Monday, May 16, 2011

Some Movement. 170 hours from now, the 2011 Legislative Session will be over. As mandated by the Minnesota Constitution, a mere tick past 11:59:59 PM next Monday night and the Legislature will have to adjourn. At this juncture, it appears that it will be difficult to avoid a special session. While the Legislature has completed the conference committee proceedings on its budget bills, all but one of those bills has not been approved by the full Legislature. Further, these budget bills are not in the form that the Governor wishes to see them, either in form or in the manner he wants them presented to him. From the beginning, the Governor has demanded that the Legislature provide him with the omnibus tax and budget bills as a set so that revenue and expenditures could be balanced in a "macro" sense before individual budget items were addressed. The Legislature has chosen not to do that and does not appear to be interested in accommodating the Governor's request.

The Governor took a step toward reconciliation today, offering to cut his tax increase pretty much in half (to $1.8 billion) and scale back his budget requests by an equal amount. The Legislature still appears wedded to the axiom that taxes will not be increased this session, even in the face of a Minnesota poll that showed Minnesotans wanting a mixed approach to solving the state budget shortfall, including an income tax increase on Minnesotans with higher incomes.

Below is a link to the letter the Governor sent to legislative leadership outlining his new proposal. It is interesting that the Governor proposes to increase the general education basic formula by $50/PU in each of the next two years as part of his budget, which necessitates larger cuts in other programs.

Policy Bill in Hibernation. That's not to say it's dead. It's just sleeping and it's going to have to wake up pretty quickly to make it out the door. The House passed the K-12 Education Policy Bill last week after a fairly long floor debate and it now sits in the Senate waiting for action. As I reported last week, there are several measures in the policy bill that would likely cause the Governor to veto the entire bill and with the bill not even to conference committee yet, it may be difficult to put together a bill that would earn enough legislative votes without also triggering a gubernatorial veto. As in the case of last year's K-12 Education Policy Bill, the world won't come to screeching halt as a result of the failure to pass the bill, but there are a number of very helpful technical provisions in the bill that would be nice to see made into law.

As always, I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

They Came. We Watched. They Finished. Sorry I didn't post a wrap-up last night. The conference committee returned shortly after midnight and finished its business in a flash. The conference committee report is slated to hit the floor of the House on Thursday and the official bill summary will be available at that time. I will post it as soon as it is on-line.

One provision I failed to mention as part of the bill is the bargaining provision that limits the window for teacher negotiations and the ability of districts to go to binding arbitration if a settlement cannot be reached.

I'm currently at the Governor's formula reform task force. Lots of interesting talk this morning and some of it is troubling (at least to me). I have yet to write a report outlining my sentiments regarding this effort, but I will in the next day or two.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back in Action. We're back and running through a slate of motions that will put the bill in shape. Thankfully, the framework I reported on earlier was adopted in one motion as opposed to taking the provisions one-by-one. With that accomplished, the conference committee is recessing again and will return in about an hour to finish up its work.
A Little Comic Relief. Just hanging around waiting for things to happen, someone showed me this little clip from The Onion. Nice to have a little satire every now and then.

Bill Unveiled. It's not long on specifics in terms of language or appropriations, but we have a start on what the House and Senate version of the K-12 omnibus bill will look like. Here are the highlights.

  • Biennial Target of $14.1 billion (same as what went into conference).
  • Basic formula increase of $20/PU for 2011-2012 and $21/PU for 2012-2013 (down a bit from where both bodies came into conference).
  • Compensatory and Sparsity De-linked from general education basic formula.
  • Integration aid becomes innovation aid for 2011-2012 school year. Starting in S012-2103, districts participating in integration program keep their levy amount, but aid is rolled into Senate literacy incentive program.
  • Basic special education growth factor set at 2.0% for current biennium, 4.6% beyond that.
  • Excess special education growth factor set at 3.0% for current biennium; 2.0% beyond.
  • 70%/30% shift levels made permanent.

Reform Measures (Looks like my earlier prediction was wrong)
  • Low-income scholarship program for students in low-performing schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth.
  • Task Force created to develop teacher evaluation framework created to be implemented in 2012-2013 school year.
  • A-through-F school rating system ala Florida.
  • Qualified economic offer with binding arbitration for bargaining purposes.

Mandate Relief
  • 2% staff development set-aside repealed.
  • January 15 negotiating deadline and penalty repealed.
  • Safe schools set-aside for counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and school nurses repealed.
  • Districts can limit the number of 403(b) providers for employees.
I'll know more once language is made available, but this looks like the outline at this point in time. Hard to get a gauge on how it will affect individual districts as there are so many moving parts and with the dramatic reduction in integration revenue, a number of districts will be taking considerable hits.

I'll be back later with more.

Wow! It's Been Awhile. Checked my last entry and didn't realize it had been this long since I've posted.

I'm writing from the K-12 Education Funding Conference Committee, which is currently in recess. Rumor has it that an agreement has been reached and that it will be unveiled shortly. I have no way of knowing what it included (or excluded) from the bill. I do know that the Governor has not been involved in the negotiations, making the bill's ultimate prospects rather iffy.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. We are know inside the "two-week warning," and it's difficult to determine whether the Legislature's 2-minute offense can score on the Governor's prevent defense (or vice-versa). It's a bit of a mish-mash to say the least.

The Governor has remained at Ye Olde 30,000 foot level as he is insisting that the Legislature send him a balanced across-the-board budget before he will agree to negotiate with them on specifics. The problem the Legislature has right now that it appears presenting an "all cuts" budget is more difficult than originallly thought. Not that it couldn't be done, but in order to do successfully accomplish it, the K-12 budget target would have to be reduced and the Health and Human Services Budget would have to experience further reductions from those the Legislature has already made.

One prospective trend that we've seen over the past two weeks is the stripping of policy items out of the omnibus K-12 funding bill with them either being folded into the omnibus K-12 policy bill or sent to the respective legislative floors as individual bills. This may serve a couple of purposes. First, it will lighten the funding bill, at least at this stage of the game, of some of the reform provisions that are currently part of the bill. The Legislature taking this tack appears to be a fairly large concession, as removing reforms from the funding bill to stand alone (or in a group that the Governor likely has very little interest in passing) makes the "hill" to approval much steeper.

As it stands right now, HF 1381 is the omnibus education policy bill. It passed the House floor yesterday on a vote of 74-55. It is currently in the Senate Rules Committee, where it is being compared with the Senate version, which is markedly different. The Senate will undoubtedly pass its version and there will be an education policy conference committee after the House refuses to accept the Senate's approach. The House bill has several provisions inspired by the changes made in Florida over the past decade, including the grading of schools on an A through F grading scale and retention in third grade of students who are not reading at grade level.

A vast majority of the bills that have been sent to the floor as separate measures are extremely (and I mean extremely) non-controversial. The complicating factor for the bills going this route is that they are so non-controversial they might get lost in the shuffle or more controversial bills. It will be incumbent on the authors of these bills to shepherd them through the process. There will likely be no conference committees on any of these bills, so that means unless there are amendments attached to these bills (and that is indeed a possibility as they may be used as "vehicle" bills that serve to carry more substantive measures or collections of measures), they will go directly to the Governor after passage by both bodies.

We're all waiting for the conferees to return from their recess and unveil the bill and I will be back with more when that happens.