Thursday, April 15, 2010

Back to Charteria. The Senate E-12 Funding Division has been meeting about once a week since coming back from the holiday break and have been devoting almost all of their time to Senator Kathy Saltzman's SF 2716, a bill that would bring some fairly significant changes to Minnesota's charter school law. Perhaps the most profound effect would be allowing charter schools to own their own buildings. This is a major change and frankly, I don't know if it's that good an idea. The defense for the move is that the bar for charter schools owning their own buildings would be pretty high and would have to show that they have both a record of success and steady membership.

Thursday's hearing featured some very interesting testimony, especially from Center for School Change Director Joe Nathan. As most of you know, Joe has been one of the major promoters of education reform over the past three decades, being instrumental in changes like post-secondary enrollment options, open enrollment, area learning centers, alternative schools, and, the subject of today's hearing, charter schools. Joe hit some very firm, and needed, middle ground in his testimony, which has become extremely hard to do on the issue of charter schools. The gist of Joe's testimony is that choice, in and of itself, is not enough and that the choices available to students must be high-quality choices that lead to greater levels of achievement, with achievement being defined in broader terms that simply test scores. At the same time, choice for choice sake or for reasons of comfort have to be viewed less favorably.

The bill passed with an amendment that clears up some concerns from various parties, including the charter school community and Minnesota Management and Budget. It appears that the bill will be moving on its own and will not be part of the Senate's omnibus education funding legislation. HF 3176, the House companion to SF 2716, does not appear to be moving in the House, which makes passage of any charter school reform questionable this session.

Tax Day. It's April 15. Have you paid your taxes today? I paid mine and then I went over to the Capitol and saw Minnesota's Tea Party chapter stage its program. While more highly publicized than in previous years, I didn't think the gathered crowd was that much larger today than crowds in other years. Of course, the change in party of the White House's occupant usually brings out vibrant opposition from the other side (see protests against the Iraq War in reference to this effect). What really disappointed me is that I didn't see any really creative signs or anyone dressed up in Revolutionary War garb. Maybe next year.

I think what is puzzling veteran political types like myself is gauging what, if any, effect these protests will have on the November, 2010, election results. I don't think anyone ca,,n argue convincingly that the opposition to the Democratically-controlled Congress and President Obama is not spirited and that there are some vulnerabilities in the policies pursued by the Democrats. What isn't known is whether or not the Tea Party activities are actually bringing new people into the political system and whether or not individuals brought into the system by the Tea Party will remain motivated enough to follow through on Election Day.

It should be very interesting to watch develop. I think we'll know a lot more starting with the state political conventions that are convening over the next two weekends.

Always Nice to See Old Friends. I ran into former State Representative and longtime friend of SEE Bob Ness this morning. For those of you who are relatively new to the organization, I'll just say that former Representative Ness, who lives in Dassel, was a tireless supporter of funding equity who never shied away from the cause for more adequate and equitable funding.

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