The Stage is Being Set. We're one month away from the beginning of the 2010 Legislative Session, but the last week witnessed the issuance of a judicial decision that will likely frame the debate both leading up to the session and once it begins.
Judge Kathleen Gearin, chief judge of Ramsey County District Court, issued a temporary restraining order (effective November 1, 2009) that blunt, at least temporarily (it is a temporary restraining order after all), Governor Pawlenty's unalltoment powers. Judge Gearin's ruling relates to the Minnesota Supplemental Diet Aid program, which the Governor unalloted in late June, 2009, after the Governor and the Legislature failed to reach agreement on a budget accord for the 2010-2011 biennium.
You recall at that time, the Governor made a variety of decisions that either reduced or delayed state appropriations to a number of local governmental units and individuals. The primary effect on school districts was cash flow problems resulting from a shift to delay state aid to school districts from a 90% current year/10% subsequent year to 73% current year/27% subsequent year payment schedule. In addition, the governor also called for the early recognition of property tax revenue paid for education purposes, bringing the total amount of savings to the state to $1.7 billion in educational purposes. Again, it's important to be mindful that these actions do not constitute a $1.7 billion reduction to the education base. It represents a $1.7 billion delay in payments to schools that will still cause financial problems for school districts, but not anywhere near the extent of the total funding delay.
What does the Gearin decision mean in practical terms? As stated above, it is a temporary restraining order so it is unclear what would need to happen to make the ruling permanent. Further, the Governor plans to appeal the ruling, which may keep the original policy in place. Further, the Legislative Session starts a month from today and indications are that the Governor would like to formalize a number of his budget-balancing measures by seeking legislative approval. Of course, that will require give-and-take and that's a chasm that neither branch of government has seemed to successfully bridge over the past few sessions.
One comment from the Governor that I found a bit humorous was his assertion that the court was treading into the realm of the political with its action. To the extent that all policy has a political bent, he is absolutely right, but I believe what the Governor was referencing was that he believed the court was taking sides in a political fight. To the extent that the DFL House of Representatives' Finance Committee chair filed an amicus curiae with the plaintiffs, I suppose the Governor's argument can be be construed in that direction without being inappropriately stretched as well. At the same time, there can be no doubt here that the separation-of-powers doctrine that constitutionally defines Minnesota state government has been, if not totally subverted, less than ideally applied by the Governor's actions. Hopefully, the coming session will see a little more positive cooperation between the branches of government.
Stay tuned. I'm sure there will be more to this story.
MN Post Link on Gearin Decision: http://http://www.minnpost.com/ericblack/2009/12/30/14596/bulletin_judge_grants_order_temporarily_restraining_pawlentys_use_of_unallotment#comments_section
Session Preview. State Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis and Speaker of the State House of Representatives Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis) were guests on today's Midday Program on MPR.
To listen to their comments, go to this link: http://http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/programs/midday/
For something more uplifiting, go to this link: http://http://www.hulu.com/. There's plenty there to lift your spirits!
When You Can't Sleep. . . I'm not recommending C-SPAN as a cure for insomnia, but I woke up early one day last week and watched a bit of the public affairs channel. The guest being interviewed on Washington Journal was successful Washington D.C. attorney and education reformer Kevin Chavous and I found Chavous' remarks interesting.
Like many reformers, Chavous isn't enamored with the current public education system and his rhetoric did feature several comments in the vein "it's all the fault of the teachers' union," but overall his tone was more realistic and congenial than many of parental choice and charter school advocates. Chavous clearly favors vouchers and touts Washington D.C.'s efforts in providing greater parental choice as proof that choice "works." The problem with Chavous' assessment is that he seems to base his opinion on the fact that parental satisfaction is higher in systems where there is a greater amount of choice. That is likely the case, but the same argument could be made that parents were satisfied with their schools--irrespective of achievement levels--prior to the development and implementatin of No Child Left Behind. This is a really slippery slope and to Chavous' credit, he did say that charter schools that are not performing well should be closed. That statement made me at least give me hope that there may some middle ground in the reform debate.
For more information on Kevin Chavous, check out his website: http://http://kevinpchavous.com/