Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Laboring. The House Education Reform Committee spent this morning's meeting involved in the annual debate between school districts and the resort industry (and the State Fair) over when school can start. For over 20 years, school districts in Minnesota have not been able to start school prior to Labor Day unless a waiver is obtained (or special legislation passed) to allow it. The nail was pounded into the board again this year, as the same arguments that have been used for the past 20 years (on both sides) saw the light of day again. The bill--HF 2325--is authored by Representative Connie Doepke (R-Orono). The bill passed out of committee on a voice vote and was referred to the floor. It is expected that opponents of the measure will attempt to have HF 2325 referred to back to committee (which one is unclear at this juncture) when it is reported to the floor on Thursday.

The House also dealt with Representative Carol McFarlane's (R-White Bear Lake) HF 1073, a bill that would encourage school districts to create learning plans for their students as they enter 9th grade to help them fashion their curricular decisions to match their career and academic interests. While not controversial on its face, we only have to recall the discussions of the Profile of Learning back in the late-20th century to appreciate the fact if presented carelessly, bills like HF 1073 can cause quite a furor. Of course, Representative McFarlane, as a SEE veteran, avoided all the pitfalls and clearly presented how this bill will help students, school districts, and post-secondary institutions.

It was "don't blink or you'll miss it" in the House Education Finance Committee this afternoon. The committee heard five bills (four of them local fund transfer bills) in record time, adjourning after a mere 35 minutes.

Things picked back up again in the Senate Education Committee. After taking testimony (but no action as the bill was not officially in the committee's jurisdiction) on the United South Central school district's cooperative facilities grant request (SF 1963-Rosen-R-Fairmont), attention returned to Senator Gen Olson's (R-Minnetrista) SF 1531, a bill that would expand the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program to qualified 9th and 10th graders. The bill would also make private, for-profit vocational schools eligible to receive students under the program.

There are some obvious issues with the SF 1531. Making private, for-profit institutions eligible to receive students and, by extension, the revenue allotted to them is a dicey proposition. Further, more and more school districts have been creating dual-enrollment "college in the schools" programs in order to keep students on their high school campus and earning college credits without changing learning environments. The problem that Senator Olson has accurately pointed out is that the lion's share of the post-secondary opportunities accessed by students are academic, and not technical, in nature.

What has happened to career and technical education in Minnesota over the past couple of decades is really tragic. There are ample explanations for the demise of these programs, ranging from changes in the career and technical education funding formula (first true formula increase in more than a decade was passed last session) to the stress on basic skills testing that has absorbed an increasing role in the school year (and school day) and, as a result, has prevented many students from being able to take career and technical education courses. Senator Olson, as a passionate and tireless advocate for career and technical education, wants to see more students exposed to these programs, as they may consist of both the most appropriate learning environment for these students and a curriculum that will engage them and keep them in school.

The bill was laid over (for the third time) as the clock ran out for the day. I'll keep you posted on what's next for this one.

No comments: