Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week in Review and Week in Preview. A lot of territory got covered last week in terms of the discussion of education issues. The Senate Education Committee talked everything from a relaxation of home school regulations to the pay freeze (along with mandate relief).

The House Education Reform Committee took testimony on Tuesday from the Minnesota Board of Teaching and Dr. Misty Sato from the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. On Thursday, after listening to the report Getting Prepared: A 2010 Report on Recent High School Graduates Who Took Developmental/Remedial Courses presented by representatives of MNSCU. One of the least known, but perhaps most contentious issues, facing education today is the number of high school graduates who are needing remedial course work to put themselves in a position to succeed at the post-secondary level.

After listening to this report, the House Education Reform Committee tackled HFs 92 (Downey) and 115 (Barrett), proposals that would repeal the January 15 negotiating deadline and related $25 per pupil unit penalty. I testified, along with Chisago Lakes Superintendent Mike McLaughlin, in favor of HF 115.

The gist of my testimony was rather straightforward, but I tossed in an angle that was pointed out by the memorandum that accompanied the bill that I believe is grossly under-appreciated in this debate. Unlike what I would term pure labor negotiations, teacher/school board negotiations are a bit distorted. Only in a rare (extremely rare) instance can a school district allow a strike and replace all of the striking employees. That is because teachers are licensed employees and it would be extremely difficult for a school district to be in a situation where available replacement employees could be readily located to fill the slots vacated during a strike. I'm not arguing for lowering teacher licensure standards, but only pointing out that collective bargaining issues get a bit stickier in industries where licensing creates a barrier for employment. The January 15 deadline distorts the system to an even greater extent by putting an artificial deadline in place and should be removed.

The House Education Finance Committee continued to receive testimony from a variety of education organizations pertaining to their legislative priorities. Included in those organizations were the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA), the Center for School Change, Charter School Partners, and the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools.

On Thursday, the House Education Finance Committee approved Representative Garofalo's HF 63 relating to alternative licensure before turning to Representative Connie Doepke's (R-Wayzata) HF 88, a bill that would repeal the maintenance-of-effort requirement for guidance counselors, school social workers, school nurses, and other support personnel partially funded through the $3 per pupil unit set-aside in the safe schools levy. Faribault business manager Colleen Mertesdorf testfied on behalf of the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials. There was no final vote on the bill as time expired and the bill was laid over until next Tuesday. I will be testifying in support of Representative Doepke's bill at that time. The issue is not with the $3 per pupil unit set-aside. I doubt there is a district in the state that doesn't spend well in excess of that amount of revenue on the employees that fall under the auspices of the maintenance-of-eff0rt provision in the law.

The problem is the maintenance-of-effort greatly reduces the flexibility that school districts have in dealing with tight budgets. Further, because the maintenance-of-effort requires that expenditures remain at least at the level of the previous year's expenditures in the employee classifications protected by the provision. In other words, if an experienced counselor or social worker retired, hiring a less expensive alternative is not allowed; the same amount of service costing less is not permitted. Another problem arises when districts choose to move counseling and other support services from an individual district model to purchasing the services from a cooperative. A district doing that would be cited as not meeting the requirements of current law even though the amount of revenue dedicated to these support services would be the same. Lastly, the maintenance-of-effort provision may actually serve as a disincentive for districts to hire counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers, especially on a short-term basis, as the maintenance-of-effort provision prevents districts from laying off these employees once hired.

I will also be presenting SEE's 2011 legislative platform at Tuesday's meeting of the House Education Finance Committee. I'm looking forward to putting forward our recommendations and have a chance to discuss our constitutional concerns and how these concerns don't necessitate litigation against the state. Constitutions in their creation are the result of discussion and their on-going application is also the result of discussion. It is my hope that the points in our platform will elicit the type and level of discussion that can make certain that Minnesota's education system is providing access to high quality educational opportunities to students throughout the state.

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