Monday, March 12, 2012

Senate Education Meeting. The Senate Education Committee met Monday afternoon and finished up three bills. Two of the bills--SF 2213 (Nelson-R-Rochester) and SF 1889 (Kruse-R-Brooklyn Park)--took up most of the time. The other bill was SF 1932 (Bonoff-DFL-Minnetonka), a bill that would allow substitute principals to serve up to 15 consecutive days without requiring them to be up-to-date on continuing education credits, and it was finished in short order.

SF 2213 is the bill that would put student performance data measurement into the principals evaluation legislation passed last session. The component of the assessment comprised by this data is at the same level--35%--as that of the student performance portion of the teacher evaluation program.

There are obvious issues with this approach. The "student performance posse," who believe that student performance data should be at the heart of all evaluations, is in full support of this legislation and believes that principals can be fairly judged on how students are doing academically. While it can be argued that principals do have a fair amount of power in the organization and delivery of academic services, proponents of this legislation seem to believe that is all they do.

A number of principals testified in opposition to the bill and one of the primary points in their argument is that principals have a wide range of responsibilities, a large portion of which is creating a supportive environment in which any learning can take place. As was pointed out in testimony, sometimes decisions to create a healthy environment can limit test score growth in the short-run, but will bear long-term benefits. Principals who become too "test-score centric" in their thinking may be tempted to forego making sound decisions that will best serve students in the long run.

One of the ironies in all of this is that the principals' organizations--MESPA and MAASP--came forward last session with legislation that promoted the evaluation of their members. There was no test-score data in that legislation and it's odd now to see this element saddled onto the evaluation.

SF 1889 is the bill that would reorganize the management of the School Trust Lands and place jurisdiction of these lands under a Legislative-Citizen Commission. This bill is the result of much work undertaken by MSBA and Representative Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) and is the Senate companion to HF 2244 (O'Driscoll-R-Sartell). The bill was recommended to pass and sent to the Environment Committee for further consideration, but only after about forty-five minutes of conversation and the adoption of an amendment that would add two legislators to the commission that would oversee the trust lands.

Night Moves. The education day ended with a night hearing in the House Tax Committee of HF 2083 (Garofalo-R-Farmington), the recently introduced House bill that I described yesterday. Under HF 2083, the state budget reserve would be bought down by over $400 million with that revenue being used to buy the education aid payment shift back to the 70%/30% level. As in the Education Finance Committee, Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter expressed grave concerns about the bill, contending that it may jeopardize the budget stability the state seems to be enjoying right now as the result of two consecutive positive budget forecasts.

DFLers offered a number of amendments, all of which failed. The amendments not only dealt with the aid payment shift, but included various tax increases (some of which are contained in the Governor's jobs bill). The DFLers proposed that the proceeds from these tax increases would go to a number of purposes, including buying back the shift further or putting more money on the general education formula. One amendment, offered by Representative Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), would have increased the referendum equalization factor to $710,000/PU, an almost 50% increase in the current referendum equalizing factor of $476,000.

Although the amendment failed, it was good to see it offered. One message I have given to legislators this session is that instead of re-inventing the Market Value Homestead Credit that was eliminated last session, they should buy down education levies instead. The best place to start with this project is the referendum equalizing factor, which hasn't been upgraded since 1993. So even though it was unsuccessful, the brief discussion that surrounded the amendment did highlight an issue that needs to be remedied.

Here's a little diddy from today's StarTribune in the letters-to-the-editor section. Minnetonka Superintendent Dennis Peterson contends that acceleration of the payback of the shift shouldn't take place and that the money should instead be given to school districts in the form of increased aid.

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