Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Budget Forecast Has Some Good News.  It's not a slam dunk of a budget forecast, but it's a far sight better than what has been experienced since the economic downturn of 2008.  The best news in the budget forecast is that the combination of improved economic performance and smaller than expected expenditures since the February forecast has put approximately $1.3 billion in additional revenue on the bottom line for this fiscal year.  This $1.3 billion will go to pay back school districts throughout the state by lessening the delay in state aid payments enacted as part of the 2011 budget balancing bill.  While this won't put any additional revenue into school district base budgets, it will give most districts more breathing room at the margins as it will reduce the need for short term borrowing and reducing fund balances to meet cash flow needs.

After the buyback of the shift, approximately $1.1 billion of the aids payment shift will remain, distributed almost evenly between the delay in state aid and the early recognition of property tax revenue.

There will be a lot of political bantering as a result of the forecast, but it is important to note that 80% of the improved budget situation for the remainder of this biennium is attributable to stronger economic performance, which the Legislature and Governor have little control over.  It is for the most part a cyclical improvement resulting from an improved economy and not a structural change in budget status arising from government decisions.  The Legislature and Governor can take some credit from the $262 million in savings resulting from lower-than-expected expenditures, but one would have to look more closely into the budget numbers to see if any of these savings are a result of more people working and, as a result, needing less government assistance.  A closer look at the numbers is necessary to more clearly delineate these dynamics.

The budget news remains largely the same for the next biennium.  The end-of-session budget forecast projected a $1.079 billion shortfall for the 2014-2015 biennium.  An anticipated dip in national (and by extension state) economic performance and the resulting imbalance in projected revenues and projected expenditures added another $16 million to the estimated shortfall, raising it to $1.095 billion.  Added to the expectation that economic growth will not be as strong in 2013 as it was in 2012 is the "fiscal cliff" discussion and the fear that the Congress and the Obama Administration will not reach an accord that will put in place a tax and budget package that will avoid the tax increases and spending decreases that may bring about another recession.

More to think about.

Here is the link to the page at the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget website that outlines the November forecast.  The forecast summary provides the most concise description of the situation, but the entire forecast supplies a more in-depth analysis, especially of the state appropriation part of the equation.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Senate Majority Releases Committee Assignments.  The Senate DFL majority has released its committee assignments for the upcoming biennium.  There's a lot of experience and balance and it will be interesting to see how this works dynamically.  The Senate Republicans have not released their assignments yet, but they will likely be forthcoming shortly.  The House, with twice the members and a few more standing committees, have a slightly more complicated task when it comes to doling out committee assignments and that process usually takes a little longer.

Here are the Senate DFL committee assignments for the education-related committees:

Senate E-12 Funding Division:

Chair Wiger, Charles W.
Vice Chair Johnson, Alice M.
Bonoff, Terri E.
Dahle, Kevin L.
Halvorson Wiklund, Melissa
Hoffman, John
Jensen, Vicki
Kent, Susan
Saxhaug, Tom
Stumpf, LeRoy A.
Torres Ray, Patricia

Senate Education Policy Committee

Chair Torres Ray, Patricia
Vice Chair Dahle, Kevin L.
Carlson, Jim
Clausen, Greg
Franzen, Melisa
Halvorson Wiklund, Melissa
Johnson, Alice M.
Kent, Susan
Wiger, Charles W.

At SEE, we also follow the Tax Committees closely and here are the rosters of the majority caucus members on those two committees:

Senate Tax Committee 

Chair Skoe, Rod 

Vice Chair Rest, Ann H.
Bakk, Thomas M.
Dziedzic, Kari
Eaton, Chris A.
Koenen, Lyle
Marty, John 
Reinert, Roger J.

Senate Tax Reform Committee

Chair Rest, Ann H.

Vice Chair Koenen, Lyle
Dziedzic, Kari
Eaton, Chris A.
Skoe, Rod 

I will post more committee assignments as they become available.

For those of you who have Facebook pages, you might want to "friend" the Minnesota Senate Information  page for the latest updates on legislative matters.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Governor's Education Finance Working Group Finishes Its Work.  The work is done and now the work is  beginning?  Huh?  Let me rephrase:  The working group appointed by Governor Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius approved its final report today.  The report will now be presented to the Governor and will probably serve as a blueprint for the Governor's education funding proposals in the coming biennium.

The bulk of the report's content remains the recommendations of working group from May, 2011.  There have been several additions, most notably a revised special education formula, and revisions to the original report, but the primary direction remains clear.  What is especially heartening is one of the central messages of the report is a clear call for greater property tax equity with the re-establishment of the general education levy, a nod (without a specific funding recommendation) to greater equalization of the referendum and debt service levies, and a roll-in of $300 per pupil unit from the referendum to the general education formula basic amount.

The last item is one that has changed a bit from the original report, which called for a $400 per pupil unit roll-in.  The revised suggestion calls for a $300 per unit roll-in and a revised (and streamlined) equity formula that has a maximum benefit of $100 per pupil unit.  This would make the maximum benefit $400 per pupil unit--the same as the initial recommendation--but it would be accomplished in two steps.  The per pupil equity revenue would be calculated on a sliding scale that would measure a district's referendum revenue "distance" from $1,400 per pupil unit in referendum revenue.  This is an important change, as the original roll-in treated all referenda the same when there is a clear differentiation between a district with a referendum of $500 per pupil and one with a referendum in excess of $1,000 per pupil.  In the original recommendation, all districts with referendum levies in excess of $400 per pupil were treated exactly the same.  That needed to be corrected and the revised report accomplishes that.

Dr. Tom Melcher from the Minnesota Department of Education will be presenting the working group's recommendations at our meeting on Friday.  It should be an interesting discussion.

Beth Hawkins at MinnPost published this article in today's edition of that online newspaper.  It contains a solid synopsis of the working group's recommendations.

MinnPost link: 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Legislative Chairs Named:  Both the Minnesota State Senate and State House of Representatives named their committee structure and the chairs of the committees last week; less than two weeks after the election.  There were rumors right after the election that the new majorities were planning on moving quickly in announcing the committee structure and committee chairs for the coming biennium, but this is veritably light speed.

Here are links to the new roster of the standing committees with the chair in the House of Representatives and the Senate:

House of Representatives:

Senate:  (link to Winthrop and Weinstine P.A. website)

The committees that are of most interest to the education community will be the Senate Education E-12 Funding Division chaired by Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), the Senate Education Committee chaired by Senator Patricia Torres-Ray (DFL-Minneapolis), the House Education Committee chaired by Representative Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) and the House Education Policy Committee chaired by Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul).  The Senate Tax Committee, which SEE will be following closely will be chaired by Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook).  The House Tax Committee will be chaired by Representative Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) with the Property Tax Division chaired by Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movie Review.  I had the opportunity to see the premiere of "Girl from Birch Creek," a biography of former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Wahl, the first woman to serve as a member of Minnesota's highest court.  The film is written and directed by local filmmaker Emily Haddad and is produced by John Kaul, one of my old partners in legislative hi-jinks and currently a lobbyist for a number of clients.  Emily and John's production company--Lightshed Productions--has put together a number of interesting films over the years and this is no exception.

Here is a link to the trailer:

And here is a link to Lightshed Productions:

Congrats Emily and John!  This is a very inspiring piece of work and should be viewed by anyone and everyone interested in Minnesota history.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Governor's Work Group Meets.  The Governor's Education Finance Working Group met this afternoon in what will be one of its final meetings.  The panel has nearly finished a slate of public meetings held throughout the state in an attempt to get public input into the initial set of the group's proposals.  Today's meeting was dedicated to going through the group's proposals (can't really call them recommendations at this point) and discussing them.  The group--led by Tom Nelson and Peggy Ingison--reviewed the array of proposals, which include all components of the general education formula, the special education formula, and facilities funding.

The working group will be putting together it's final package of proposals at their next meeting on November 27.  We're really lucky at SEE, as Dr. Tom Melcher will be presenting the group's work at our monthly meeting on November 30.  I will keep you posted on these important proceedings.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More Election Related Items.  I neglected to post in the my election wrap-up the links that provide information on the newly-elected legislators.  The House Information Office has assembled a downloadable election guide with information on each of the newly-elected member of the House of Representatives.  That document usually contains information on the newly-elected members of the State Senate as well, but the Senate has chosen to publish its own directory instead.

House Election Directory:

Senator-Elect Information:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Election Update.  I was watching television on Wednesday night and I saw an advertisement for something called pizza.  It had been so long since I had seen an advertisement for anything other than a political candidate that I thought there may have been a law passed prohibiting any other kind of advertising.  But now the ballots have been cast and the dust has settled.  Tears have been shed, teeth have gnashed, and the Legislature will now get down the business of governing.  Depending upon who you talk to or what news outlets you listen to (or read), you may or may not be surprised.  Nationally, political analyst Nate Silver at The New York Times never seemed to take the supposed threat to the Obama presidency seriously and his analysis was vindicated.  While the Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives was never in any danger of being reversed, many observers believed that the Democrats' 53-47 advantage in the United States Senate would, if not be lost, be narrowed.  Instead, the Democrats gained 2 seats, which was somewhat unexpected.

In Minnesota, there was some belief that the DFL would regain control of the Senate.  Going into the election, the Republicans held a 37-30 advantage, meaning that four seats needed to flip for control of the body to shift back to the DFL.  The DFL went well beyond that, winning 9 seats in fashioning a 39-28 majority.  The DFL recapturing the House was less expected (for several reasons), but the DFL won 13 Republican-held seats to turn a 70-63 (one vacancy) deficit into a 73-61 majority.

Again, there are going to be a ton of theories tossed about as to why the DFL ran so well in 2012.  President Obama ran stronger in Minnesota than most Republican strategists thought he would.  I'm not a Republican strategist, but the President ran about where I thought he would in winning by about 7.5 percentage points (I thought he'd win by between 5 and 8 points).  There may have been a time when Republican strategists believed that the turnout for the constitutional amendments would bolster their chances, but that did not materialize.  The real wildcard is that the new legislative district map that resulted from the reapportionment produced a lot of swing districts and in a year when the President ran strong, that may have helped tip the balance toward DFL candidates.

Whatever the cause, the result is clear and the newly-elected majorities are already busy at work selecting their leadership.  Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) moves from Senate Minority Leader to Senate Majority Leader.  Senator Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) will be the Deputy Majority Leader.  The Senate caucus also chose two committee chairs:  Senator Dick Cohen (DFL-St. Paul) will be Chair of the Finance Committee--a post he held before the DFL lost the majority in 2010--and Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) will chair the Senate Tax Committee. 

While the overall budget situation will certainly create boundaries that may limit legislative action, I was heartened to see among the slate of leaders legislators who clearly understand the need for greater property tax equity, especially as it relates to education funding.

In the House, Representative Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) was elected Speaker of the House last week.  He held the office of Minority Leader last biennium.  Representative Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) was elected Majority Leader.
The Republican minority caucuses also elected their leadership, choosing Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) and Representative Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) to lead their respective caucuses.

The next step will be for the majorities to select the committee structure in each body to be followed shortly thereafter with the selection of the chairs to lead these committees.  After that, the membership roster of each committee will be determined.  There will likely be many happy and sad faces as a result of this process, as not everyone can get the committee assignments they covet.

I will be following (and reporting on) this process on the blog.  This is a very good time to get acquainted with newly-elected legislators, especially if they live in your school district.  Local school boards and district administrations may be holding meetings with newly-elected legislators, so check with your school district to see if anything is in the works.  Once the session starts, legislators' time becomes very precious and it becomes more difficult to have face-to-face meetings with them in a relaxed environment. 

If you have questions or comments, always feel free to contact me, either by e-mailing me through the blog or calling me at 612-220-7459.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Good MinnPost Article on Constitutional Amendments' Effect on 2012 Elections.  You may have read one of my earlier posts about this year's election wild card in Minnesota.  It is difficult to measure the effect that the proposed constitutional amendments will have on legislative races.  The latest polls show Senator Klobuchar with a healthy lead over her challenger, State Representative Kurt Bills, and the same poll shows President Obama with a double-digit lead in Minnesota over Mitt Romney. but will "segmented" turnout that may result from voter interest in the proposed constitutional amendments?  By "segmented" turnout, I mean will certain segments of the voting population who may not vote in an ordinary election year be more motivated and which, if any, segment, be more motivated to vote?

One of the dynamics not discussed much is that the constitutional amendments, like the Presidential and US Senate races, are statewide in nature.  That means that high turnout against the amendments may translate to higher numbers for both the President and Senator Klobuchar.  Likewise, motivated "yes" campaigns will cut into the advantages those candidates currently appear to have.  That part of the electoral equation is straightforward.

Where the mystery ensues is the possible effect the amendment votes will have on legislative races.  Most polls have shown the proposed amendments are trailing in the urban core and a handful of the inner-ring suburbs, but those legislative seats are already held by DFLers so if there is higher turnout as a result of motivated "no" voters, the DFL candidates will only win these relatively "safe" seats by larger margins.  The opposite side of the coin--"safe" Republican seats where the amendments will pass comfortably--will likely have the same effect.  It is in the "swing" seats--and there are more "swing" seats as a result of the reapportioned legislative districts--where it is difficult to determine the effect of the amendments.

It will boil down to two effects:  (1) the get-out-the-vote effort of the pro and con teams on both amendments and (2) whether or not there will be any evidence of ticket-splitters.  While the vote on the amendments when considered by the Legislature were pretty much party-line in nature, voters may not mimic the Legislature's voting patterns.

It's just another interesting element in an interesting political year in Minnesota and the nation.

MinnPost link:

Monday, October 08, 2012

Interesting Article.  I don't spend a lot of time over at The Center for the American Experiment--Minnesota's conservative think tank--but I came across this article when I happened over to their website the other day.  I don't know a whole lot about Peter Epstein of the Hoover Institution (except that the Hoover Institution is a pretty conservative place) and his article does make a couple of good points about the Chicago teacher strike and the public employee salary/pension issues that many believe are simply untenable over the long run.

I'm not going to take too much issue with Epstein with his description of the problem.  Reasonable people can disagree about the magnitude of the public employee salary and pension issue.  It's not as big a deal in Minnesota, as teachers and other public employees pay more into their health care coverage and pension plans than do teachers in many other states.  That doesn't eliminate the issue, but the differences between Minnesota and Wisconsin public employees which came to light during the Wisconsin legislative fracas over public employee bargaining in 2011 indicate that the pressure to limit public employee bargaining is, and should be, less in Minnesota.

Where I will take issue with Epstein is in his suggested solution.  For Epstein, the answer to the problem is to greatly expand the charter option.  We have experience with the very liberal granting of charters since the charter school law was first passed in 1991.  In fact, problems with charter schools became so great as a result of the greatly expanded ability to create charters in the mid-1990s that Minnesota had to retrench a bit and tighten up authorizing authority.

There are two problems I see with the "charter as answer" school of thought.  First, where is quality assurance?  Student performance at charter schools is all over the board, which isn't a fatal indictment as performance is similar in comparable traditional schools.  The main point, and it's one I continue to harp on, is that if performance is going to be the measure of charter school success, it is going to have to get better.  Second, if the primary value of charter schools is to drive down the salaries of teachers, that's not necessarily a good thing, as it may push qualified teaching candidates into other fields as opposed to teaching.  Epstein claims this isn't a problem, but as most school boards and administrations know, teacher salaries in many curricular areas are not competitive with comparable private sector jobs.  Finding top-notch secondary level science and math teachers and special education teachers across almost all licensure areas is becoming increasingly difficult.

Paying for public services is going to be a challenge moving forward, but it's important to keep in mind the goals of the public education system and realize that going "cheap" may erode progress toward a fully educated populace.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Old News, but Interesting Observation.  I was sifting through some of my magazines--and those of you who know me know that I subscribe to a whole lot of 'em--and came across an interesting observation on the Chicago teachers' strike (yeah, I know it was settled two weeks ago).  The comment came from Dr. Timothy Knowles of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, who stated "It's Old Labor meets New Democrat meets fiscal crisis.  That's the perfect storm."

It dawned on me that dynamic is playing out, not only in the Chicago teachers' strike, but also in a number of other localities and state legislatures throughout the nation.  It's not just conservatives who are promoting increased teacher evaluation, charter schools, and school "trigger" bills; a number of those initiatives have their roots in center-left think tanks and have been sponsored by, as Knowles describes them, New Democrats.  President Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is case-in-point and his agenda, both from his time in Chicago and Washington, D.C., are clearly that of a New Democrat.

It makes for an interesting discussion and it will be interesting to see how things unfold after the election.  In Minnesota, a change in control of either house of the Legislature would certainly alter the reform-heavy bent of the past biennium, although there are a number of what I would term New Democrats in both the House and Senate who would continue to push reform initiatives if control would flip.

Here's a link to The Christian Science Monitor article from which I pulled the Knowles quote:

Romney and Obama on Education.  I missed the debate tonight (on purpose), but I did come across this little comparison of candidates' education plans in another issue of The Christian Science Monitor.

Here's the link:

Bad News that has Gotten Better.  I found out on Monday at the MASA conference that former Sauk Rapids-Rice school board member Brenda Woggon--a SEE stalwart during her tenure as a school board member--was recovering from a serious bout of viral encephalitis.  She's now home after a stint in the hospital and convalescent center and things are looking up.  She'd never forgive me if I gave out her address in this forum, but if you want to send her your regards and best wishes, contact me at the office and I will give it to you.

Brenda, get well soon!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Good Thing about Road Trips.  In an entry that will reveal my ever-increasing nerdiness, I want to wax about the joy of road-trips (and I'll be racking up about 2,000 miles in October) and the opportunity to listen to either books-on-tape or taped courses from The Teaching Company.  I am currently listening to Volume 3 of Robert Caro's "The Years of Lyndon Johnson:  Master of the Senate."  I prefer actually reading to listening to a book-on-tape, but it's hard to read a book when one is cruising along at the speed limit, so a book-on-tape it is.  This book is proving both interesting and entertaining, as it outlines Lyndon Johnson's legislative career, touching briefly on his time in the US House of Representatives and more thoroughly tracing his rise to prominence in the US Senate.  The book is read by actor Steven Lang (evil military guy in "Avatar") and he does a great job.  All in all, a great experience.


My other on-the-road diversion comes in the form of audio courses from The Great Courses series produced by The Teaching Company. I've been listening to these for a past decade and the courses are usually interesting and have helped me fill in a number of gaps in my education.  Lots of good bargains with rotating sales at the website and I'd highly recommend trying a couple of courses on for size.


Monday, October 01, 2012

We're Just Five Weeks Away.  The election draws ever nearer and it's very difficult at this juncture to pick winners.  This is especially true in Minnesota where, while incumbent US Senator Amy Klobuchar and President Obama are likely winners, it's anyone's guess as to which party will control the Legislature.  I've spent 37 years in this business and there are always surprises on election day and this is one of those rare years when an isolated surprise may actually determine which party is in control of the respective houses of the Legislature come January.

When the boundaries for the newly reapportioned legislative districts were released in February, I was a bit puzzled by the map.  There seemed to be a lot of "tortured" districts that weren't based on the "communities of interest" methodology by which legislative districts are comprised of similar communities with similar needs.  One of the problems with modern democracy is that population patterns have produced legislative districts that are "safe" seats for one party or the other (for a sterling description of that phenomenon, read Bill Bishop's "The Big Sort" described at:

What the court did in its reapportionment plan was create a number of very competitive legislative districts where it is difficult to discern a winner (perhaps even a favorite) at this point in the election process.  So how to make sense of this?

MinnPost has put together the best tool--at least in my estimation--for handicapping the various races by creating an interactive map on their website featuring what they deem the 28 key races (12 Senate, 16 House) that will determine control of the Legislature for the next biennium.  The only caution I would urge is that there will likely be surprises from races not featured by MinnPost and any surprise could swing control one way or the other.

One of the dynamics that is showing up in polling to this point is the possible effect of the constitutional amendments.  Both amendments are not doing particularly well in the urban core and inner-ring suburbs.  However, most polls are showing that they are passing comfortably in the outer-ring suburbs and most of Greater Minnesota.  How this translates to legislative races is anyone's guess and as Baird Helgeson wrote in the StarTribune on Sunday, most legislative candidates are staying quiet on the issue.  Still, one would think this might favor conservatives outstate as they attempt to retain control of the state House and Senate.

MinnPost interactive map:

StarTribune Constitutional Amendment/Legislative Races article:

Nice Job MASA!  I spent today at Madden's at the MASA conference and I say "Good work Gary (Amoroso) and company!"  (Note to self:  You owe Gary $5 for introducing you as a dignified guest.")

Great speakers and breakout sessions and a lot of very good opportunities to meet with vendors and network with colleagues.  Great to see so many SEE members there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Election Analysis.  It was a busy primary night around Minnesota.  With the votes now cast, everything points toward the November general election and after a bit of a breather, I can only imagine how fast and furious things will be from Labor Day on through to election day.

There are usually some big surprises on primary night, but it's hard to see that there were many last evening.  My eyebrows went up a bit over Rick Nolan's relatively healthy margin in the 8th congressional district primary and while I never knew which horse to bet on in the Quist/Parry battle in the 1st congressional district, Quist's winning margin of over 8 percentage points surprised me as well.

In terms of legislative races, the one everyone was watching was in the Republican primary in Senate District 33, where State Representative Connie Doepke squared off against endorsed candidate David Osmek.  This was a hard fought battle, with Osmek coming out on top by 107 votes, which translated into a margin of about two percentage points.

Just down the road, there was also a highly-watched primary with incumbent Senator Julianne Ortman facing Bruce Schwichtenberg (take that spell check) in the Senate District 47 Republican primary.  Senator Ortman is the current chair of the Senate Tax Committee and most observers were surprised when she was denied her party's endorsement last spring by Schwichtenberg.  Last night, Ortman bested Schwichtenberg by just over 16 percentage points resulting from a 610 vote difference.

These two races showed a couple of things to me.  First, the outer ring metropolitan area districts are becoming extremely interesting (and more conservative) politically.  These are conservative districts that have been represented by solid conservatives.  While Senate District 33 changed fairly dramatically in reapportionment, Senate District 47 was less so affected.  What surprised me is that both Doepke and Ortman were assailed as not being conservative enough for their districts by their detractors.

The question will be out there as to why of the two incumbent legislators (although one was moving to a different seat) why did Ortman survive and Doepke come up short?  To me, the two factors central to the discussion are the nature of the reapportioned districts and the endorsement process.  Senate District 33 (Doepke versus Osmek) is a district that appears to be bifurcated between older, more established communities and communities that have expanded rapidly over the past two decades.  Representative Doepke carried the more established end of the district and Osmek the other half.  I don't have the demographics in front of me, but I'm guessing that in terms of per capita income, wealth, and age, these two ends of the district are markedly different.  All conservative (I think a Democrat ever winning this seat would be a sure sign of the endtimes), but different shades of the same color (that would be red). On the other hand, I believe Senator Ortman's district is a bit more monolithic in nature.

The other element in play is that of the endorsement.  It's important to remember that Osmek was endorsed by the Republican Party in Senate District 33 while the Senate District 47 Republican convention did not produce an endorsed candidate.  The endorsement process gets beat up quite a bit these days, with more and more people calling for their elimination and replacement with a primary system.  One can argue whether or not the endorsement was key to Osmek's victory, but I have a hard time believing that it did not give him a heightened legitimacy that helped boost his chances.  In the Ortman/Schwichtenberg race--with no endorsement--Schwichtenberg lacked a tool that would have elevated him against an incumbent.

Does this constitute for all of the difference?  No.  But I believe these two factors are the ones on which the races swung.

I would argue that the DFL endorsement in the 8th congressional district played a significant role in Rick Nolan's victory, especially in a three-way race.

I'm sure my theory could be disputed.  There are races where the endorsed candidate lost (Tom Dimond in Senate District 67, although it must be noted that the candidate whom Dimond defeated for the endorsement--incumbent Senator John Harrington--did not run after failing to garner the DFL endorsement).  But it looks like party endorsement meant a lot more this year than it has in the recent past.

There's always a great election story out there and I think this is my favorite one from primary night.  In Senate District 46, candidate Paul Scofield endorsed his opponent Roger Champagne during a League of Women Voters debate in late July.  Scofield had actually attempted to withdraw from the race, but missed the deadline for being removed from the ballot.  Despite his efforts to lose, Scofield won.

Here's the news story: 

And here are all the election results:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Teacher Evaluation Hits the Big-time.  Not much new in this article from The Christian Science Monitor, but it does provide a solid synopsis of the many angles surrounding the issue and does so in a balanced manner.  As I've written in the past, I think the problem with putting to much stress on student performance as part of the evaluation process, the temptation will be to reduce it to a flat two-dimensional tool, which won't serve students well and will likely chase a lot of highly-motivated and highly-qualified people out of the profession.  As this article states, teaching is as much an art as it is a science and providing a comprehensive education goes beyond the simple churning out of test scores.

At the same time, this article provides a very good description of the kind of teacher-improvement models that work and the examples are illuminating.


Bullying Report Released.  As regular readers of this blog readily know, I'm not immune to the occasional smart-aleck remark, but when it comes to the subject of bullying, there really isn't anything mildly humorous that can be said.  Clearly acts committed by students against other students, while often not overtly violent in a physical sense, are causing untold damage throughout the state and nation. I can think of several examples of tragedy that have occurred in SEE member districts and the pain these incidents have caused in those communities.

In reaction to the rise in bullying, the Minnesota Department of Education convened a working group this summer and the final report of the group was released on August 1.  The report offers comprehensive recommendations, but the question will always be, "Will these recommendations serve as solutions?"  This is an extremely complex issue, as there is a difference between misbehavior and harassment and trying to determine which behaviors fall on the appropriate sides of that line will be a difficult task for school administrators.

There will also be a question of costs as they relate to training of staff and students and reporting to the Minnesota Department of Education and with schools already underfunded, finding the resources to put together a comprehensive anti-bullying program will be difficult.

Even with these impediments, this issue has risen to the level of importance that it is virtually assured that something will be done to stem the damages by improving school environments during the 2013 session.

Here is a link to the report (downloadable):

Beth Hawkins' MinnPost article:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Back to the Blog.  The annual MSBA and MDE/MASA conferences are a signal that summer is over in the educational lobbying biz.  I want to congratulate both organizations on putting together valuable programs again this summer.  Great speakers and presentations to kick off preparations for the 2012-2013 school year and the chance for me to see SEE superintendents and school board members in a relaxed environment.

One thing that stood out to me, especially at the MDE/MASA conference was all the talk about the Finnish education system.  Talk of the Finnish system has increased dramatically over the past couple of years, largely in reaction to what is being viewed as an American education system that has become too test intensive.  I don't have all the information on the Finnish system, but there's a lot of literature out there describing the differences in teacher preparation/qualifications and relative lack (almost absence) of testing that exist between Finland and the rest of the developed world.

Here is a link to the book Finnish Lessons:  What Can the World Learn from Education Change in Finland? by Pasi Salberg.  


I've also included a link to Diane Ravitch's review of Finnish Lessons from the March 8, 2012, edition of The New York Review of Books.  For those of you not familiar with Diane Ravitch, she is an influential education historian who broke with the group calling for greater accountability through testing and choice and has since become critical of those methods for improving American education.  Ravitch will be presenting at the Education Minnesota fall conference in October.


Noted education innovation author Tony Wagner gave a great presentation at the MDE/MASA conference, much of it springing from his latest book, Creating Innovators:  The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.  The only problem I see in this discussion (and it's a big problem) is that changing the system in the way advocated by Wagner is that it is going to cost considerably more--at least in my estimation--than what the system costs right now.  There may be ways to mitigate these financial challenges, but it will take other contributions from the community to do that.  From my perspective, greater investment--across all resources--is warranted if we are going to truly have the educational system we need to retain our station as the world's strongest economy and the works of Salberg and Wagner will help frame the discussion of what we need.


How I Spent My Summer Vacation.  I don't golf.  I don't fish.  My kids are grown. I'm too old to play the 100+ games of slow-pitch softball I did in my prime.  So, my summers now pretty much boil down to mowing the lawn and reading (and a little too much Netflix).  I'm going to use these early blog entries to provide a review or two of some of the things I've read this summer.

I'd like to start with a brief review of Robert Pierce Forbes' The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath: Slavery and the Meaning of America.  This is a really great book at several different levels.  First and foremost, it is excellent history.  I've always found the antebellum era to be the most compelling period of American history.  The founders laid the groundwork for the American Experiment, but it was the following two generations that put into practice systems based on those founding principles.  We can argue whether or not those generations were true to the founders' vision (just like we can argue about how more recent generations are faring with this effort), but judging the results of those efforts are, in my estimation, central to understanding of our political culture, both then and now.

Forbes accomplishes several things mightily in his narrative.  First, he provides a very concise portrait of fifth president James Monroe and the juggling act Monroe performed during the discussion of the future of slavery in the early republic.  Monroe doesn't rise to the fore when the relative greatness of American presidents is gauged, but Forbes' portrait provides fodder for a reassessment of Monroe's standing.

Forbes also provides insight on the absolute centrality the discussion of slavery had in the early republic.  While pedestrian interpretations of American history often equate slavery with mere sectionalism, Forbes digs deeper to show how the slavery issue--and by extension, racial politics--was a debate that was not monolithic within the various regions of the nation.  In this discussion, Forbes ably lays out the role of early purveyors of "party spirit," particularly Martin van Buren.

The part of the book I found most interesting as someone who follows the legislative process is Forbes' description in the early chapters of the book regarding the process by which the two Missouri Compromises were passed in 1820 and 1821.  Issue-by-issue, vote-by-vote, personality-by-personality, Forbes dissects the debates surrounding both the first and second Missouri compromises and the passage of the legislation that brought these discussions into law.  What I found particularly interesting was the discussion of the fluidity of Congress in the early 19th century, with members sliding back and forth between the state and federal governments.  Forbes does a marvelous job describing "how a bill becomes a law--Antebellum Style."  It's not the version we watched on "Schoolhouse Rock."

Here's a link to the book.  If you're either a history of political science buff, it's well worth the time.


Monday, May 14, 2012

A Little Bit o' Clean-up.  Most of the dust has settled in the big white building located at 75 Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior, Drive, but there was a bill I did want to do a brief report on.  The Governor vetoed SF 1656, the bill that would have required legislative approval of the social studies standards that are currently being developed before they would take effect.  Like SF 2183, which the Governor also vetoed, SF 1656 sought to curb the rule-making authority of the executive branch, or if not curb, at least limit the range of rule-making.

This issue cuts across the branches of government more than it does the partisan divide, although the element of politics was also in play in this particular debate.  There isn't a governor in existence, at least in my experience, who is willingly going to limit the ability of his agencies to make rules or interpret statutes as they see fit.  The question always gets to be, in the eyes of the legislative branch, are those darn career bureaucrats (my tongue is firmly in my cheek) making decisions that are consistent with the intent of the Legislature.

The other angle that needs to be mentioned is that legislation trumps a rule (provided the legislation is constitutional) and that the Legislature can pass bills that change or eliminate certain rules or sets of rules.  The problem, of course, is that such a move can be controversial and the Legislature can, to some extent, have it both ways by complaining about Executive Branch overreach while having a problem addressed.  In my career, I have seen this happen several times as the Legislature would ship rule-making authority to a state agency only to complain about the product of the rule-making process.  This was very apparent in the development of the desegregation/integration rule in the early-1990s.  The Legislature did not want to tackle the topic and instead sent it to the Minnesota Department of Education (or Children, Families, and Learning--my recollection of the time frame is vague) for resolution.  Of course, because they aren't directly affected by the electoral process, the staff at the agency had a much freer rein in putting together the specific rules relating to the topic and while a number of legislators complained mightily when the rules were completed, there wasn't a lot of impetus to change what the agency had done for a number of reasons (both political and policy-related).

The current tug-of-war between branches of government is certainly heating up, both at the state and federal levels and I believe this debate will continue regardless of who is in control of the different branches of government.  Should be interesting to watch.

At any rate, here is the Governor's veto message on SF 1656:

Friday, May 11, 2012

This is how the world ends.  Not with a bang, but with a rousing chorus of "Skol Vikings! Skol!"  For all the hand-wringing (and not-so-deep analysis provided by yours truly and others), the Vikings' stadium bill passed with relative ease during the last week of the now-adjourned session and it will be signed by the Governor.  Many decry why the process has to work this way when the bill passed with votes (although not many) to spare in both Houses after a considerable number of changes were made to the bill, including having the Vikings pony up another $50 million, to make it more palatable to some members.

Looking back, there was never much doubt, regardless of what some may say, that the job was going to get done on the stadium.  I thought it may have waited until next year, given the Vikings' mid-session decision to extend their lease at the Metrodome by a year, but given the tenor of the election year and the uncertainty on other issues that lies ahead, it was probably wise to push it this session.  And as crazy as it looked from the outside, this is the way it always seems to look when the stadium issue is being tackled.  There's the Peter Principle and Parkinson's Law.  Maybe there needs to be the Iron Law of Stadium Systems that says that no stadium bill can be passed unless it's in the wee hours of the morning after no less than 20 amendments are offered.

I'll be curious to see how this is spun, if it is indeed spun, during the campaign season.  I haven't looked at the final roll call votes and I know that some members who voted for it swallowed hard before pushing the green button.

The biggest surprise to me is that the minority party DFLers pushed it through.  There was a big push from the DFL Governor and labor interests to pass the stadium bill, but even with that, I was surprised that DFL leadership didn't insist on the Republicans putting up a majority of their caucus on the "yea" side of the ledger.  Again, this could spring up during the campaign season as part of a DFL macro "the majority can't lead" charge against the Republicans, but I don't know if that will stick as it relates to the stadium.  Again, the tea leaves on the stadium issue are always hard to read.

Tune into the blog at least weekly during the interim.  It's going to be a very active interim with the campaigns and the various task forces and other legislative policy development efforts that will be going on.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

To Build a Stadium.  The next stop for the stadium bill is the Senate floor, where it will be discussed, debated, amended, and voted upon today (and tonight perhaps even into early tomorrow).  The bill passed the House floor by a vote of 73-58 (with 40 DFLers voting for it) after a number of amendments were attached to it over a long debate on Monday.  The most consequential amendment would require the Vikings to contribute another $105 million to the project.  Without the addition of that amendment, the bill would have likely failed to pass.  The problem now is that the Vikings are not happy with the bill in its current condition.

The Senate will likely be a steeper climb for the bill.  Support and opposition for this bill defies any partisan divide, but it seems to me that the opposition for the stadium in the Senate is a little more spirited than it was in the House.  The Senate will first move its version of the bill (which does not contain the amendment that would increase the Vikings' contribution by $105 million) in the House bill jacket, but then the amending will begin and it is likely that the same amendments that were considered in the House will all be considered once again.  If the bill passes, it will then go to conference committee and all eyes will be on it as the session winds down.

Bonding Bill Passes.  While the House was working on the stadium bill, the Senate passed its bonding bill on a vote of 45-22.  The House had passed its version of the bonding bill prior to the stadium debate on a vote of 99-32.  The bills will now head to conference committee for reconciliation.  The House bill contains $567 million in projects, while the Senate bill contains approximately $496 million in projects.

Another Education Bill Signed.  The Governor signed HF 2647, the bill that would require disclosure of the reasons for a termination settlement that is greater than $10,000.  This bill arose out of the case in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district where an employee was recently given a large settlement upon their resignation.  The case caused an uproar, as the reasons for the termination were never disclosed.  

There will be a lot of training required for school districts and district administrative personnel on how the law will be applied and whether there are ways to dismiss someone without full disclosure of the reasons behind it.  Stay tuned for workshops dealing with the issue over the summer.  

Friday, May 04, 2012

End of LIFO is Dead-O.  Or I suppose the headline could read "A-LIF, A-LIFO. A-LIF, A-LIFO, Singing Vetoes and Brickbats, A-LIF, A-LIFO," after that old Irish folk song.  Whatever halfway clever headline one would want to use, the simple fact is that the Governor vetoed HF 1870, the bill that would have eliminated the practice of "last in/first out" when approaching teacher layoffs.  The veto produced some quick criticism of the Governor's actions from Senator Pam Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park) and Representative Branden Petersen (R-Andover), the bill's chief authors.

The veto wasn't unexpected.  The Governor informed the Legislature a week or so back that he intended to veto the bill, but it's certainly within the Legislature's prerogative to send him the bill anyway and get the veto on record.  This is surely going to be an election wedge issue in the 2012 campaign (perhaps THE education wedge issue) and the comments from Senator Wolf and Representative Petersen bear that out.

Here is a link to the Governor's Veto Message on HF 1870:

Here is a link to the StarTribune's blog post on the veto containing quotes from Senator Wolf and Representative Petersen (and others):

In the End, Wasn't This All Expected?  The Legislature is taking the weekend off.  There are a number of congressional district conventions and the work at the Capitol is pretty much finished.  The logjam that some predicted, but most hope could be avoided is certainly upon us and as I reported last week, it's the combination of the tax bill, bonding bill, and stadium bill that has brought things to a screeching halt.

The Governor vetoed the tax bill before the ink on the conferee's signature's had dried (at least it seems that way).  While the bill contained a number of provisions with which the Governor vehemently disagreed and the veto wasn't unexpected, it does cast a bit of a pall on the remaining days (very few) of the session.  I didn't hear the interview on KFAN yesterday, but I understand that Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said one problem facing the stadium vote is that there was little room to maneuver a "clean" vote on the stadium and expect it too pass unless it were part of a larger deal.  I can only surmise that Zellers means if the tax bill were still in play, a number of Republican votes for the stadium deal could be garnered as part of a trade.  That may still be possible, as the vetoed tax bill could be reconstituted with tax breaks that the Governor finds more palatable (the sales tax exemption on new capital equipment purchases has been mentioned as one he could support although it doesn't seem like it in the veto message).

Where the Governor loses in the failure to come to a wider deal is that he wanted a bonding bill in the neighborhood of $750 million and it looks like the Legislature will pass a bonding bill on Monday with just under $500 million in projects.

As for the stadium bill, I won't be taking any bets one way or the other.  It is a vote that a number of legislators have dreaded since the session began and it is a vote many will be questioned about on the campaign trail (regardless of how they vote).

Here is a link to the Governor's Veto Message on the Tax Bill:

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Legislative Hiatus.  It's only a one day break, but the Legislature took Wednesday off in an attempt to come to accord on the three major stumbling blocks to a speedy end to the 2012 legislative session.  As I reported on Monday, the Legislature and the Governor are at loggerheads over the stadium, the bonding bill, and the tax bill and if all three of those items do not come to resolution, there will likely be an end to the session without any of them passing.  The Republicans threw a "roof-ready" (but dome-less until a future stadium funding package) stadium into the mix yesterday, but that proposal seems to be going nowhere in a hurry.  There has also been talk of putting $200 million in the bonding bill for the stadium, but that doesn't seem to be picking up steam either.  Even at this late date, it's still too early to tell.  Now how is that for an oxymoron?

One complication is that the Legislature is running out of legislative days.  For those not familiar with the term, a legislative day is a day that either body of the Legislature meets in session.  There are 120 legislative days allowed over a biennium.  Possible session dates are limited to days during the regular session, which has a constitutional end date of the first Monday after the third Saturday in May.  Currently, the Legislature has used 114 of its 120-day allotment, leaving six days (five after tomorrow) to be used prior to the constitutionally-mandated end date of May 21.  Because the Legislature must meet at least once every three days (not counting Sundays) while in regular session without a joint agreement between the House and Senate to suspend that requirement, the days would likely be used up by the end of next week.  That still gives the Legislature and Governor plenty of time to come to an agreement, but an agreement may have more to do with the proposed substance of the bills in question as opposed to the time necessary to get them passed.

Right now, it appears that passing a bonding bill of any type may be difficult, even with help from the DFL.  Bonding bills require 60% of each body as opposed to a simple majority (41 votes in the Senate and 81 votes in the House) and there is a lot of resistance from fiscal conservatives (in both parties) about putting more into bonding.  The tax bill also contains a $43 million reduction in the budget reserve to pay for several items, including business property tax relief and the payment to the federal government to accommodate the $30 million "donation" UCare gave to the state of Minnesota.

All this adds up the continuing odd melange that is the 2012 legislative session.

Governor Signs Omnibus Education Bill.  It took a second shot, but the Governor signed HF 2949, the latest omnibus education funding and policy bill passed by the Legislature.  He signed it yesterday, May 1.  The bill passed by overwhelming votes in both the House and Senate.  It was largely comprised of technical and smaller policy measures, many of which will clarify policies passed over the past few sessions.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Legislative Constipation.  Not to work blue, but things are bound up at the Capitol.  It's April 30th, the day legislative leadership had slated for final adjournment, and I'm guessing we'll be here a couple more days.  Legislative leadership met with the Governor earlier this afternoon with the meeting described as "productive," but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

As has been described in the media, there are three big gears--the tax bill, the bonding bill, and the stadium bill--that the Legislature and the Governor are trying to get to mesh in order to accomplish things that each side wants in the waning days of session.  The main question is whether the votes exist to pass either the bonding bill or the stadium bill and we're in a position where each of these bills would need to pass in order for any of them to become law.  In other words, if any of the three doesn't reach the Governor, there would be no global accord.

The tax conference committee finished up its work with the report coming to the floor this afternoon and perhaps being voted upon in the wee, wee hours of the morning or during daylight hours tomorrow.  There are a couple of provisions in the current iteration of the tax bill that will likely make the Governor arch an eyebrow, but the conference committee did take several provision the Governor opposed out of the bill, which may be an indication that the Governor would sign the bill provided the stadium and bonding bills pass.  The statewide business property tax is reduced in the bill, which along with a federally-mandated payback to the federal government brought about by UCare's $30 million donation to the State of Minnesota, reduce the budget reserve by approximately $43 million.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Online Learning Bill Cruises to Passage.  The conference committee on SF 1528 finished last evening passed the Senate by a vote of 51-11 and the House of Representatives by a vote of 129-0.  Given the considerable support (and the lack of anything truly earth-shattering contained in the bill), the Governor is expected to sign the bill.

Teacher Evaluation Conference Committee Passes, Heads for Veto.  The Senate passed the conference committee report on HF 1870 on a vote of 35-28.  The Governor stated his intent to veto the bill a week or so ago, so it's a "dead bill walking."  I failed to report the vote in the House when the bill passed last evening and it came in largely party-line vote, with one DFLer voting for it and one Republican voting against it.
The Rain, the Capitol, and Other Things.  It's a rainy Saturday afternoon and the House and Senate reconvened earlier this afternoon (although they are now in recess).  Things will likely be flying around later this afternoon.  The rotunda is filled with Vikings' fans singing "Skol Vikings! Skol!" about every five minutes.  I don't know if that is going to move things along or not, but this is the first organized pro-stadium rally in a few years.  My only impression is that it would be nice if Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, and John Sullivan would come over to the Capitol and lobby for K-12 funding.  Ah, I'm just jealous.

There have been some education issues floating around.  After not meeting for almost a week, the conference committee on the online learning bill--SF 1528--finished up its work in short order last evening and that report should hit the legislative floors today.  The primary development in that conference committee is that the House receded from its position requiring that every high school student take at least one online course in order to graduate.

In another development, the House passed the conference committee report on HF 1870--the teacher evaluation bill--and the Senate will likely follow suit as early as today.  The Governor has informed everyone that he intends to veto the bill, making the value of passage somewhat questionable.  However, it's important to remember that teacher evaluation will be a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign and both sides want to get as many votes as they can on the bill's proponents and opponents.

PEIP Bill Vetoed.  I neglected to report earlier in the week that the Governor vetoed SF 247, the bill authored by Senator Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) and Representative Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) that would have required that teacher locals would need the approval of the local school board before they could opt to join the Public Employees Insurance Program (PEIP).  The bill was strongly opposed by Education Minnesota.

Here is a link to the veto message:

I'll sign off for now, but I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

School Trust Land Conference Committee Passes House Easily.  There was some question whether or not the conference committee report on HF 2244 would generate the same level of support (104 yes votes) on the House floor as the bill did on its initial pass through the process.  It was mildly surprising that the conference committee report generated even more support, as it passed on a vote of 110-21.  Whether the size of the vote will have an effect on the Governor's actions remains to be seen (and he has vetoed at least one bill this session that had more support in the House) as 110 votes is far greater than the number of votes needed to override a veto and this issue has broad support in the education community.  Just another mystery to be revealed in the last few days of the session,

The conference committee report will now head to the Senate floor, where it is expected to pass either later today or tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

Education Bill Clinker #1:  Not everything in the omnibus education bill is sweetness and light.  Most of the bill is non-controversial in the most non-controversial sense, but there are several provisions that will raise an eyebrow (or two or three).  I'll be writing about a few of these in the days ahead and I'll start with the changes to the principal evaluation provision in the bill that incorporate student performance into the process at a level identical to that found in the teacher evaluation program passed last session.  That level is 35%.

The way I look at it is principals are in charge of every aspect of operations in a school building.  While promotion of learning and achievement are clearly paramount on this list of duties, there is only so much a principal can do about what happens at the level of direct instruction.

Using another in a series of my Gerald Ford Memorial Sports Analogies (I've named this series after the former President, a top-notch college football player and someone not averse to the use of the sports analogy), I'll put it this way.  A principal is like a manager of a baseball team and everyone knows there are games where the manager does everything right.  He uses his players to their optimum value, putting the team in the position to win in the process.  He makes all the  right strategic moves.  But through circumstances beyond his control (sometimes an unlucky bounce), the game may still be lost.

There was compelling testimony in the Senate Education Committee earlier in the session that really showed the predicament and shuffling of priorities that a principal may face during a school year.  This particular principal talked about a situation where the school had experienced a tragedy in the death of several students.  As a result, learning had to take a bit of a back seat for a bit in order to get the culture of the school back on track so that the students could get back to a place where learning was central to the enterprise.  Just another example of circumstances beyond everyone's control having an effect on the learning process, but when in doubt, blame someone.

As I Was Writing. . . The Senate took up the conference committee report on HF 2244.  The discussion was more spirited than the House debate earlier this afternoon and the vote was closer as well.  When the Senate initially passed this bill last month, it was by a vote of 54-8.  Today's vote was 42-20.  There was some concern expressed on the Senate floor that the bill left the Senate was much more sensitive to environmental concerns than the conference committee report and that likely led to the vote erosion.

The bill is now on its way to the Governor and it will be interesting to see if it is signed.  As I reported yesterday, there are some who believe that the Department of Natural Resources is in ardent opposition to the bill (while they expressed concerns during the conference committee proceedings, I wouldn't describe their points as contentious or pointing toward clear and unequivocal opposition) and that they will try to convince the Governor to veto the bill.  Should be interesting (if you find things like this interesting).

As in the case of the staff development bill, if you are so moved, here is the link to contact the Governor with your support or concerns:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gen Tosses a Shut-Out.  In what may be her last bill as a legislator, Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, pushed the conference committee report on HF 2949--the 2012 omnibus education funding/policy bill--through the Senate on a vote of 64-0.  With the overwhelming vote of 119-9 in the House, it's pretty clear that the Governor will sign this bill.

There are some bugs in the bill (there always are bugs in an omnibus bill), but the Governor did have a considerable amount of input and a number of provisions that were promoted by the Governor last session and several fixes that were sought by the Minnesota Department of Education in the wake of the passage of last year's bill are included in HF 2949.  Further, the conference committee did remove a provision or two that the Governor found objectionable.  This should assure signature.

So good work Senator Olson!  You have served the state extremely well throughout your tenure as a tireless advocate for education.

School Trust Land Conference Committee Report Posted.  Below is a link to the conference committee report on HF 2244.  The conference committee finished its work late last week, but there were a couple of items that needed to be clarified before the report could be published.  While this bill passed both the House and Senate floors by wide margins as it headed to conference committee, there is some question whether or not the same level of support will be there as the bill seeks final passage.  The House and Senate bills were considerably different and the final product may run into some objections in each of the legislative bodies as the changes may erode some of the initial support.

I don't follow Twitter a lot, but I did see a Tweet yesterday that reported the Governor having problems with the bill.  I don't know if that is true or not, but we will likely find out in the next few days as passage through the Legislature is virtually assured.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Governor Signs Repeal of Staff Development Allocation Formula.  In a victory for school district administration, the Governor signed HF 2506, the bill that both eliminates the 50%/25%/25% staff development allocation formula and passes a requirement that all students have a on-time course in cardiovascular pulmonary resuscitation and automatic external defibrillator (CPR/AED) training at some point (but only one point) in their grade 7 through 12 tenure.

Note, this does not mean that staff development is being eliminated.  It only eliminates the requirement that 50% of staff development revenue flow directly to sites, with 25% being sent to the district and 25% being reserved for exemplary programs.  This might not seem like much, but as district-wide responsibilities increase in terms of recently-enacted laws like the early grade literacy effort and the teacher evaluation law that will take effect in the 2014-2015 school year and the recently-granted NCLB waiver, more flexibility for school boards will be, like Martha Stewart used to say, "a good thing."

In a year when not much is happening, it's nice to count a few smaller, but significant, victories.
K-12 Conference Committee Report Passes House.  The K-12 conference committee report passed the House on a vote of 119-9 and if there is a similar level of support in the Senate, my guess is the Governor will sign the bill.  The bill will likely be up on the Senate floor later today.

Again, here is the link to the conference committee report on HF 2949:
HF 2949 Conference Committee Report.  Here is the promised link to the conference committee report on HF 2949, the omnibus education finance/policy bill.  It will likely hit the House and Senate floors sometime today and it will be passed.  I have no idea if it will be a straight party-line vote or if a number of DFLers will vote for it.  There isn't a lot here that raises hackles (although there are some provisions that may raise an eyebrow) and the Minnesota Department of Education did weigh in on a number of provisions in an effort to make the bill something the Governor will sign.  We'll just have to see how events unfold.

HF 2244 Conference Committee Report.  I reported last Friday that the conference committee on HF 2244--the school trust lands bill--had reached agreement and that I anticipated that conference committee would be posted over the weekend.  No such luck.  I don't know if this is because there are still outstanding issues or it can be credited to some other reason.  It should be up soon.

SF 2183 Vetoed.  The Governor vetoed, as expected, SF 2183.  SF 2183 (Thompson-R-Lakeville)/HF 2596 (Doepke-R-Orono) would have prevented the Minnesota Department of Education's decisions made through memorandum or bulletin to have the power of law.  There have been a number of bills passed this session attempting to limit the executive branch's ability to "make law" outside of legislative authority and those efforts have been resisted by the executive branch.

This is more than a simple tug-of-war and it's taking place at all levels of government.  It is a discussion that needs to take place as legislative bodies at all levels seem to be experiencing gridlock and issues mount as a result.  The failure of legislative bodies to:  (1) come to any agreement, and (2) provide clear direction to the implementing executive agencies in these agreements, has left a wide swath of area in which executive branch agencies can operate.  Of course, executive branch decisions can be met with derision as they are often unilateral in nature even if input is sought.

While it's unfortunate this bill was vetoed, it should spark a discussion of the proper roles of each branch of government and showcase the need of the Legislature to write clear and concise laws that limit executive branch flexibility in the interpretation and implementation of laws.

Friday, April 20, 2012

And Just Like That!  It only took a little over a day for the conference committee on the omnibus education funding/policy bill (HF 2949) to finish its work.  The framework of the agreement was introduced yesterday, with most of the provisions contained in the framework adopted at yesterday's meeting.  The group finished up its work at a relatively short meeting this morning and the formal conference committee report will be available sometime in the next 12 hours (or so) and I will post it when it becomes available.

Some of the major provisions include:

  • Expansion of PSEO to include 10th grade students.
  • Clarification of language related to the early graduation scholarship program that was passed last session.
  • Extension of two years for students who have not passed the math GRAD test to fulfill their graduation requirements by achieving a passing score on all state and local coursework and credits required for graduation or full participating in two retests of the mathematics GRAD test.
  • Encouragement to enhance opportunities for individualized learning for students.
  • Tightening of some provisions relating to charter schools.
  • Allowance for students to meet a portion of their high school science requirements in a career and technical education course that meets state standards.
  • Requirement that school districts reserve the salary differential between an employee who is deployed in the National Guard (or other reserve unit of the United States Armed Forces) and that person's replacement in an account that would be used to fully pay the salary of the eligible deployed employees.  Funds that remain at the end of the fiscal year can go toward the payment of substitutes and, after that, for any purpose.
  • Clarification of how literacy aid will be calculated to remove issues with how each district organizes their elementary school grade structure.

I'll be providing more later.  There is nothing overly controversial here, although the expansion of PSEO is  consequential.

Trust Lands Conference Committee Likely to Wrap Up This Afternoon.  The conference committee on HF 2244 has been moving more slowly, but will likely wrap up this afternoon.  While the stated goal of HF 2244 is very clear, constructing the machinery to provide greater transparency in the process of management and marketing has proven more complicated.  I will post that report as soon as it becomes available.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Back in Business and Working. The Legislature returned from its spring religious holiday break and has been working diligently since Monday. During the break, the Governor vetoed HF 2083--the bill that would have transferred $415 million from the budget reserve to accelerate the buy-back of the school aids payment shift to 70%/30%--on April 5. Given the numbers in the Legislature, overriding the veto would be a tall order, as the Republicans would have to get 18 DFLers to abandon the Governor in order for a veto override to be successful. That pretty much leaves things as they are.

Just because the veto wasn't overridden doesn't mean it didn't create some noise around the Capitol. It's certainly going to be mentioned in the up-coming campaign and the veto message and the legislative reaction seem to bear that out.

StarTribune Video of Legislative Leadership's Reaction:

Conference Committees Meeting. A number of education-related conference committees are in the midst of their proceedings. Those bills include:

SF 1528--On-line Learning Provisions. Chief authors are Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) and Representative Pam Myhra (R-Burnsville). Other conferees are Senators Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) and LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls) and Representatives Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) and Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona).

HF 2244--School Trust Lands Management Changes. Chief authors are Representative Tim O'Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Senator Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park). Other conferees are Representatives Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River), Dennis McNamara (R-Hastings), Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin Park), and Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) and Senators Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), John Carlson (R-Bemidji), Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), and Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville).

HF 2949--Omnibus Education Policy Bill. Chief authors are Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista). Other conferees are Representatives Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), and Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin Park) and Senators David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls), and Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka).

Headway is being made toward a final agreement between the House and Senate conferees on SF 1528 and HF 2244. Proceedings on HF 2949 will begin tomorrow morning (Thursday, April 19) at 8:00 AM. Depending on how quickly the Legislature wants to wrap things up will determine when these conference committees finish their work. If all were to go smoothly, they could be wrapped up by the end of the week or early next week. The Legislature has identified a tentative end-date of April 30, but it's anyone's guess whether or not that deadline is firm.

Staff Development Allocation Formula Elimination Bill Passed. HF 2506--Representative Jennifer Loon's (R-Eden Prairie) and Senator Carla Nelson's (R-Rochester) bill to eliminate the staff development allocation formula of 50% to sites, 25% to district-wide efforts, and 25% to exemplary site programs--passed the full House today and is on its way to the Governor. The Senate added an amendment requiring school districts to offer CPR training to all students in grades 7 through 12 at least once during their secondary school career.

While the addition of this requirement is a mandate, approximately 70% of school districts in the state are currently offering this training. Further, this is a relatively narrow mandate that is not nearly as burdensome as the mandate that would be removed by the legislation, making it a great trade for Minnesota school districts.

I would urge all of you who want the Governor to sign this bill to contact his office. The contact information can be found on the Governor's web page.

Governor's Office Contact Link:

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Senate Sweeps Two Bills off the Floor. The Senate has just passed its version of the education technical/policy bill off the Senate floor on a vote of 49-13. There are a few helpful provisions in the bill and a few that are a bit on the troublesome side, but overall it's a solid bill. There was one particularly troublesome section of the bill that would have limited bond elections to the November election day (this is not to be confused with the bill that was never heard that would have limited operating referendum elections to the general election date). This section of the legislation was removed thanks to Senator David Brown (R-Becker).

And it was no small matter. Initially, the amendment was ruled out of order because it was asserted that the removal of the provision that limited bond elections to the November election day would lead to property tax increases (possible, but I find the estimates iffy at best) and throw the bill out of balance. Not to be deterred, Senator Brown questioned the ruling of the chair and prevailed on a vote of 37-21 and the amendment was established as being in order. The amendment then passed on a voice vote and the provision was removed from the bill. It likely wasn't easy for Senator Brown to question the ruling of the Senate President, who is of the same political party, but Senator Brown had the amount of political courage to represent his constituency of school districts, many of which continue to grow and have on-going building needs.

I'm sure there are taxpayers who wonder why school districts seeking revenue for building construction and maintenance conduct their elections the way that they do. It has to be noted that there are windows of opportunity for school districts to plan and build and elections often fit into that process so that the timing of the vote and the beginning of the construction project. Limiting elections to once a year would put more pressure on existing facilities--especially in growing school districts--and push projects further into the future, which would drive up costs.

So kudos to Senator Brown for offering the amendment that removed the election limit and having the fortitude to go the extra mile to get the amendment passed. It's important to remember that all bonding projects have to be voted upon, so school districts levies won't be automatically rising because of this action. Senator Brown's action merely gives school districts more flexibility in the conduct of their conversation about facility needs with the voters.

The other bill that passed on the Senate floor was HF 2506, the bill that strikes the current formula for the distribution of staff development revenue. As many of you know, 50% of staff development revenue goes directly to school sites, 25% goes to the district, and 25% goes toward best practices. This is a somewhat archaic provision that really doesn't fit with district needs, given the statewide initiatives that are centered on school districts, especially in terms of achievement and teacher evaluation. School boards and district administrations need optimal flexibility in dealing with these challenges and tying up half of the staff development revenue at the site level prevents the kind of cohesive approach that is absolutely necessary.

The requirement that students receive a half hour of CPR training during their high school years has been attached to the bill. While this does constitute a new mandate, it certainly pales in comparison to the mandate that the bill repeals, but I'll let the reader decide if it's a fair trade or not.

HF 2506 passed on a vote of 56-6, which is a somewhat surprisingly high total. The bill will now head back to the House, where I would expect Representative Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), the House chief author, to accept the Senate amendment. That would send the bill to the Governor. I will inform you of what happens next. The Governor needs to hear from interested parties how important allowing districts greater control over the development and implementation of staff development programs is, so if and when this bill hits the Governor's desk it will be extremely important for districts to make their voices heard.

Again, I cannot stress enough how statewide initiatives like teacher evaluation, the new literacy requirements, and the NCLB waiver require cohesive, district-wide staff development strategies. The passage of HF 2506 and the Governor's signature on it would be of great assistance to school districts in successfully developing and implementing staff development programs that aggressively meet these new challenges.