Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Education Bill Passes House. It was pretty much a party-line vote and one would think from the debate that the fate of western civilization hinges upon either the creation or rejection of an alternative path to teacher licensure, but HF 3833, the House version of the omnibus education policy bill passed last evening by a vote of 86-47.

What was surprising was the fact that there were only a thirteen amendments offered (five passed, eight failed). That made the words/amendment ratio fairly high and a lion's share of the verbiage went toward two subjects: Race to the Top and the aforementioned alternative licensure provision.

Race to the Top was injected into the debate relatively early with an amendment offered by Representative Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) to prohibit the Minnesota Department of Education from re-applying for the Race to the Top competition. That amendment failed on a vote of 25-105. A little later in the proceedings, Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) offered an amendment that pretty much contained the provisions outlined in HF 3799--Representative Garofalo's bill that proposed the Governor's Race to the Top application guidelines--but that amendment was divided to single out the "core curriculum standards" in the amendment. After that portion of the amendment failed on a vote of 41-90, Representative Garofalo withdrew the amendment. These votes show how muddled the whole Race to the Top support and opposition is. Cultural conservatives hate national curriculum standards and hate may be too tame a term. At the same time, cultural conservatives tend to like the teacher tenure and licensure aspects of Race to the Top. On the other end of the political spectrum, many (except for notably those legislators in the urban core) don't like the teacher changes, but offer some measure of support for other reform initiatives. Sprinkled in amongst all positions is a bit of angst over the federal government's desire to go in this particular direction when federal programs like special education and Title I are so grossly underfunded. All in all, it looks like the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is going to be an interesting one.

The amendment that provided the most verbal fireworks--and I don't use that term as any belittlement of the heartfelt speeches given on both sides of the issue--was the alternative teacher licensure provisions developed by the House K-12 Education Policy Committee offered as an amendment to the bill by Representative Randy Demmer (R-Hayfield). As a refresher, remember that last Friday, there was an effort to remove these provisions from HF 2431, the then-House E-12 Omnibus Education Funding and Policy Bill, in the House Ways and Means Committee. After that effort failed, an entirely new bill--HF 3833--was introduced with every provision of HF 2431 except the alternative teacher licensure provisions. That bill passed the Ways and Means committee late on Friday evening after a brief, yet polite, exchange regarding the "wha' hoppened?" angle to the change and a failure to re-insert the alternative teacher licensure provisions back into the bill.

I was surprised that more wasn't made on the floor last evening regarding the Friday's unorthodox maneuver, but the debate stayed squarely on the merits (or weaknesses, depending on one's perspective) of the alternative licensure provisions. Not much changed since Friday, and the amendment failed on vote of 65-68.

After that, there was discussion on several amendments. I want to thank Representative Connie Doepke (R-Wayzata) for offering an amendment that would have eliminated the maintenance-of-effort provisions in the safe schools levy for school counselors and other support staff. Unfortunately, that amendment failed on a voice vote. Maybe next year!

The final vote came shortly after that point (there were three more amendments, two of which failed) and the bill passed 86-47. It's now onto the Senate!

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