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.

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