Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hello, Goodbye. Hum with me now! Somehow this Beatles' nugget (released as a single in November 1967 and included on the Magical Mystery Tour album) is the appropriate song for the day, as the Legislature is saying "hello" to new approaches every day and "goodbye" to another failed try to reach a compromise in a year where compromise is sorely needed.

The latest episode took place yesterday, as HF 2431--the original House omnibus education funding and policy bill--became HF 3833. It was hardly an example of political legerdemain, but the transformation to a new omnibus bill provides an interesting tale. HF 2431 was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday morning (5/7). During the proceedings, an amendment was introduced to delete the section relating to alternative teacher licensure, especially as it relates to programs like Teach for America. That amendment failed on a close vote and subsequently, the committee voted to pass the bill to the floor. Needless to say, some members and interest groups were not happy that the amendment failed and the bill was allowed to proceed on its merry way.

The level of consternation regarding the failure to remove the alternative licensure piece that so troubles some people reached a magnitude that called for a rather unorthodox maneuver. Rather than bring HF 2431 back after a committee recess, an entire new bill--HF 3833--was introduced sans the alternative licensure provision. The new bill was introduced during session on Friday and was then heard in the House Ways and Means Committee last evening shortly after 10 PM. Because the committee was in recess throughout the day and had never adjourned, it was still in possession of HF 2431 and had not reported it to the floor after the committee's decision to pass it to the floor. After the committee approved HF 3833 (on a close vote and after an attempt to attach the alternative licensure language), HF 2431 was laid on the table.

In shorthand, HF 3833 is now the House omnibus education funding and policy bill and it will be heard on the House floor early next week.

Another bill to watch is HF 2037, which contains the first serious legislative attempt to reconcile the budget deficit in the waning days of the session. Of interest to the education community, HF 2037 codifies the 73%/27% funding shift, which has been a high priority of the education community from the beginning of the 2010 legislative session. Whether or not there would be an aid loss as a result of an automatic "shift-back" to 90%/10% as a result of not codifying the shift remains open to question (I'm among the lonely crowd that contends that while it would require a huge "balloon" payment on the part of the state, schools would still get their total aid entitlement--call the Supreme Court, they're not busy.), codifying the shift, while pinching cash flow, would at least provide school districts with solid planning estimates.

HF 2037 is a work-in-progress and rumor has it that revenue increases will be added to the bill when it is discussed on the Senate floor on Monday, May 10. Any revenue increases ensure a Governor's veto (and any override is unlikely), but at least things are moving in earnest toward a resolution of the budget problem.

The House floor session on Friday evening was also very interesting. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) offered the Governor's unallotment package from past June as an amendment to a budget bill. The amendment failed on a vote of 27-105. Of course, everyone knew that the Governor's actions from last year weren't going to be approved that easily (Hey! We've still got a week to go!) , but, again, at least progress is being made toward a solution.

There are going to be a ton of statements, political and otherwise, made in the week ahead, but it appears that an agreement can be reached on the budget.

As I reported yesterday, the prospects for passage of an education funding and policy bill that the Governor feels comfortable signing remain iffy, but it now appears that at least a bill will find its way to the Governor's desk. The Senate has much of what the Governor was seeking in terms of legislative changes deemed necessary to initiate a viable application for the second phase of Race to the Top, while the House does not. The differences between the House and Senate on this project will likely be the major stumbling block in the attempt to reach an agreement. Even if agreement cannot be reached on the education reform package, there are a number of very helpful--if not major--provisions relating to special education and other programs. Here's hoping that at least something can be passed and signed.

Monday will be the kick-off to 168 hours of madness, as there will be one week left to strike a budget deal and pass a raft of policy bills. It can be done, but it certainly isn't going to be a week full of mellow days and easy nights (does anyone else remember those two cheap wines by T.J. Swann called "Mellow Days" and "Easy Nights." Kool-aid filled with alcohol as I recall.)

Stay tuned. I'll be blogging continually through the last week in an attempt to keep you up-to-date on all that's happening (and not happening) at the Capitol.

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