Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Busy Day. With the policy committee deadline looming Friday, the Capitol was a veritable beehive of activity as policy committees are striving to hear as many bills as possible by the end of this week. Bills that make it out of all the policy committees to which they are referred are considered "alive" as individual pieces of legislation. Much of next week will be devoted to hearing of bills in the House and Senate whose companion bill from the other body met the deadline. Confusing? Add to the fact that bills that fail to meet the deadline can always be offered as an amendment later in the process and you've got the proof for the saying that "nothing is ever really dead at the Legislature."

The Senate Education Committee was the site of most of the meaningful action today as the panel heard the charter school reform bill, much of which was suggested by the Legislative Auditor's Report on charter schools released late last year and authored by Senator Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury). The Senate legislation closely resembles that of the House with one key difference. The provision removed in the House K-12 Funding Division that would have created a 36-month moratorium before a charter school could be established within a one-mile radius of a school that has been closed or a district that has either been dissolved or part of a consolidation is contained in the Senate bill and survived an amendment to remove it from the bill. Kudos to Senator Saltzman for working extremely hard with all parties to put together this bill. While the charter school community is disappointed with the 36-month moratorium language, Senator Saltzman has inserted language in the bill that would allow the affected district to lift the moratorium or for the Commissioner of Education to waive the moratorium if a strong enough case can be made.

The committee also heard SF 1800, Senator Lisa Fobbe's (DFL-Princeton) companion bill to Representative Jerry Newton's HF 1701. This legislation is, as reported last week, the result of deliberations between special education providers and the special education advocacy community and makes a lot of progress both clarifying special education law and removing many of the provisions of Minnesota law that exceed or are redundant with federal law. With identical language now being part of the respective education policy packages, it is very likely that this effort will bear fruit. . .and sweet fruit it is.

The House K-12 Funding Divsion heard bills that would raise both the referendum and debt service equalizing factors. Given the condition of the state budget, the prospects for these bills is about as promising of that of an ice cube's on the 4th of July, but it is extremely important that these bills are heard. Representative Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), a long-time advocate of property tax equity, gave a very impassioned pitch for his HF 1222. HF 1222 would set the equalizing factor at 140% of the state average referendum market value per resident pupil unit (slightly over $700,000/Resident Pupil Unit). Because the equalizing factor would be expressed as a percentage of the state average, the amount would automatically increase as statewide property values grow as opposed to the current equalizing factor which is expressed as a fixed amount and has lost "value" to districts as property wealth has grown.

As I reported yesterday, Representative Paul Gardner's equalization bill--HF 1643--that increases the first tier of equalization from $700/PU to $1,000/PU and increases the equalizing factor to 200% of the state average referendum market value per resident pupil unit will be heard tomorrow. I will be testifying on behalf of SEE.

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