Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One Step Closer. It's not just the title of a Doobie Brothers album. It's also the update on HF 2083 and HF 2244. Both bills were heard in the House Ways and Means Committee (also known as the Ways to be Mean Committee) this evening and were recommended to pass and sent to the House floor.

HF 2083 is, for lack of a better term, the House Omnibus Education Funding Bill, Part Un. The centerpiece of the bill is the provision that would deplete the budget reserve by about $400 million to set the education aids payment schedule at 70%/30%. There are several other provisions in the bill, most notably the repeal of "last in/first out," but the heart of the bill lies in the decision to flip-flop the school aids payment schedule and the budget reserve. I've written enough about this over the past couple of days, so I won't go on any further other than to say the hearing of the bill tonight was much more reserved (and considerably shorter) than the proceedings in last night's House Tax Committee meeting.

HF 2244 is the bill that would create a new Legislative-Citizen panel to manage the School Trust Lands and hopefully be more aggressive (while ensuring responsible treatment of the environment) in earning revenue from mineral and lumber leases on School Trust Land property. The environmental community is not exactly enamored with this bill, as (and I am mentally paraphrasing here) they believe much of the school trust land lies in extremely fragile areas and cannot be mined or forested without running a very high risk of environmental degradation. Those concerns did not derail the bill and it is also on its way to the House floor.

Kudos are in order for Representatives Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) and Tim O'Driscoll for their hard work on this bill. While Representative O'Driscoll is the chief author this session, Representative Denise Dittrich laid the groundwork for this legislation with some heavy lifting over the past three or four years. MSBA, especially chief lobbyist Grace Keliher, also deserves a lot of credit for laying the groundwork on the bill and doing a thorough job of studying how the system works in other states and how Minnesota's system can be improved.

Ravitch on a Roll. Her critics would say "Ravitch on a rant," but however one views it, education writer and historian Diane Ravitch has been cranking out article after article critiquing a number of the latest education reforms, especially those that grade teacher performance on student test scores. At one point in her career, Ravitch was viewed as an enemy of the "education cartel" and someone who embraced school choice. Whether that depiction was accurate, her standard argument now is that we should look outside the school to make certain children (and their parents) are getting the social supports that they need and let well-prepared teachers teach.

Ravitch has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books over the past year and I've included these three links to some of her recent work. Although I subscribe to NYRB, I'm glad they link these articles for free. The first two links are from a two-part article (appearing in the March 8, 2012, and March 22, 2012 issues) that review a book on the Finnish education system (she likes) and a book on Teach for America (she doesn't like). The third link is a blog entry from the NYRB blog in which she "grades" Arne Duncan.

In a related note, Dr. Ravitch will be the keynote speaker at the Education Minnesota fall convention. I'm hoping that the good folks at EM make her appearance one the entire education community can attend. Agree with her or not, Ravitch is a tremendous writer with some very keen insights about the history of American education and the challenges we, as a nation, face as we move forward into the future.

Remembering Van Mueller. I wanted to note the recent passing of all-time Friend of Equity Van Mueller, who died from an on-going battle with lung cancer last week. For those of you
who didn't know Van, let's just say he was a insightful analyst, wonderful professor, and tireless advocate of education funding equity. He touched many lives and my guess is he supplied over half of the educational leadership that studied at the University of Minnesota with their school finance acumen. I don't know if Van was even allowed to drive through the Western Hennepin County suburbs during the Skeen lawsuit, as he certainly was a burr under the saddle of the districts in that neck of the woods.

We at SEE never got around to giving Van the Friend of Equity award that he so richly reserved and that is to our great fault. Recognizing our shortcoming, we should now pledge to never forget the lessons he taught us, the energy (and sense of humor) he brought to the fight, and his devotion to children and educators. Remembering him in that vein and working toward the goals he so adamantly espoused is probably the best award we can give him.

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