Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tuesday Morning Report. The E-12 Conference Committee met this morning and although no formal action was taken, there was ample discussion on several topics where comity will need to be reached before provisions can be approved.

One provision that received a lot of discussion was the provision in the House bill that would dramatically reduce the amount of revenue going to special education students currently being served in private schools. Under current law, these students get--for lack of a better term--100% of their costs re-imbursed by the state, as the state requires the resident public school district to fund the entire cost of educating the student so as not to place any funding responsibility on the private school. Of course, the public school does participate in the development of the Individual Education Plan under which the services for the student are prescribed and delivered, but there is no cross-subsidy for the private school as there is for a student in a public school.

There is a provision in the House bill that would bring Minnesota's regulations governing the delivery and payment of special education services to these students in line with federal law. Under federal law, districts only need to forward their federal aid to the private school at the same level at which students in the district's public program receive federal aid. Needless to say, removing the state support from children in private settings would create tremendous cost pressures for the private schools serving these students.

An amendment has been drafted that would bring funding for special education students in private settings into line with special education funding for students in the resident district where the private school is located. Even with this concession on the part of the public special education community, the private school interests seem to be balking a bit at any departure from current law. So, resolution remains to be seen.

One thing that would help would be to get a better idea of how many students, private schools, and school districts are currently affected and to what degree they are affected under current law. If nothing happens and current law is maintained, MDE should at least be directed to gather information on this dynamic.

Another provision that received a lot of discussion was the House initiative to allow for the creation of district site-based schools similar to charter schools but still under the direction of the district. This legislation was put together by Education Evolving and we were honored to have a presentation on this subject at our February SEE meeting. Bob Wedl and Curt Johnson provided interesting and compelling testimony regarding this provision, which was carried by Senator Kathy Saltzman in the Senate and Representative John Benson in the House.

Lastly, there was extensive discussion of a number of proposed charter school reforms contained in both bills. The bulk of these reforms were suggested by the Office of the Legislative Auditor's report on charter schools issued last year. In some instances, the proposals go further, including the 36-month moratorium for the establishment of a charter school within one mile of a closed building or in a consolidated or dissolved school district. The charter school association adamantly opposes this suggestion and it will be interesting to see if and how a compromise can be reached.

For my own part, I find the 36-month moratorium to be reasonable. Charter schools were established to bring greater innovation to the public school sector and not to "steal" students by simply swooping into abandoned geographic areas, reaping the anger of affected parents, and setting up shop. There are provisions in the bill that would allow either the school board in the resident district or the MDE Commissioner to waive the moratorium in the event a case is made that the charter should be able to open. I understand why the charter school community wants to avoid the insertion of this hurdle into the process, but I simply don't see it as a blow to their efforts.

I'll be back later with more comments, including a discussion of shared services. Senator Bonoff distributed an amendment on this provision as the conference committee recessed at around 11:00 this morning, ensuring the discussion of this subject this afternoon (or evening).

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