Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tuesday Afternoon. Name the band that made that song famous (Answer at bottom). Anywho. The conference committee reconvened around 4:00 PM and met until just a shade before 8:00 PM. I ran into Representative Kim Norton in the hallway and she asked me if the E-12 conference committee was a lot of "hurry up and wait." I replied, "No. It's more mosey around and wait." In other words, not a whole lot going on.

The three subjects the conference committee tackled in the latest session were the Senate's shared-services proposal, the Senate's early childhood proposal, and the high-stakes testing provisions found in both bills.

Shared-services is turning into the "issue that will not die." Some of the legislation's proponents seem to express this unspoken skepticism regarding school districts' decisions to save money by either buying in bulk or using other aspects of shared-services plans. Further, many of these same proponents don't believe that school districts can figure out how to share services and need the input of a consultant to maximize their savings.

I testified (along with about 10 other people, all but two expressing concern about the Senate's approach) without providing the 40-year history of shared services (I did that when the bill first came up in the Senate in February). Instead, I simply stated my impresssion that there (1) probably isn't a lot of savings to be had, (2) school districts don't need a consultant to figure this out, and (3) the legislature needs to proceed carefully because if they create any type of infrastructure to facilitate shared-services, that infrastructure may add to expenses that districts may want to avoid in the future.

I did express support for a clearinghouse or web presence that would help school districts find the best prices on goods and services. This is the basic approach to shared-services in the House bill, which creates a best-practices clearinghouse in the State Auditor's office. Whether or not the State Auditor's office is the right place for that is anyone's guess, as the same function could be performed in either the State Department of Administration or the Minnesota Department of Education.

The conference committee will be re-convening tomorrow afternoon and the fur is going to have to start flying pretty soon. There are only two conference committees that do not have their targets: taxes and E-12 education. If those targets are handed down tomorrow, we'll probably be in conference late into tomorrow evening and through much of the day Thursday, as work on all conference committees must be completed by legislative joint rules by Thursday, May 7.

With the deadline looming, my guess is I'll be living on caffeine, sugar, and salt for the next 48 hours. Watch the blog for updates.

The Whole Funding Kerfuffle. Many of you probably saw Sunday's piece in the StarTribune on Sunday in which Lori Sturdevant talked with Scott Croonquist regarding education funding. I was at (and participated in) the AMSD press event last week outlining how much cutting will be going on in the coming year if funding is flat (or worse). At that event, in response to a question from the press, Croonquist said, accurately, that the Governor had the most money for education on the table this session. All one needs are eyes and a rudimentary grasp of simple mathematical principles to know that is the case.

It goes like this -3.5% < 0% < +1%, with the -3.5% being the Senate proposal and the +1% belonging to the Governor. I also responded to the question with something more oblique than Scott's answer, sparing me from the scorn that has been heaped upon Scott by some in the Legislature. I've learned that if you don't want to be quoted, use a metaphor, which I did.

Does this mean that the Governor's package is the best package? That all depends. The Governor uses the shift and one-time money (and huge cuts to the health and human services budget) to create a small increase for E-12. Further, the Governor's proposed actions leave the budget out-of-balance for the next biennium, making the prospect of cuts--for E-12 and everybody else--pretty much a certainty unless the economy gains traction and then takes off with a solid and sustained growth spurt. Likely? Who knows?

The Senate has been buffeted about a bit with their cut proposal, but it does balance this biennial budget in a manner that leaves all the one-time money in the system, which would seem to spare school districts from significant cuts after this biennium (provided, again, that there is a solid economic recovery).

The big question for the Senate is why cut across-the-board? That's a simplistic approach that really shows an inability to set priorities, of which E-12 should be at the top of the list (Okay, I'm biased. If you ask a health and human services lobbyist, you'll likely get a different answer). There is no question that our economic future is going to be closely tied to the effectiveness of our education system and this is no time to be cutting education. Read President Obama's interview in the NY Times from last week for his comments.

So, what's the trade? We're going to find out. It's my guess that the Governor is going to really push for his budget and try to accomplish all of this without a tax increase (at least at the state level). How that fits into the process and what the legislative reaction looks like is anyone's guess. The next 10 days are going to be extremely interesting and we'll see how it turns out.

Sturdevant Article: http://http//www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/44190667.html?elr=KArks:DCiU1PciUoaEYY_4PcUU

NY Times Obama Interview: http://http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03Obama-t.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=obama%20interview&st=cse

Rock Music Trivia Answer: The Moody Blues

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