Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Living After Midnight. "Beware the Dinner Break" is a little known axiom around the Legislature, especially since rules have been implemented to prevent either body meeting after midnight, but it is one that always needs to be heeded. The House had been on the floor for about six hours yesterday, passing two omnibus funding bills--HF 1010 (the omnibus environment, energy, and natural resources funding bill) and HF 1101 (the omnibus higher education funding bill)--when they took a dinner break before coming back to debate, amend, and pass HF 934, the omnibus E-12 funding bill. Refreshed and nourished, the House reconvened at about 8:30 and commenced to aggressively discuss the bill and vote on a series of amendments until the bill was passed on a party line vote at about 2:30 this morning. To work that late, the House had to suspend the rule the prohibits meeting after the witching hour.

I think I've said it a couple of times this session, but the debate in the House on education issues has been exemplary all year long. Two distinctly different worldviews that often seem irreconcilable are often in play on a broad range of education issues and both sides have argued passionately and effectively in making their points. Of course, the Republicans have the votes and it's their perspective is pretty much carrying the day without much bipartisan compromise (which is understandable given the vast difference in worldviews that makes bipartisanship extremely difficult to foster). It was no different last night as both sides really put on their "A" game. The die was pretty much cast before the night started, but that doesn't mean the whole ordeal wasn't both interesting and entertaining.

The issue that was debated most ardently was the provision in HF 934 that provides low-income scholarships (read: vouchers) to students in persistently low-performing schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. At the risk of sounding cheeky, I didn't realize that was a plethora of constitutional lawyers in the House of Representatives on both sides of the issue as the constitutionality of the program was both questioned and affirmed by the opponents and proponents respectively. I'm not going to venture a guess as to whether or not the provision is constitutional (I am not a constitutional lawyer nor do I play one on television), but I'm reasonably certain that it would go all the way to the State Supreme Court if it were to become law.

As hot as the debate over this provision became, the debate over the early childhood education reform measures (carried in HF 669 by Representative Jennifer Loon) was even a bit more spicy. A number of cultural conservative groups like the Minnesota Family Council have concerns about early childhood education, seeing it as promoting an erosion of parent rights and the promotion of the "nanny state" and they certainly flexed their muscles in influencing the vote on an amendment that stripped the quality-rating system out of the bill.

The biggest surprise of the night was an amendment offered by Representative Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) that proposed to reduce the proposed increase in the basic formula by $19 per pupil and shave down several other appropriations. Under the Buesgens' amendment, the money saved through these cuts would have gone to flood relief had the amendment passed. However, the amendment was throttled by a vote of 116-12. Even though it was defeated, the fact the amendment was even introduced shows that there is some tension in the majority caucus over the size of the education target, which comes in a mere $12 million below the Governor.

Other prominent amendments, these offered by DFLers, dealt with the high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation portions of the bill.

The House will now wait for the Senate to pass its version of the bill tomorrow and it is conceivable that a conference committee could start early next week.

In other education-related news, Governor Dayton and Commissioner of Education Cassellius sent a letter to Representatives Pat Garofalo and Sondra Erickson, the chairs of the House Education Funding and House Education Policy Committees respectively, informing them that the administration views the House bill as deeply flawed and slated for a veto unless dramatic changes are made during the conference committee proceedings. No surprise here.

Stay tuned. Things are going to get and stay busy up until the holiday break the week of April 18.

Governor's Education Funding Task Force Launches. Governor Dayton's education funding task force began its work today. The task force, co-chaired by Minneapolis Director of Business Affairs Peggy Ingison and Stillwater Superintendent Tom Nelson, has a very ambitious work plan, hoping to finish its work on design of a new funding framework by mid-May.

Today's meeting featured a very informative powerpoint presentation from Tom Melcher that accurately pointed out many of the challenges facing school districts in the state. Many of these problems deal directly with the equity issue both in terms of revenue and property tax effort disparities.

Deb Griffiths has posted the initial documents relating to the task force, including the roster of task force members, on the SEE website. There will be other documents coming forward soon, including today's powerpoint presentation that we will get on the website as soon as they become available.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Testifying and Speechifying. I've seen my fair share of both the past few days as the omnibus education funding bills made their way through their respective committees. As I reported on Tuesday, the House proceedings on Monday night were a bit anticlimactic, as the DFLers chose not to offer any amendments (don't worry, they'll be offering more than a few next week when the bill hits the House floor). On Tuesday morning, however, the House Education Funding Committee slowed things down with each member of the committee giving their opinion on the bill. A lot of ground was covered more than once, but it was a very effective way for members to provide some very insightful testimony as to why they were supporting or not supporting the bill.

Not surprisingly--moving speeches or not--the bill passed on a straight party line vote of 12-8 and moved onto the Tax Committee, where it was heard last evening. The biggest tax issue in the House omnibus bill is the elimination of aid from the alternative facilities program, which affects a handful of the approximately 20 districts that are currently eligible for the alternative facilities program. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul see huge property tax increases due to the program becoming one entirely reliant on levy. It's an approximately $10 million annual property tax increase for Minneapolis and approximately a $4 million annual property tax increase for St. Paul. Big ouch and just another reason why urban legislators and their affected school districts think the House bill goes a little bit out of its way to inflict hardship on their districts.

The House bill moved onto the House Ways & Means Committee today, where the rhetoric heated up a bit, but the bill passed once again on a straight party-line vote.

Here is a link for the House district-by-district runs for the next two years:

Scroll down to the 2011 Education Finance Appropriations. There you will find district-by-district data for each of the next two years, along with a district "look-up" spread sheet where you can get even deeper into the data and how your school district is affected.

Meanwhile in the Senate. The Senate bill was handled a bit differently than the House bill, as the Senate did not spend nearly as much time as the House did in re-shaping individual bills before the committee unveiled its version of the omnibus education funding bill. The House commiittees--policy and funding--really scoured through the legislation and put a lot of time into honing the various proposals before they were presented as part of the omnibus bill. Thus, when it came time to discuss the omnibus bill as a whole, the House committee members were very familiar with most aspects of the legislation before them.

What was different in the Senate is that the committee did not spend nearly as much time coming up with alternative language to a number of the bills and thus, took a lot more time discussing the bill and taking amendments Tuesday and Wednesday. As was the case, the final vote was pretty much along party lines, although at least one Democrat voted for SF 1030, the Senate omnibus education funding bill. The bill now moves to the Senate Tax Committee for a hearing tomorrow with a time certain of 11 AM.

Here are the links to the Senate tracking documents in respect to SF 1030. I cannot find any on-line district-by-district runs at this time.

Scroll down until you come to the Education Committee and access those links.

What to Look For When Looking at the District-by-District Runs. There is a ton of "big furniture" moving around in both the House and Senate bills and because of that, there are wide swings in revenue causing some surprising distributional effects that often seem counter-intuitive.

The removal of the growth factors for special education funding, as many of you know, causes a tremendous amount of revenue re-distribution. Generally--and it's hard to say "generally" about anything concerning our current array of funding streams--the growth factors favor the metropolitan area and regional centers, as the special education formula is a cost-reimbursement formula and salaries are higher in the metropolitan area and the regional centers. There are some other outliers located throughout the state, which may equate to the fact that some of the high special education formula recipients among these outliers may be working under a "host district" model, with one district holding a majority of the contracts of the special education providers for a group of districts. Needless to say, whatever the reason, capping the special education appropriation moves a ton of money around.

The other issue in both the House and Senate is the significant changes that both bills propose for the integration program. The House bill pretty much leaves the revenue distribution as is save for the fact that Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth take hefty cuts to their revenue. The Senate totally eliminates the program beginning in the 2012-2013 school year and spreads the revenue statewide in a literacy promotion program. As in the case of the special education program, this generally moves revenue away from the metropolitan area with the caveat that there are a number of integration cooperatives located in greater Minnesota with the districts involved in these programs taking a similar hit to suburban districts that receive integration revenue.

The additional issue in the House is the proposed small school categorical funding stream that moves approximately $17 million into districts and charter schools with less than 1,000 pupil units, providing them with significant funding increases, in some instances over $500 per pupil.

So as you analyze the data, realize that if your special education costs are above the state average, the movement of revenue away from the special education formula and toward the basic formula amount probably does not work for you. Further, if you receive a lot of compensatory or integration revenue, the same effect is present and the move to put more funding into the general education formula likewise doesn't work as well for you as current law.

Most SEE districts do better when money is siphoned away from the general education categorical formulas (sparsity, compensatory, ELL, etc.) and put toward the basic formula, but that gets muddled a bit when the integration and special education programs are tossed into the equation.

Feel free to contact me with your questions and don't miss the regional meetings where we'll be discussing these bills in greater detail. I can be reached at 612-220-7459.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Senate Omnibus Bill and Spreadsheets. Below are the links for the text of the Senate Omnibus Education Funding and Policy Bill and the spreadsheets for the bill.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More on House Bill. The House spent eight hours in committee doing the final mark-up on their version of the 2011 education funding and reform bill. The panel took testimony from a broad range of members from the public. Besides lobbyists, a number of teachers, parents, and community leaders provided their input.

Four out of five amendments offered by members of the majority were adopted and all but one--an amendment offered by Representative Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing)--were technical in nature. Representative Kelly's amendment clarified that an arbitrator deciding a contract dispute between employees and the board in a school district must take a school district's overall finances into account and not rule in a manner that would damage the structural balance of a district. No amendments were offered by members of the DFL minority.

In my blog entry yesterday, I mentioned the newly-proposed small schools aid categorical formula. The formula gives districts below 1,000 pupil unitss aid equal to the ratio of the district's enrollment to 1,000 pupil units times 0.08 times $5,124. This aid is in addition to elementary and secondary sparsity revenue (which has now been de-linked from formula increases and keys off the same $5,124 amount).

Charter schools also receive this aid and, to my knowledge, every charter school in the state has an enrollment less than 1,000. This funnels a tremendous amount of new revenue to charter schools in addition to small schools throughout the state.

As many of you know, one of my primary complaints with creating new categorical programs is that a proliferation of smaller, focused funding streams erodes the value of the general education basic amount (Remember, you can only spend a dollar once and if it goes to a few districts through a categorical formula, it can't go to every district through an increase in the basic formula amount.).

Further, a number of charter schools do not perform well and they will be receiving significant new revenue even with that fact. That fact seems to be going counter to the direction of rewarding higher levels of achievement with additional revenue found elsewhere in the House bill (and also in the Senate bill).

The House will be finishing up its discussion of the omnibus education funding bill tomorrow. I fully expect it will pass on a straight party-line vote and then be re-referred to the Tax Committee for a hearing later this week. It will then proceed to the Ways & Means Committee and likely hit the House floor early next week.

Here is a link to the House omnibus education funding bill summary:

Senate Bill Unveiled. The Senate Education Committee presented its version of the omnibus education funding bill. The bill is considerably shorter than the House bill and contains far fewer policy initiatives. After staff led the committee on a walk-through of the bill, the committee adjourned. It will mark up the bill tomorrow by taking testimony and considering amendments.

Below is a brief summary of the Senate bill.

Senate Omnibus Education Funding Bill Summary

Article I—General Education

1. Basic Formula Increased

a. $5,174 PPU for 2011-2012 school year

b. $5,224 PPU for 2012-2013 school year

2. Compensatory Revenue Frozen at 2010-2011 Level

3. Elementary and Secondary Sparsity De-Linked (SF 422)

4. Transportation Sparsity De-Linked (SF 422)

5. Maintenance of Effort for District Support Staff (Counselors, Nurses, Social Workers) Repealed (SF 56)

6. Salary Freeze for ALL School District Staff for this Biennium (SF 56)

Article II-Education Excellence

1. Teaching Candidates MUST Pass Examinations in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics Before Being Issued a License.

2. Future Teacher Salary Increases Based on Student Achievement

a. At least 50% of a teacher’s salary increase contained in future contracts must be based on a teacher’s performance and evaluation using student achievement levels as measured on statewide assessments.

b. If no statewide assessment results are available, salary increases must be based on student performance on districtwide assessments of state and local standards and teacher-developed assessments. If no districtwide assessments are available, increases must be based on student performance on teacher-developed and administrator-approved assessments of state and local standards.

3. Qualified Economic Offer for School District Bargaining Proposed

4. Teacher Evaluation and Tenure Reform (SF 636)

5. Full-Service School Zones Proposed (SF 372)

6. ServeMinnesota Innovation Act (SF 390)

7. Career and Technical Levy Increased (SF 451)

8. Integration Aid Extended Through 2011-2012 School Year and Replaced with Literacy Incentive Aid (SF 618/SF 422)

a. Integration Aid re-named Literacy Transition Revenue going to districts at same level as in 2010-2011 School Year.

b. Beginning with 2011-2012 School Year, a two-component categorical—Literacy Incentive Aid—is established. Total revenue generated will be equal to percent of students in each of a district’s buildings who score as proficient on the reading portion of the MCA-IIs averaged across three test administrations times $150 PLUS the percent of students in fourth grade in each of a district’s schools making medium or high growth averaged across three test administrations time $150.

Article III—Special Programs

1. Special Education Revenue Growth Factors Eliminated

Article IV—Facilities and Technology

1. Health and Safety Application Process Streamlined (SF 289)

2. Lease Levy for TIES Building Improvements (SF 315)

Article V—Nutrition and Accounting

1. Levy Recognition Based on Pre-Credit Amounts

2. Districts Can Transfer $51 PPU from Capital Fund to General Fund for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 School Years

Article VI—Libraries

1. Appropriations at Governor’s Recommendations

Article VII—Early Childhood Education

1. Appropriations at Governor’s Recommendations

Article VIII—Prevention

1. Appropriations at Governor’s Recommendations

Article IX—Self-Sufficiency and Lifelong Learning

1. ABE Formula Adjustment at Governor’s Recommendation

2. Appropriations at Governor’s Recommendations

Article X—State Agencies

1. Trial Placement at MSAD Allowed

2. $6 Million Cut to MDE Budget

Sunday, March 20, 2011

House Omnibus Bill Summary. You'll probably be pelted with information regarding the House and Senate omnibus education bills due to be heard in their respective committees this week, but I put together this quick summary as the hearings get underway.

One thing is obvious from the get-go. The House Education Finance and Education Policy Committees worked very hard on a number of bills that are fully contained in the House Omnibus Bill. While this might seem the way it should be, there have been many examples I have witnessed over the years where the process does not honor the work done at the committee level. Regardless on what one might think about a number of the provisions in the bill and whether or not one agrees with them, it is hard to argue to vehemently about the process. There are some surprises and some of them are significant, but that largely centers on the changes in Article I dealing with the de-linking of certain formula components from the general education revenue basic amount and the changes to the Integration Revenue Program, which were only discussed in concept at the committee level.

I have written on a number of these provisions in earlier blog entries, so you may want to look through the last week's worth of blog entries if you want further information.

The greatest controversy in the bill will likely center on the treatment of the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts, as the bill calls for dramatic cuts in the integration revenue program (and make the program all levy for those districts), the de-linking of the compensatory program from the general education formula basic amount, and the elimination of aid in the alternative facilities program in which Minneapolis and St. Paul participate.

I'm available for questions all day every day this week. Don't hesitate to call me on my cell at 612-220-7459 if you need further insight.

So with no further adieu, here is the bill summary.

House Omnibus Education Bill Summary

Article I—General Education

1. Formula Allowance

a. $5,155 PPU for 2011-2012 (0.6% increase)

b. $5,210 PPU for 2012-2013 (1.1% increase)

c. $5,250 PPU for 2013-2014 and Beyond (0.8% increase)

2. Compensatory, Elementary and Secondary Sparsity, and Transportation Sparsity De-Linked

3. Small Schools Revenue Funding Category Created

4. Total Operating Capital Equalizing Factor Increased from $10,700 PPU to $12,790 PPU

5. Multiplier for Extended Time Revenue Increased from $4,601 PPU to $5,124 PPU

6. Maintenance of Effort for School Support Staff (Counselors, Social Workers, School Nurses) Repealed (HF 511)

7. Staff Development Set-Aside and Distribution Formula Repealed (Staff Development Set-Aside Re-established without Distribution Formula in Article X Language)(HF 511)

8. January 15 Negotiating Deadline and Penalty Repealed (HF 511)

9. Early Graduation Achievement Scholarship Program Created (HF 257)

Article II—Education Excellence

1. Grad Test Exemption Eliminated/New High Stakes Text Framework Created (HF 568/HF 655)

2. District and Charter School Grading System and School Recognition Program Created (HF 638)

3. Qualified Economic Offer Established as Bargaining Option (HF 269)

4. All Districts/Charter Schools Required to Adopt Q-Comp (HF 947)

5. 403(b) Vendors Decided by District (HF 511)

6. Annual Principal Evaluations Established (HF 879)

7. Enrollment Options for Students at Persistently Low-Performing Public Schools (HF 273)—Bill is Limited to Cities of the First Class

8. Integration Revenue Program Re-named Innovation Revenue Program

a. Minneapolis Reduced from $480 PPU to $168.50 PPU (All Levy)

b. St. Paul Reduced from $445 PPU to $133.50 PPU (All Levy)

c. All Other Districts Currently Receiving Integration Revenue Receive at Current Levles with a Cap of $129 PPU (70% Aid/30% Levy)

9. New Bargaining Framework That Ensures No Bargaining During Months School is in Session Created (HF 339)

Article III—Special Education

1. Special Education Revenue Growth Factors Repealed

2. Third-Party Re-imbursement Program Established (HF 535)

3. Districts Not Required to Provide Educational Services to Non-Special Education Students from Other States Unless Tuition Agreement in Place (HF 360)

Article IV—Facilities and Technology

1. Alternative Facilities Program Made All Levy

2. School Districts With Maximum Effort Loan Awarded Prior to January 1, 1997, May Pay Full Outstanding Principal on the Loan Prior to July 1, 2012, and the Liability of the District on the Loan is Satisified (HF 782)

Article V—Nutrition and Accounting

1. Levy Recognition Based on Pre-Credit Amounts

2. Commissioner Must Approve All Fund Transfer Requests Provided Transfer Does Not Increase Property Taxes (Debt Service Fund Exempted Due to Tax Increase Provision or from either Community Service or Food Service Funds)

Article VI—Libraries

1. No Language Changes, Proposed Appropriations at Current Law Levels

Article VII—Early Childhood

1. Minnesota Early Childcare Program Reorganized/Reformed (HF 669) Provisions include:

a. Parent Aware

b. Early Childhood Education Scholarships

c. Commissioner of Education Required to Report by January 15, 2013, on Recommendations to Streamline Minnesota’s Early Childhood Education Delivery System

Article VIII—Prevention

1. School District Population Requirement for Community Education Director Raised from 2,000 to 10,000 (HF 511)

Article IX—Self-Sufficiency and Lifelong Learning

1. Adult Basic Education Set at $44,550,000

Article X—State Agencies

1. Teacher Evaluation/Tenure Reform Program Established (HF 945)

2. Perpich Center for Arts Education Dissolved/Converted to Charter School (HF 1078)

Article XI—Forecast Adjustments

Saturday, March 19, 2011

House Education Bill Available On=line. The strike=everything amendment that comprises the initial version of the House omnibus E-12 funding/policy bill is available on-line for your perusal. The bill will first be discussed in the House Education Funding Committee starting on Monday morning at 9 AM in the Basement Hearing Room of the State Office Building.

While much of the bill looks familiar and I have discussed it in past blog entries, I am going to take a look at the bill and provide some broader insight after I have reviewed it in greater detail.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Now in the Senate. As I stated in the last post, the Senate Education Committee is considering Senator Nienow's SF 388, a bill that would allow students below 175% of the poverty level in a low-performing school the opportunity to attend a private school through a scholarship program. We are hearing from all the usual suspects on the predictable sides of the issues. Many reformers see this as a vital option that needs to be added to the array of choices currently available--charter schools, PSEO, area learning centers and alternative programs--for students in low-performing schools. On the other hand, most public school interests view this as an erosion of the public school community through the siphoning off of students.

Those testifying in favor of the bill today include Jim Bartholomew from the Minnesota Business Partnership, Dr. Karen Effrem from Education Liberty Watch, and Tom Pritchard, Executive Director of the Minnesota Family Council. Mr. Bartholomew's testimony centered on Minnesota's achievement gap and highlighted studies that students in both the public school from which the students transferred and the private school to which they transferred showed gains in states where a low-income scholarship exists. Dr. Effrem's and Mr. Pritchard's testimony zeroed in on parent empowerment, which they see as being enhanced with this bill.

Minneapolis Public Schools lobbyist Jim Grathwol testified against the bill and he accurately summed up concerns from the public school community. All of us (AMSD, MASA, Minneapolis Public Schools, the ACLU, and SEE) testified against the bill during the House proceedings on a number of grounds. SEE has had a long-standing position against the use of public dollars for private education (I can show anyone who is interested the organization's platforms from the early 1980s showing this opposition) and most public school interests question the constitutionality of this proposal. In his testimony, Senator Nienow indicated that he believes previous case law in Minnesota and elsewhere would hold this proposal to be constitutional. For my part, I think there are some differences between the tuition tax credit, the education tax credit, and the other means of state financial support to private education in Minnesota and a lawsuit would likely result if this proposal were to pass and be signed into law. It is interesting to note that Florida, as part of its massive overhaul of its public education system beginning under former Governor Jeb Bush, passed a provision similar to the one in SF 388/HF 273. It was subsequently ruled unconstitutional in 2004.

There are some differences in HF 273 and SF 388. When HF 273 was discussed in the House Education Committee, several amendments were added to the bill. Among them are an amendment that requires any private schools accepting eligible low-income students to develop an anti-bullying and harassment policy and another that requires these schools to administer either the statewide reading or mathematics test or a nationally-normed standardized achievement test to its students.

This is a good and necessary discussion; one we seem to have one or twice every decade. There is no question the achievement gap is real, significant, and needs to be addressed. I just wonder if this is the right avenue, both in terms of constitutionality and cost-effectiveness.

A Couple More Things About HF 638. I neglected to mention a couple of aspects of HF 638, Representative Pam Myhra's (R-Burnsville) bill that would create an "A-to-F" grading system for schools throughout Minnesota. The primary aspect I forgot to mention is that bill provides for a $100 per pupil "award" for buildings that either get an "A" grade or improve by one grade (i.e. a "D" to a "C") in the previous school year. In a time of tight money, this would certainly be an incentive for buildings to improve (or maintain if the building is receiving an "A") student performance.

I also wanted to point out some pertinent comments made by Representative Kory Kath (DFL-Owatonna) when the bill was discussed in the House Education Policy Committee. The gist of Representative Kath's argument is that while a program like this may be applicable in the early grades, it may not readily relate to the high school experience. Representative Kath spoke directly about how the stress on test scores is limiting the breadth of the high school curriculum in many school districts throughout the state.

As many of you know, I have often decried the growing "opportunity gap" that exists inside the boundary of the shadow cast by the "achievement gap" that shows up through the state's testing framework. The "opportunity gap" is more difficult to measure, as it is spread throughout the state in a manner that makes it more difficult to gauge. Electives and other co-curricular and extra-curricular often disappear unevenly throughout the state, making most of the evidence of a growing "opportunity gap" anecdotal and difficult to accurately document. As the Legislature moves forward this year and beyond, I hope a measure of opportunity can be established to augment Minnesota's measures for achievement.

I believe HF 638 does promote a discussion that needs to take place and the debate as we go forward will certainly be interesting. My only hope is that the discussion will be multi-dimensional and focus on all of the things that schools do instead of solely focusing on achievement levels.

Back in the Saddle at the House Education Finance Committee. The House Education Finance Committee is meeting again this afternoon (and likely into the evening after a break for the House floor session) and will be covering five bills. The first being discussed this afternoon is HF 1078 (Garofalo), a bill that would convert the Perpich Center for Arts Education PCAE) from a state academy to a charter school. This would obviously be a disruption for the PCAE, but as Chairmen Garofalo pointed out, money is tight and priorities are going to have to be set.

A bill that will be covered later in the meeting is Representative Keith Downey"s (R-Edina) HF 558, the bill that originally proposed to remove the exemption for the mathematics portion of the GRAD test. Currently, students are exempted from passing the mathematics portion of the GRAD test and can still receive their high school diploma provided that they complete all relevant coursework, receive remediation in mathematics, and take the GRAD test at least two more times (unless they pass the test on the first or second re-take). This exemption was passed in 2009 and is slated to remain in effect through the 2013-2014 school year. As introduced, HF 558 would lop a year off the exemption and make passage of the GRAD test a requirement for graduation beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

The bill was amended the other evening in the House Education Policy Committee to include language from HF 655 (Keiffer). Representative Keiffer's (R-Woodbury) legislation would end the exemption for the mathematics portion of the GRAD in the same way as the Downey bill, but would go further in creating a new framework for high-stakes testing. According to HF 655, this framework--developed by the Commissioner of Education--would provide an accurate assessment of college and career readiness. Under the plan envisioned in HF 655, students would be required to pass state-developed end-of-course tests in reading and writing in 10th grade. In addition, the Commissioner would be required to develop statewide end-of-course tests for biology and algebra that students would have to pass (or show satisfactory achievement through alternative means) in order to receive a diploma.

There are arguments against increased attention on high-stakes testing. Research conducted by Dr. Stuart Yeh at the University of Minnesota has shown that investments like Response-to-Intervention (also known as Rapid Assessment) are more effective than the implementation on high-stakes test. On the other hand, assessing college and career readiness is a tricky business (witness the constant complaint by the post-secondary system that Minnesota high school graduates are not prepared for college work) and perhaps some sort of high school "exit" assessment can be helpful.

As with so many other issues I've written about recently, expect to see the issues of the GRAD exemption and other high-stakes testing measures contained in either (or both) the House and Senate omnibus education funding bills.

I now have to run over to the Senate to cover the Senate Education Committee proceedings, which will address SF 388 (Neinow), the bill that would create a low-income scholarship program for students in low-performing schools. That bill's companion--HF 273 (Woodard)--has already been heard extensively in the House Education Policy and House Education Finance Committees. This is a bill I have every intention on explaining to the blog's readership in greater detail, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Still in the House Education Finance Committee. I'm still here as the Education Finance Committee. I decided to start an entirely new entry in the quest to honor the need for more white space. The committee has now moved on to Representative Pam Myhra's (R-Burnsville) HF 638, a bill that would create an A through F grading system for Minnesota school districts.

Modeled after the Florida school grading system, which was discussed by the panel of Florida education leaders when they were in town last month. This measure has been credited by some observers as playing a significant role in raising overall achievement in Florida and narrowing the achievement gap.

A district's grade would be determined through a formula where: (1) 50% of the grade would be based on the proficiency levels of all students (accounted for in their subgroups), (2) 25% of the grade would come from growth in for each subgroup, (3) 15% based on the number of students in the low-growth category who did not reach proficiency in reading, and (4) 10% based on the number of students in the low-growth category who did not reach proficiency in mathematics. The product of these calculations would be compared to statewide average measures in each of those areas.

As I reported in my response to Katherine Kersten's opinion piece in the Minneapolis StarTribune, although Minnesota's per pupil spending exceeds that of Florida's, the percentage increase in Florida over the last decade has been 20 percentage points (approximately 60% in Florida to 40% in Minnesota) higher. Add to that fact that Florida has been spending this money strategically and the achievement gains become easier to explain.

During the Florida panel's presentation to the Minnesota Senate and House Education Committees, former Florida Education Commissioner John Winn (currently Chief Program Officer for the National Math and Science Initiative) stated (and I paraphrase) that when the Florida Department of Education saw it as its responsibility to help those schools at the lower end of the grading spectrum raise their achievement level. To me, that angle has to be discussed thoroughly in conjunction with any school grading system.

Does our Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) have the complement necessary to help schools that are having difficulty with achievement? Every biennium for the past two decades, MDE has taken cuts to its complement and sometimes those cuts have been massive as in the 20% state complement cut in the early 1990s. As has been pointed out earlier this session by MDE staff, there are currently more positions in the department paid with federal dollars as opposed to state dollars. How would a set-up like this work in helping school districts with low levels of achievement? I have been buoyed by Commissioner Cassellius' early comments regarding a culture change at MDE to make it a more service-driven department. That would mesh with the drive for higher achievement levels by all students grading system or not. But if we are to implement a relatively unvarnished grading system--unvarnished meaning no qualifiers, only aggregate scores--we are going to have to give MDE the tools to make certain that school districts get the assistance they need.

This bill is a complement of sorts to the Governor's "exemplary" schools initiative.

Integration and Compensatory Revenue Categories Under Scrutiny. Two bills have been heard in the Senate in the last two weeks that would take a whack at integration and/or compensatory revenue. SF 422, Senator Dave Brown's (R-Becker) bill, would cut integration revenue in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth, bringing them down to $129 per pupil unit, the current second tier level for districts deemed racially-isolated. Districts bordering racially-isolated schools would continue to get $92 per pupil unit.

Senator Brown's bill would also de-link the compensatory, sparsity, and transportation sparsity components of the general education formula from increases in the general education formula basic amount. In other words, the multiplier effect that increases the formula "value" of these components automatically.

The bill also states that going forward, 90% of any increase in state support will go into the basic formula component. With so many SEE members being well below the state average in terms of per pupil categorical revenue amounts, this is an approach that is largely SEE-friendly. Whether or not this has any "legs" during the session remains to be seen and we will have an idea as to whether it will even receive serious attention very shortly.

The Senate Education Committee heard Senator David Hann's (R-Eden Prairie) SF 618 this afternoon. This bill repeals the compensatory formula in its entirety and replaces it with a grant program that aims to provide schools--public or private--with the opportunity to apply for grants aimed at improving achievement. The process for grant application is very vague and it's unclear how revenue would be re-distributed under this framework. I think an argument can be made that there should be greater scrutiny regarding how compensatory revenue is expended, but there's no question that those districts that receive high levels of compensatory revenue can justify their expenditures.

Again, it should be interesting as we move forward.

Signing Off. Representative Myhra's HF 638 was just recommended for possible inclusion in the House omnibus education funding bill, giving me the opportunity to wind up my posting for the evening.

I hope to see many of you in the school administration field at the Spring MASA conference tomorrow and Friday. I'm serving on a panel on Friday morning, so I can imagine many are on the edge of their seats anticipating my comments. Well. . . .maybe not.
Live from the House Education Finance Committee. It's another night session with the House Education Finance Committee just coming to order. The first item on the agenda tonight is Representative Branden Petersen's (R-Andover) HF 945, a bill that everyone is going to hear a lot about in the coming months. HF 945 proposes a new statewide teacher evaluation and professional development program. This bill was largely developed from work performed by the Minnesota Chamber in its efforts to improve student learning through improved teacher effectiveness. Teacher effectiveness has been a hot topic both here and in Washington over the past few years, as more and more research shows a quality teacher has an undeniable link to the achievement of students in their classroom.

The bill creates a appraisal framework based 50% on student academic growth on state tests or local tests developed by teachers and administrators if statewide measuring tools are not available. The other 50% of the teacher assessment would come from locally developed criteria that would have to be agreed upon by the teachers and school board before they could be used. From these assessment tools, teachers would be placed in five categories (from highest to lowest): (1) Highly effective, (2) Effective, (3) Average, (4) Needs improvement, and (5) Ineffective.

Four different levels of status designation are developed from the five levels of teacher assessment. A teacher who attains highly effective status in seven of ten years in two consecutive five-year periods is given "exemplary" status. A teacher who attains highly effective status in three of five years is given a "distinguished" rating. If a teacher earns an average, effective, or highly effective ranking in four of five years, they are given an "advanced" designation." A "standard" designation is given to a probationary teacher who have received at least one average, effective, or highly effective rating during their three-year probationary period.

In addition to the scores earned by teachers through their assessments, teachers must also successfully meet their professional development requirements. Effective staff development is described in the bill as activities aligned with district and school site staff development plans that is focused on student learning goals and promotes scientifically-based research strategies, job-embedded or integrated professional development opportunities that can be incorporated into the teacher-contract day, and the practice of new teacher strategies (among other things). Ironically, the bill brings back the 2 percent staff development set-aside that is marked for repeal in a number of other education bills before the Legislature.

The assessment rankings would determine the order of teachers released from employment through unrequested leave of absence. Teachers in the "needs improvement" or "ineffective" categories would be the first teachers to be cut. Teachers in the "average," "effective," "highly effective," "distinguished," and "exemplary" would then be laid off in that respective order.

SF 636, carried by Senate Education Chair Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), is the Senate companion to HF 945. The Senate Education Committee has already heard this legislation.

The proponents and opponents to this legislation are pretty much as expected for the expected reasons. There are a small number of teachers who support the legislation (one teacher--speaking on his own behalf--contending that the bill does not go far enough because it does not provide merit pay for exemplary teachers) along with the Minnesota Chamber and the Minnesota Business Partnership. Education Minnesota, which believes that assessment frameworks should be developed locally, opposes the bill. My major concern is that I don't know if our principals and other school personnel who would be expected to perform the increased number of assessments will have enough time to complete this additional work with the level of attention needed to ensure the assessments will be accurate.

This issue will not be going away this session. I fully expect it to be a part of the omnibus education funding bill in both the House and the Senate and it will make it to the Governor's desk in some form. It is unclear what changes the Governor will want to make to this legislation (I imagine there will be some), but there is a lot of momentum to this effort. Representative Petersen has done an admirable job piloting the legislation in the House, taking feedback from the broad range of interests following this legislation. Although discussion in the House Education Committees has been far spicier than the Senate Education Committee conversations, Senator Olson has also done well in her role guiding the bill in the Senate.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blogorrhea. It's been awhile since I posted and the main reason for that is that the House and Senate Education Committees have pretty much been going wall-to-wall over the past two weeks, hearing just about every education bill that has been introduced to this point. With the budget bill deadline just a little over a week away (Friday, March 25), a number of policy bills have been heard and will likely be included in the House and Senate omnibus education funding and policy bills.

When the committee deadlines were set, with the budget bills due out before the policy committee deadlines in an extremely rare move, I thought that the legislative strategy would be to deliver scaled-down budget bills to the Governor without including a heavy dose of policy provisions and force him to consider vetoing the entire set of legislative budget bills. As was made clear by legislative leadership when they presented their budget targets, the House and Senate intend to pass their budget plan without a tax increase and I thought (there I go thinking again) that would constitute an opportunity for the Legislature to differentiate its approach from the Governor's without cluttering the budget bills with a raft of policy initiatives. In a year when everyone is guessing, I guessed wrong (Hey! We're all allowed one per session.)

That's not to say that the policy initiatives aren't comprehensive. I'll be spending the next few blog entries going over some of the major policy issues before the education committees this session. They generally come from the conservative side of the education policy spectrum and deal with issues like mandate relief, accountability, employee relations, teacher quality, and expanded school choice opportunities.

Speaking of Targets. The House and Senate Majority caucuses announced their budget targets last week and, as stated earlier, their proposed budget recommendations do not include any state tax increases. This is the largest difference between the Legislature and the Governor as they seek to find accord on Minnesota's fiscal problem. This amounts to a difference of about $3 billion, the amount of the spending difference between the Legislature and the Governor and slightly more than the amount of the Governor's proposed tax increases.

For K-12 education, the target news is very good. Given a $5 billion revenue shortfall, there was widespread concern that considerable cuts to the K-12 budget would have to be enacted to balance the budget, especially because of the evaporation of the federal stimulus package revenue that back-filled cuts to education spending last biennium. That didn't turn out to be the case, as the House and Senate target for K-12 education came in just under $14.2 billion for the biennium, approximately $11 million less than the Governor's proposed spending. One point of agreement between both Houses of the Legislature and the Governor is a continuation of the education aid payment shift at a 70%/30% rate, putting a $1.4 billion dent--just short of 30%-- in the revenue shortfall.

That doesn't mean that there won't be major differences between how the Legislature reacts to the Governor's education budget and the resulting array of changes from current funding streams that the Legislature may enact. There has been some chatter, most of it below the radar, that the integration program will be radically changed with revenue re-distributed. It is highly doubtful that the Governor would ever endorse such a move, but that won't stop the Legislature from running it up the flagpole. There has also been talk of re-vamping the compensatory education program, which would divert money onto the basic formula (or some other formula) from districts with high levels (and sometimes high concentrations) of families with students who qualify for free-or-reduced price lunch.

All of this will be coming to a head over the next week. As I stated above, the budget bills have to be out of their funding divisions by Friday, March 25. That means the discussion will be shifting toward budget bills over the next few days. I'll be reporting on those proceedings regularly as well as providing updates on the policy debates that have been receiving attention over the past week.

Here is a link showing the House budget targets (the Senate K-12 target is identical at this point):

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Sweet Thursday. Didn't know what to title today's entry, so I thought I'd name it after the John Steinbeck novel Sweet Thursday (the sequel to Cannery Row) and the late-1960's supergroup of the same name. Don't worry, it wasn't that sweet a Thursday, although both houses of the Legislature passed SF 40, the alternative teacher licensure bill and there was an awesome hearing in the House Education Reform Committee this morning.

We'll start with the House Education Reform Committee where Forest Lake agriculture teacher Mike Mieron provided a presentation of a new program developed by the Minnesota Association of Agricultural Educators with the assistance from grants from the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and Christensen Farms, a Minnesota pork producer. Due to some revisions in the state graduation standards made during the past few years, several science standards can be delivered through agricultural education programs and the program that Mieron demonstrated for the committee showed how these standards can be incorporated into agricultural curricula. This project could be very helpful for both school districts as they attempt to provide a broad curriculum and have high standards across that curriculum and students who learn more effectively in applied settings. It was just a fantastic presentation and I want to commend both the Forest Lake district and Mike Mieron for their hard work.

The House Education Finance Committee featured two presentations. The first was from the Early Learning Coalition, which provided the final report from its work over the past year. The report outlines the goals of creating a seamless delivery system, consolidating and coordinating resources (and ensuring accountable use of those resources), establishing an administrative framework for early care and education, and developing and managing an effective data collection system.

The primary recommendation to achieve these goals is the creation of a cabinet-level Office of Early Learning. This recommendation was contained in a bill authored by Representative Sandra Peterson (DFL-New Hope) and will likely be in a bill again this session. Given the budget constraints facing the Legislature, it is doubtful that the proposal will get off the ground, but given the increasing interest in early childhood education and data showing its importance to later achievement levels of students, there is little doubt that this suggestion will stick around for the next few years in hopes that money will be available to make this happen.

The second item of business for the House Education Finance Committee was preliminary approval of HF 335, a bill authored by Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake). Representative Kiffmeyer's bill would lessen the regulatory environment surrounding home schooling, both from the home schoolers and school district perspectives. The bill was laid over for consideration as part of the omnibus education funding bill.

Alternative Teacher Licensure Bill to Governor. Education Minnesota is disappointed that the alternative teacher licensure bill is not more prescriptive, but the conference committee on the bill passed easily with very little discussion in both the House and Senate today.

There was very little complaint about the content of the bill, although Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) did take issue with the process by which the final bill was assembled, contending that the negotiations were conducted in private. The final vote in the Senate was 46-19. The House vote was 80-51. The bill now heads to the Governor where, barring a complete reversal of course, it will be signed.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Short Day. With the House Education Reform Committee not scheduled to meet and the House Education Finance Committee on a field trip, the Senate Education Committee was the only education-related committee meeting today at the Capitol. The committee covered four bills and acted on three of them.

The first bill was SF 95 (Bonoff), a bill that would make the Wayzata school district eligible for the alternative facilities program. The alternative facilities program is a levy/bonding program that has eligibility limits based on total square footage and age of building. This bill would revise the guidelines to allow Wayzata to be part of the program. The bill will receive further consideration as part of the omnibus education funding bill.

SF 289 (Limmer) was the next bill on the agenda. SF 289 streamlines the application process and removes a number of redundant or archaic process in the state Health and Safety Program. This bill received attention last year and would likely have become law had there been an education bill. The bill would have been given preliminary approval for consideration in the omnibus bill had there not been questions about the fiscal note that accompanied the bill. Fiscal notes are documents prepared by the Minnesota Department of Education in conjunction with Minnesota Management & Budget showing the state and local financial implications of a given piece of legislation. The fiscal note for SF 289 showed no fiscal impact at the state and local levels and several legislators had trouble believing that (for the record, I can't see how there would be a fiscal impact to this bill) and wanted to hear from the fiscal staff at MDE before taking further action on the bill.

Senator Hann's SF 325 calling for the creation of MNovate--a commission with the goal of promoting greater innovation and creativity in the education system--was next up on the docket. The bill was approved for possible inclusion in the omnibus education funding bill. It's hard to say why this bill is needed. There are a number of non-profits and universities that currently cover this same territory and while this commission would include a combination of legislators and other state and business leaders, it was hard for me to see why this panel would serve a significantly different purpose.

The final bill was SF 315 (Olson). SF 315 would allow the member districts of TIES to use a portion of their lease levy for the next ten years (in an amount defined by the bill) to contribute to improvements at the TIES building. This bill was also given preliminary approval and may be part of the omnibus education bill.

I probably should describe what approval or preliminary approval means in reference to bills that come before the various education committees. Some bills--the alternative teacher licensure bill as an example--proceed through the process on their own. When an education committee approves a bill like that, it goes on to the next committee of to the floor of the appropriate house of the legislature where it is considered separately. However, other bills are considered for possible inclusion in the omnibus education funding or policy bill. The bills heard in the Senate Education Committee today all fall into that category.

BUT, just because a bill receives preliminary approval DOES NOT mean it will be part of the omnibus bill. When the Senate and House put together their omnibus bills, some, perhaps most, of the bills that have received preliminary approval will find their way into those respective bills. What would disqualify a bill that has received preliminary approval from making the next step into an omnibus bill? There are a lot of answers to that question, but most of the time the reason for exclusion would have to do with lack of resources. The easiest way to follow the prospects of bills in the education committee is to forget the "How a Bill Becomes a Law" chart from your 9th grade civics book.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Great Presentation on Career and Technical Education. One of the most pleasant surprises of the 2011 legislative session has been the great number of solid informational hearings that have been held in the various education committees on a wide range of issues. As I reported yesterday, the panel from Florida that shared their perspectives on some of the measures that state has undertaken to post some impressive educational gains. As interesting as that presentation was, Dr. Jim Stone's presentations this morning and afternoon on how career and technical education still fits in the curriculum and is the best choice for a number of students simply blew the Florida gang all the way. . .well, back to Florida.

Dr. Stone is the Director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Louisville. The presentation was very comprehensive and showed how career and technical education programs at the secondary level can keep kids in school until graduation, prepare them effectively for their next life step, and (in perhaps one of the least-known learning strategies currently in the system) can help a number of students gain greater mastery over their academic coursework.

As many of you know, I spent a portion of my lobbying career working for the Minnesota Association of Career and Technical Educators and while on legislative staff in the late-1980s was part of the Secondary Vocational Restructuring Task Force (a joint effort of the Minnesota Department of Education and the University of Minnesota). Through these experiences, I've been exposed to a lot of the cutting-edge programs that are helping students that embrace both facets of career and technical education: (1) the "work skills" body of knowledge that is imparted through career and technical education courses, and; (2) the use of applied methods to promote academic outcomes. Dr. Stone's presentation was very comprehensive in handling both of these points.

Kudos to Jerry Schoenfeld, former legislator and agriculture teacher and current lobbyist for a variety of clients including the agricultural educators, for bringing in Dr. Stone. The "aggies" have done tremendous work over the past few decades staying current and strengthening their programs. Dr. Stone's presentation ran a bit long and prevented the agricultural educators from unveiling one of their latest projects (a program that shows how to embed academic outcomes into the agricultural curriculum). That program will be presented on Thursday in the House Education Reform Committee and I can hardly wait to see it.

Alternative Licensure Deal Struck. As I reported yesterday, the House and Senate agreed to a set of changes suggested by Governor Dayton and Education Commissioner Cassellius and, as a result, a deal on SF 40 (Olson)/HF 63 (Garofalo) has been struck and the bill will be heading to the Legislature for final approval on Thursday. The changes requested by the Governor weren't major, but they do provide some assurance on quality concerns. The final deal requires that there must be a student-teaching component for teachers who take an alternative path to licensure . Also, alternative licensure programs must have a "consultation" level relationship with a higher-education institution. Last year's legislation, which did not pass off the floor of the Legislature, required such a formal relationship.

All indications are the bill will pass, likely on a party-line vote (or close to it) and that the Governor will sign the agreement. The only other thing I heard is that Education Minnesota isn't what I'd describe as enamored with the agreement. It is doubtful that their opposition will be enough to derail the bill's final passage and prevent the Governor's signature. Thus, we will have a compromise on what many observers believe was the likely "low-hanging" fruit in a year that will certainly have more than its share of contention.

I'll keep you posted.

House Education Finance Committee. The House Education Finance Committee spent its hearing time going to school on the integration revenue program. House staffers Tim Strom and Greg Crowe along with Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles and Legislative Auditor program manager Judy Randall provided a very thorough course on the program, outlining the history and growth of the program. With so many new legislators, there were a broad range of questions about the intellectual foundation of the program and whether the tenets upon which the program was originally based have changed.

The debate going forward will be whether the integration revenue program is about closing the achievement gap or moving students around to create more racially-balanced learning environments. The two foci are not mutually exclusive (although the debate often makes one think so). The debate on the program will be very interesting in the year ahead, as the idea of integration revenue certainly has its detractors as well as supporters. Again, I'll keep you posted.