While the federal action was quick (compared to the Minnesota conference committee process that seems to drag on forever), conservatives tend to look at the results of the process on this particular piece of legislation to be (b), while those on the left side of the spectrum tend to think of it more in terms of (d).

At any rate, Congress has acted and the President intends to sign the legislation later this week and sometime before the millenium, Minnesota can expect to receive approximately $2.8 billion in revenue from the package. A large portion of the revenue will go directly to school districts in the form of assistance for Title I programs and special education revenue. The details of the package are not yet clear, as there will likely be constraints on how the money can be spent or a yet-to-be-determined waiver process to give districts greater flexibility, but we know the approximate revenue amounts districts will be eligible to receive. It is difficult to discern at this point given the rules for the disbursement of federal funds under current law whether or not districts will be able to spend all of the revenue generated for them in this package.

The Senate E-12 Funding Division will be hearing MDE's interpretation of the stimulus bill on Wednesday morning at 8:30 AM in Room 112 of the State Capitol. I will provide more details as they become available.

In the meantime, here is the link for the Title I and Special Education amounts for Minnesota's school districts:

Stimulus Package Amounts: http://edlabor.house.gov/documents/111/pdf/publications/MINNESOTA-20090213-HR1-LEAs.pdf

Minnesota Public Radio Story about Governor's Projections of Stimulus Package: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/02/16/stimulushelp/

Integration/Desegregation Working Group. One of the more interesting legislative working groups that has been assembled this year is the House's panel looking at the state's integration efforts and the funding formula devoted to this purpose. This subject has been percolating since the Legislative Auditor's report on school district integration revenue that was issued in November, 2005.

The working group, chaired by Representatives Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids) and Robin Brown (DFL-Moscow Township), wants to clarify the purpose of the integration program and construct the revenue program to match this revised definition. There is currently confusion between the achievement gap and the physical movement of students into more racially-integrated settings. While there is no tension inherent in this confusion, the question of whether or not the revenue should be distributed under the current program assumptions is a valid one.

As part of these proceedings, Representative Newton suggested that all funding organizations develop a definition of this program. I hope to consult with all of you in the next few weeks to construct our position.

Legislative Auditor Integration Revenue Link: http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/ped/2005/integrev.htm

Bill Introductions, 2/16/09

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HF 896--Hortman--Defining a locally controlled process for establishing hazardous traffic condition pupil transportation zones and authorizing a levy to pay for certain pupil transportation costs: https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/revisor/pages/search_status/status_results.php?body=House&search=basic&session=0862009&location=House&bill=896&bill_type=bill&rev_number=&submit_bill=GO&keyword_type=all&keyword=&keyword_field_short=1&keyword_field_long=1&keyword_field_title=1&titleword=


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bill Introductions from Thursday, February 12:

Senate
House

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It Must be SEE Week. Wednesday's Senate E-12 Finance Committee featured two bills that were generated by SEE member districts and introduced by Senator Mike Jungbauer (R-East Bethel). Both of these bills, will envisioned and supported by these SEE members, have statewide implications and could prove of value to school districts throughout the state.

The first bill discussed by the committee was SF 344, a bill that would extend the compensatory revenue pilot projects enacted in 2005. This program is contained in the Governor's budget, but having it introduced as an individual bill provided the committee an opportunity to more fully study and disucss this successful program.

This program emanated from frustrations with the revenue distribution under the state's compensatory education formula, principally the building concentration aspect of the compensatory formula. In the Anoka-Hennepin district--as well as a number of other school districts--the enrollment of free-and-reduced price lunch students (the proxy by which the level of compensatory revenue is calculated) is spread relatively evenly throughout the district. Because of this, no individual school building generates compensatory revenue in the amount that is truly needed to meet the needs of those students for whom compensatory revenue is intended. Further, compensatory revenue must be spent in the building in which it is generated. In other words, the district cannot move--by law--compensatory revenue between buildings even if they recognized greater needs in one building over another.

In order to remedy this problem, the Legislature enacted the pilot project program with the intent of giving districts with similar enrollment patterns to Anoka-Hennepin's additional compensatory revenue and measure the results of the injection of the revenue and an ability for the district to spread the revenue to the buildings where the district saw the greatest need for intervention. The results of this program in Anoka-Hennepin have been extremely impressive.

The panel pictured at the right (Anoka-Hennepin acting Superintendent Dennis Carlson, Senator Mike Jungbauer, Anoka-Hennepin Associate Superintendent for Elementary Education Mary Wolverton, and Anoka-Hennepin Director of Elementary Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment) did a marvelous job of showing how the additional revenue made available to the district has helped significantly raise test scores through the implementation of instructional and staff development programs that truly make a difference in the classroom. Dr. Wolverton pointed out that the re-structuing of instructional patterns, the increase in relevant staff development, fidelity to best practices, and the flexible use of small groups. What the district has done, under a different label, is institute a very comprehensive and effective Response-to-Intervention (RtI) model that sets out cogent standards and expectations and assesses students in a consistent manner where results can be folded back into the instruction process seamlessly (Whew! William Faulkner has nothing on me when it comes to the run-on sentence).

Where this research can be exported statewide comes not only in the discussion of the flaws of the current compensatory revenue formula in terms of generation and distribution of revenue, but also in the implementation of effective programs to meet the needs of students who are not meeting federal, state, and local standards. Much of this though is pursued in the PS Minnesota bill, which raises the amount of revenue attributable to an individual student on free-or-reduced price lunch, eliminates the building concentration factor, and allows districts to use the money more flexibly between buildings.

So thank you, Anoka-Hennepin, for your hard work on this matter. It should provide a path for a more fair and equitable compensatory revenue formula.

Senator Jungbauer is also the author of SF 343, which would make any district that has been in the QComp program for five years eligible for a levy of $65 per pupil to be used to help extend the program and enable districts that have participated that long to ensure the long-term health of the program. One of the misconceptions about QComp is that it will cost districts less. The primary reason for the $265 per pupil unit in aid and levy that is part of the QComp program is to help districts transform their teaching staff reimbursement system from a steps-and-lanes framework to one based more on professional development and improved student outcomes. The current system believes, however, that once this conversion is made that districts will begin saving money. That is not necessarily the case nor should it be. New frameworks, while trying to avoid the "automatic" increases inherent in a steps-and-lanes system will have costs that are not part of the current system, particularly in the area of staff development.

The primary support for Senator Jungbauer's bill comes from the St. Francis school district, one of the early pioneers in the state's alternative compensation efforts. Pictured at the left are several St. Francis staff members who have been instrumental in the district's alternative compensation program. Shown at the left (from left to right) are St. Francis superintendent Ed Saxton, St. Francis QComp program coordinator Randy Keillor, and St. Francis Teacher Academy Coordinator Amy Warden. The St. Francis testimony was straight to the point and extremely impressive. The goal of alternative compensation should not necessarily be to save money, but to improve classroom teaching and reward and retain teachers who work to improve their teaching methods through intensive and applicable staff development efforts. Those points came through loud and clear in the testimony and were greatly appreciated by the members of the Senate E-12 Funding Divsion.
So all in all, it was an impressive day for SEE school districts who used this forum to explain programs for which they have played a leading role; programs that have improved student learning in each of these districts.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SEE Well Represented At This Morning's Senate Hearing. Three bills, two SEE districts. Not a bad ratio for the Senate E-12 Funding Division.

The first bill of the day was SF 142, Senator Katie Sieben's (D-Newport) bill that would make Hastings ISD #200 eligible for the alternative bond and levy program to fund deferred maintenance projects in the district. Senator Sieben is shown at right with Hastings Board Member Dan Cater and Hastings Superintendent Tim Collins.

The reason for the bill is straightforward. Hastings has run debt service elections several times over the past decade to fund needed repairs, but have yet to meet with success in these efforts. At the same time, deferred maintenance needs continue to increase while capital expenditure revenue for buildings has also remained static. The deferred maintenance program was passed in 2005 and while that program has been helpful, it certainly is not sufficient to meet the needs of a district the size of Hastings.

Superintendent Collins and Board Member Cater did a thorough and effective job of pointing out the challenges facing the Hastings district and how the alternative bond and levy program would give the district needed flexibility in meeting those needs, especially in view of the fact that Hastings has two operating levies to be renewed in within the next five years. Continuing to go before the voters could cause not only confusion, but also contribute to voter fatigue.

The bill elicited a considerable amount of discussion on the part of the committee. There are undoubtedly increasing deferred maintenance needs being faced by school districts. The creation of the deferred maintenance program is testament to that. But that program is not, as stated above, sufficient to meet the needs of most school districts. Add to that the dicey nature of debt service elections in the wake of the dwindling value of equalizing factors and the economic downturn and a case can be made for increased eligibility for a board-directed mechanism to help school districts plan and execute programs to meet their building needs on a planned basis.
In a year when it is going to be difficult for the Legislature to provide significant amounts of state aid to ailing school budgets, bills like SF 142 are likely to earn greater consideration and that consideration is deserved. School districts are faced with a myriad of issues in terms of both operating and capital revenue needs. The introduction and subsequent discussion of SF 142 provides a great opportunity to look at the capital end of that challenge and how it could be solved.

The second bill emanating from an event in a SEE member district was brought forward by Senator Amy Koch (R-Buffalo). SF 327 springs from an accident experienced by Brady Capouch, who was a third-grader in the St. Michael-Albertville School District when he was hurt on a playground. His injuries were such that he should not have been moved after the accident, but due to the fact that no teacher had witnessed the fall and none had either CPR or first-aid certification, the decision was made that he should be taken to the hospital.

Brady's mom, Kelly Capouch (pictured at left with Senator Koch) asked Senator Koch if she would look into the possibility of authorizing school districts to spend staff development revenue on CPR and first aid certification. The result of Senator Koch's investigation is SF 327, a bill that would provide school districts with a revenue stream to provide the type of first aid training that could prove crucial in the event that accidents like the one suffered by Brady Capouch.

While the committee is rightfully reluctant to institute a mandate, it was supportive of the suggestion that schools should find ways to provide this training, which is what the St. Michael-Albertville district did to a group (but not all) of its teaching, instructional support, and custodial staff to be available during recess periods.
Both bills were laid over for possible inclusion in the Senate omnibus E-12 funding bill.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thank You Representative McCollum. It was great to see so many SEE members at the AMSD-hosted event featuring US Representative Betty McCollum (D-MNCD4) this afternoon. Congresswoman McCollum did a marvelous job outlining the House version of the stimulus package and contrasting it with the Senate version. It was a really terrific session.

Representative McCollum expressed her disappointment with the Senate's decision to eliminate the school infrastructure funding from the bill. I am also disappointed that was dropped, but after speaking with Congresswoman McCollum's staff, I was further disappointed that the distribution formula for the infrastructure money will not be changed in the event the school infrastructure returns during the Senate/House conference committee.

As I complained yesterday, the infrastructure money is distributed on the levels of Title I money received by each district. In other words, if you have high levels of Title I, you get more infrastructure money. If it were simply a factor of a few hundred thousand or even a million dollars of difference per district, it wouldn't be a big deal. But when the largest district in the state--Anoka-Hennepin--receives more than $20 million less than Minneapolis and more than $15 million less than St. Paul, something is radically wrong with the distribution.

While it is doubtful, at best, that this distribution can be fixed, hopefully future infrastructure funding for schools (if it is indeed continued at a future date) will be distributed on a per square foot basis. At least I had the opportunity to discuss that with the Congresswoman's staff.

Charter School Meeting. The Senate's charter school working group chaired by Senator Kathy Saltzman (D-Woodbury)--pictured on the left--met on Monday afternoon to discuss charter school facilities issues. Unlike a lot of charter school meetings, this one remained really buttoned-down, as the testimony and the questions were very much process-based. The Senate will be developing a package of charter school reform initiatives in the next month or so (after the workiing group holds one more meeting). I am certain that Senator Saltzman would welcome your comments as that package is being discussed.

Bill Introductions--2/9

Senate
House

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dueling Stimuli. No word yet as to whether or not the Congressional conference committee will feature banjo music, but it appears that the Senate is now poised to pass its version of the stimulus package with the Senate/House conference committee set to begin its deliberations shortly thereafter.

The vote in the Senate will not be significantly bi-partisan, but enough Republicans (it appears three) will be supporting the administration, which will give the Democratic majority the votes it needs to avoid the procedural pitfalls that often derail legislation in Washington.
The Senate has pared back the House version of the bill (much to the chagrin of House leadership) and has added a bit more in terms of tax breaks, including tax credits for first-time homebuyers. The education provisions of the House bill have been changed as well, but it appears that the additional special education aid and Title I money that would be authorized under the House bill are also contained in the Senate bill at similar levels. The big change is in the area of the proposed school infrastructure repair, which the Senate appears to eliminate in its bill.

While it is difficult to argue against school infrastructure repair and energy retro-fitting, the formula used in the House bill was extremely flawed (and that depicition is kind). Under the distribution formula used by the House, Minneapolis would receive nearly $26 million in construction money and St. Paul would receive nearly $21 million. Anoka-Hennepin, the largest school district in the state, would receive less than $4 million. Huh? Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan would receive less than $1 million. South Washington County would receive less than $500,000. Stated mildly, the formula--roughly based on free-and-reduced price lunch and other Title I indicators--used in the House legislation is a travesty.
The conference committee on the stimulus legislation will likely be rather abrupt and come to a quick resolution and final numbers on the bill should be available early next week if the Administration's timeline of passage by mid-February is met.

The best comparison of the House and Senate packages was in today's StarTribune.


Speaking of the StarTribune. The StarTribune has really done a great job covering education policy this year and had another solid story in this morning's Sunday paper. Today's story concentrated on budget cutting going on in East Metro school districts, including SEE members Forest Lake, South Washington County, and White Bear Lake.


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House