Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dollars for (Low Income) Scholars. The House and Senate took their annual trek into the land of low-income scholarships for students in low-performing schools today, with University of Arkansas Professor (and St. Cloud native) Dr. Patrick Wolf providing testimony on a number of studies he has performed on the subject of school choice, especially as it pertains to low-income scholarship programs in urban areas. Dr. Wolf's work is certainly thorough, but it doesn't depart that much from the standard patter surrounding the issue.

In fairness to Wolf, the response from opponents didn't shed that much new light on the issue either. This is an issue where pretty much everyone has made up their minds. It's either going to be viewed as a silver bullet or a load of bull.

While I did not testify, I did send a letter to each committee member outlining the SEE organization's long-standing opposition to the use of public money for private education. In addition, I spun a slightly different angle highlighting how recent studies in Minnesota have shown state funding for education in general to be well below what is necessary to meet state and local academic standards and further that the funding system as a whole lacks a rational link between what is expected in terms of performance and what is provided in terms of funding. While that argument may not resonate in the short term, it is a point that the education community must repeatedly state if it is to stem the attack against public education.

Here is a link to Dr. Patrick Wolf. Agree with him or not, he has a very impressive resume.

Here's an Interesting Bill. Representative Pat Garofalo's (R-Farmington) HF 1859 was discussed today as well. HF 1859 would removed Northfield from the metro equity region for purposes of calculation of equity revenue. For those of you who don't recall when the equity revenue program was established in 1999, school districts with their district offices in the seven-county metropolitan area received a slightly more revenue than school districts with their offices outside the seven-county metropolitan area and that is still the case. Dakota County makes up part of the Northfield school district and the district moved its main office to that end of the district in order to collect more revenue. Believe me, the haul didn't resemble what was found at Sutter's Mill way back when, but the district did make a relevant point with the move about how splitting the equity formula into two regionally-based calculations.

As much as I've worked on the equity formula over the years, it may be time for it to go the way of the dinosaur. It's been amended a number of times and (trying to be charitable here) those amendments haven't helped make the equity program more equitable or the state education funding system more equitable. As education funding reform is considered, a new approach to the challenges caused by disparities in funding is warranted. While 1859 shouldn't pass (as Northfield can't afford to lose the approximately $10,000 the change would cost them), it is important that bills like it are introduced so that the Legislature can revisit the historical record and determine whether or not the bases upon which the current array of formulas were built remain valid.

Another $300 Plus Million Up! The February budget forecast was released today and it contained another dose of good news. The revenue uptick reported in this forecast amounts to $323 million. Of this amount, $5 million will go toward replenishing the budget reserve to its statutorily-mandated level of $653 million, with the remaining $318 million going to buy back the state aid portion of the education funding shift. The $318 million will reduce the shift by approximately 4 percentage points. My only hope is that when the education funding bill is passed that it is made crystal clear that this additional revenue is going toward repayment of the shift and NOT to school district bottom lines.

I haven't had time to do an in-depth analysis of the revenue forecast, but I hope to be able to do that in the next couple of days.

The Oscars. I only watch the Oscars for their sheer entertainment value, but when I was watching the other night, I thought to myself "What if we made a movie about SEE?" Comedy or drama? Blockbuster or small art-house indie flick? 3-D or not? Animated? About the only thing I could settle on was George Clooney will portray Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Denny Carlson. Everything else is up in the air.

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