Thursday, January 26, 2012

Things Get a Bit Spicy Today. Both the House education-related hearings featured some rhetorical wrangling and a lot of spirited discussion. It started out this morning in the Education Reform Committee with Representative Andrea Kieffer's (R-Woodbury) HF 1770, the companion to Senator Ted Daley's (R-Eagan) SF 1493. This bill would require that college students wanting to be teachers would have to pass a basic skills test before they could be admitted to an accredited teacher preparation program.

The sticking point in the discussion came when an amendment was offered by Representative Kory Kath (DFL-Owatonna). Representative Kath's amendment proposed to give the higher education institution attended by the student the leeway to determine when the test would be administered and only require that teaching candidates pass the basic skills test before they graduated from the teaching preparation program. Both sides went at it and made good points. It's not like the basic skills test is rocket science, but at the same time, a number of colleges require teaching candidates to declare their intention to enter the teaching preparation program during their sophomore year, which is earlier than when a number of candidates take a college math course. Ultimately, the amendment passed by one vote, which didn't please a number of the majority members of the committee. What happens from this point both with the bill and this particular amendment remains to be seen, but my guess is we'll see more debate on this point as we move forward.

The afternoon hearing centered on the early childhood scholarship program. The committee heard HF 1828 authored by Representative Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), which would require that 50% of the revenue dedicated to the early childhood scholarship program be dedicated to programs outside the seven-county metropolitan area. One of the problems with the program from the Legislature's perspective is that rural programs get shortchanged. The bill was laid over for possible exclusion in the omnibus education funding bill.

The remainder of the committee time was dedicated to a presentation by the Minnesota Department of Education regarding its vision for the early childhood scholarship program and the early childhood education in general. Dr. Karen Cadigan, director of the Early Learning Center at the department provided the bulk of the Department's testimony.

In many ways, the discussion was a holdover from the close of last session. A number of legislators object to the quality rating system, a provision that was part of the original early childhood bill last session, but eliminated by amendment on the House floor. The quality rating system was implemented unilaterally by the Governor after the special session concluded last summer over the objections of legislators. One can only conjecture as to why so many object to the quality rating system, but it appears that most of the objections arise from an assertion that it discriminates against small family daycare providers and providers aligned with religious institutions.

So, as in the case of last year, the policy territory is being staked out and the differences are as vast as they were last session. The primary comfort this year is that nothing has to pass. It would be nice if a number of things did pass, but budget questions aren't hanging over the Legislature's head this session, which makes things much easier to accept.

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