Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Short, Sweet (and a Little Bit Spicy) Wednesday. Two education-related meetings today; one in the House and one in the Senate. The House Education Finance Committee discussed HF 442, sponsored by Representative Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie). HF 442 repeals the 2% staff development set-aside and the 50% to individual sites/25% to district-wide initiatives/25% to exemplary programs distribution formula that governs district staff development revenue.

While this provision has been discussed as part of several other bills in both the House and the Senate, HF 442 goes further than a simple repeal of the set-aside and distribution formula and re-writes other portions of the staff development statutes. One of the more dramatic changes is that HF 442 makes the development of a state development plan through the local staff development committee process permissive instead of mandatory. The only caveat is that if a district sets up a staff development plan under MS 122A.60, Subdivision 1, it then must have a local staff development committee. How this would change current practices at the local level is anyone's guess, but things would probably not change drastically from what is now being implemented.

Testimony on the bill was pretty much as expected with management four-square behind the bill and the teachers' union against. Not much new here, but because the bill was the only item up for discussion today, the committee had the opportunity to probe more deeply into how staff development funds are generated, reserved, and distributed and what kinds of activities are supported through the staff development fund.

I will say that the committee meeting got a bit exciting as rhetoric heated up (and it wasn't even really related to this bill). Without naming names, I'll describe it this way. The party of the first part made a comment to the party of the second part regarding an item that wasn't directly related to the bill. The party of the third part thought the comment was acerbic (my word) and questioned the intent of the party of the first part's comment. There was then an exchange between the party of the first part and the party of the third part, with the party of the first part trying to discern the nature of the party of the third part's complaint. The party of the fourth part then intervened and worked to clear up the misunderstanding between the party of the first part and the party of the third part without excusing the party of the first part for the comment, which the party of the fourth part also found inappropriate in the circumstances. There was no backing off from comments, but all parties pledged to keep debate to point in the future. All of this was accomplished with everyone using their inside voice. Clear enough? If not, you'll have to check the tape.

The Senate Education Committee covered four items during its afternoon hearing. The Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (and Blind) and the Perpich Center for the Arts gave reports on their operations and their priorities for the year ahead. After those presentations, attention turned to SFs 209 (Daley) and 242 (Bonoff), identical bills that would repeal the short-term borrowing provision allowing the state to withhold state aid payments to school districts to meet state cash flow issues. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus education funding bill. The last bill discussed today was SF 185, another bill sponsored by Senator Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), that would keep the aid payment schedule for a charter school that almost exclusively serves special education at 90%/10% instead of being dropped to 70%/30%.

That did it for today.

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