Friday, May 07, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet? I have to admit that one of my favorite guilty pleasures is receiving my daily dose of Bill Griffith's "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strip in my e-mail in-box every morning. For those of you who are not familiar with Zippy, one of his trademark phrases is the one depicted at the right: "Are we having fun yet??" My response today is, "Yes! Absolutely yes!"

The Supreme Court decision declaring the Governor's unallotments of last June to be illegal was the first monkey wrench thrown into the machinery, but it looks like the whole ape house has decided to empty the tool-box in the past 24 hours and things are, to be polite, a bit messy.

The education policy bills in both houses have run into some serious difficulties, as differences over the alternative teacher licensure provisions have arisen and clearly threaten the passage of any (let me repeat that, ANY) education bill from passing. That would truly be a tragedy. As in the case of many education funding/policy bills, there's not a lot of earth-shattering things in this year's bill. BUT, there are a number of provisions that would be extremely helpful to school districts throughout the state including the crucial provision that would allow school districts to extend an existing referendum at the same amount by a vote of the school board. This provision has not been universally hailed at the Legislature, but given the tough economic times ahead, it may be crucial and critically important for school districts who have a levy renewal coming up in the next few years. No district in the state can afford to go backwards by losing their referendum revenue, if it's a dollar or a thousand dollars. If there's no education bill, this provision, and many like it, are DEAD!

This shouldn't be allowed to happen. We need a bill and to ensure that happens, we need to contact legislators and insist (make that INSIST) that the Legislature pass an education bill (preferably bills) that rewards the hard work of legislators, legislative staff, and the education lobbying community who have worked together to pass a number. There's a lot of good that can still happen, but it should not be allowed to get caught up in the politics of the education aids payment shift and the debate over alternative teacher licensure.

Speaking of the Shift. The Governor wants it codified in statutes at 73%/27%. The House wants it codified at 73%/27%. The Senate? Hard to say at this point, but let's just say they are not wild about the idea. It's hard to say what their objections are, although there are legitimate reasons to object and the step should not be taken lightly. The problem for school districts is that they have set their budgets for next year (a feat in itself) and are looking for stability for planning purposes. Codifying the shift (or at least setting a static ratio for the next few years in chapter law) would provide school districts with the measure of certainty that they need. When there's little or no new money, it's always helpful to have the dollars you are expecting to be delivered in a predictable manner. Hopefully, this gets done and the fear of the 17 percent funding gap that may occur when we slide back to the 90%/10% aid payment schedule in current law.

As with so much of the proceedings at the Legislature these days, stay tuned.

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