Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coda to Yesterday. I was typing so fast yesterday, that I didn't finish all my thoughts on the individualized learning bill and the career and technical education bills that have been discussed in the House and Senate Education Committees this session. To me (and this may just be me), it's ironic that we have heard so much about additional paths for student learning while at the same time hearing more and more (and more and more) about the achievement gap and the need to use standardized tests to measure student, teachers, and institutional performance. On the one hand, it's "blow up the system," while on the other, it's "use narrow assessment tools" to measure the "blown up" system. Oh, and by the way, do all of this as cheaply as possible. That just seems incongruent to me.

Not to launch myself up on the soap box, but we live in the richest country in the world at the richest era of human history and we can't seem to create an education system that meets students where they are and provide them with the necessary pathways to ably prepare for their futures. I've never seen the alternative education or charter school movements as threats to the traditional public education system. They should be complementary in nature, as students should have more public school options as opposed to less. Where I differ somewhat with the current mode of thinking is that student progress should be gauged through multiple measures and not simply standardized test performance.

The other angle that is not being discussed at all is that of resources. It's not an iron law of education finance, but generally, the more individualized you make the system, the greater the necessary investment to keep class sizes manageable, especially in applied education settings. Somehow, that element has been missing in the discussion thus far this year.

Wednesday Committees. The House Education Finance Committee and the Senate Education Committee met today and if their respective agendas are any indication, things are winding down quickly. The House Education Finance Committee heard two bills--HF 2838 (Howes-R-Walker) and HF 2917 (Quam-R-Byron)--and listened to a presentation on the importance of physical education in students' educational lives.

HF 2838 would provide an annual appropriation of $250,000 for the Bemidji school district on an on-going basis to help pay for their transportation costs. Bemidji is a very large school district and has been running a deficit in their transportation fund since the transportation formula was rolled into the general education formula. The transportation sparsity component of the general education formula simply doesn't meet the considerable transportation needs in Bemidji, which has prompted Representative Howes to sponsor this bill.

HF 2917 is something that needs to pass this session to help the Byron and Stewartville school districts, which found themselves located in a city of the first class after Rochester was classified as such through legislation last session. Because the Byron and Stewartville school districts edge into the city of Rochester, they would be governed by a debt limit that would cause problems for them. One of the big differences (and this isn't the case in Rochester yet) between school districts in cities of the first class and other school districts is that districts in cities of the first class can issue bonds without going to the voters provided the total bonded indebtedness is less than 0.7 % of the total market value of the school district. The bonded indebtedness in Byron and Stewartville clearly results from voter approved bonds, making this a situation that has to be remedied for them.

The Senate Education Committee covered four bills, three of which were relatively non-controversial. The only controversial bill was SF 2306 (Michel-R-Edina), the proposal that would allow the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul to run the school districts in those cities. I'm having a hard time figuring out the proponents of this bill viewing this as being an "extra tool in the tool box" to deal with the achievement gap. It is important to note that neither the Mayor of Minneapolis nor the Mayor of St. Paul has requested this bill.

The other bills were as follows:
  • SF 2158 (Dahms-R-Redwood Falls), which would authorize a fund transfer for New Ulm.
  • SF 2535 (Olson-R-Minnetrista), which would modify the regulations and fee structure for the Board of School Administrators.
  • SF 2482 (Olson-R-Minnetrista), which cleans up some language problems in programs (the Early Graduation Achievement Scholarship Program and the Literacy Incentives Program) passed last session.
Rumors Abound. As I reported yesterday, indications are that the Legislature may try to speed things up dramatically and finish prior to their planned Holiday Break, which is scheduled to begin on Friday, April 6. That would mean wall-to-wall proceedings for the next two weeks.

The "big furniture" bills are moving rapidly through the system (except for the bonding bill) and it wouldn't be much a stretch to get those bills to the Governor for likely vetoes. The question is more over other politically charged bills over which the Legislature may have some disagreement between the two bodies. One thing that has surprised me a bit this session is that the coordination between the House and Senate has not been as closely aligned as I thought it would be. This could spell trouble if either body wants to work with the Governor to pass something into law this session, as a truncated timeline may make it difficult to successfully negotiate differences that exist between the House and Senate versions of bills.

Anyway, I'll be there until the end whether it's April 6 or April 30 and I'll keep you posted on what is transpiring.

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