Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summary Part Deux. On to the reform part of the discussion. As many of you recall, HF 934 and HF 1381 (the two legislative conference committee reports that were vetoed) contained a plethora of measures that, in the eyes of legislative leadership, aimed to reform Minnesota's education system. The "Florida Agenda" (A-F grading system, opportunity scholarships for students in chronically under-performing schools, and retention of third-grade students who do not pass the third-grade reading test) and teacher evaluation were large parts of those two bills.

I don't know if I would put the elimination of integration revenue and the transfer of state revenue in that program to a statewide literacy program into the reform category, but it clearly re-focused a significant portion of state revenue into a, if not different, more refined focus.

SF 934 also incorporated comprehensive changes into the teacher bargaining process, by limiting the months in which school districts could bargain with teachers, creating a process by which school districts could force employees into binding arbitration, and putting the "qualified economic offer" process into law.

So, how did these items fare? The "Florida Agenda" headed south faster than a Minnesota snowbird in November. Where some agreement in terms of the literacy portion of that agenda was reached was in the creation of a more formalized set of standards and procedures that make reading proficiently be the end of third grade a more clearly defined priority. Under the bill approved last night, every school district must adopt a plan to have every child reading at or above grade level no later than the end of third grade and further requires districts to provide reading intervention to accelerate student growth.

The teacher bargaining changes, except for the repeal of the January 15 negotiating deadline and aid penalty, did not survive the negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor.

The place where some change may be coming is in the area of integration revenue. The initial legislative initiative on integration revenue that was part of the vetoed education funding bill called for an elimination of the aid portion of the program, effective for FY 13 (the 2012-2013 school year). Districts participating in integration efforts would have been able to continue to collect the levy portion of the program, but the aid would have been transferred into a statewide literacy incentive aid program.

In the agreement reached earlier this week and approved yesterday, the integration revenue program as we know it will be sunset after FY 13. In the meantime, the Commissioner of Education is directed to convene a 12-member task force to develop recommendations for re-purposing integration revenue. The task force's report will be submitted to the Legislature by February 15, 2012. While the current integration revenue program was extended an additional year, the final agreement did create the statewide literacy incentive aid program, which will expend $29.1 million (total entitlement is $48.6 million adjusted for 60%/40% payment schedule--get used to doing those calculations) during the 2012-2013 school year. This aid will be distributed to each district on the basis of $85 times the percent a district's of third graders meeting or exceeding proficiency in the third grade reading MCA and $85 times a district's percent of fourth graders making medium or high growth on the reading MCA.

The inclusion of literacy incentives aid is a coup of sorts for the Senate and is a bit of a surprise in view of the fact that it was initially funded through the elimination of integration aid. With integration surviving for an additional year, I was surprised that this program was also established given the budget constraints. Of all the reforms in this year's bill, I believe this one will have the greatest effect on the education system. It fits comfortably with the literacy plan requirement, but in order for all of these gears to work together, proper training and staff development are going to be key.

As someone who has long had interest in response-to-intervention and other research-based reading programs, I believe that both the framework set up in the bill to promote reading by third grade and the aid program to provide districts with the funding necessary to properly promote this goal will go a long way in strengthening achievement in the early grades and ultimately lead to greater student success as students continue through the system.

I'll be writing about the teacher evaluation section of the bill in my next entry.

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