Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Report. It was a full day on Tuesday, as all three education-related committees met and discussed a slate of bills. The day began in the House Education Reform Committee with hearings on HF 682 (Kiel-R-Crookston) and HF 2658 (Doepke-R-Orono).

The purpose of HF 682 is to clarify that students can earn course credits for science in a career and technical education setting. A number of career and technical programs have been dramatically elevating the academic content in their course offerings. This has fostered several positive developments. First and foremost, many students learn better in applied settings and making certain these applied settings deliver a high level of academic content is crucial. Second, this concentration has helped career and technical programs escape the characterization that they are offered primarily to keep low-achieving students in school. Finally, career and technical education classes often more closely gauge emerging workforce skill needs than academic programs and provide students who are wondering about their "next step" after high school the opportunity to consider a path other than a four-year college.

The bill was recommended to pass on a voice vote and will be heading for the House floor. Kudos to Jerry Schoenfeld, who has lobbied for career and technical courses for decades (and is a former Agricultural educator to boot) for continuing to promote career and technical education as a valid option for students throughout Minnesota. Studies continue to show that in order to be successful in the new economy, students will need to graduate from high school and receive a degree or certificate beyond a high school diploma. Career and technical education programs help students win on both these counts, as they can spark the interest of many students and, as a result, keep them in school and further help students find a career interest and make meaningful strides toward training in that career at an early age.

The committee then turned its attention to HF 2658, which would help create settings that would promote individualized education. Testimony on the bill was provided by longtime education reform advocate Ted Kolderie and students from the Avalon charter school. Avalon has done quite a bit with project-based education, which by its very nature is individualized. I found the testimony from the student quite compelling, as she described how she has used projects and internships to prepare herself for her next step, which in her case will be college.

I couldn't help but mutter "Holy Profiles of Learning, Batman," as I listened to the testimony. I'm kidding of course, as while there were elements of individualized learning in the Profiles of Learning, the Profiles became a project that lost its focus, became increasingly rule-driven and eventually collapsed of its own weight. The effort toward individualized learning contained in HF 2658 is much more straightforward and certainly meets the students where they are in a variety of ways.

It will be interesting to see how the bill forward from this point. The Senate companion, HF 2201 (Olson-R-Minnestrista), is currently in the Senate Finance Committee. It could become part of an omnibus bill or may move separately and it will be interesting to see what transpires.

The House Education Finance Committee handled three bills. The first, HF 2640 (Dettmer-R-Forest Lake), would remedy the pay differential that occurs when a teacher who serves in the National Guard goes on active duty and requires a substitute during the school year. This bill is not moving in the Senate, so it will be interesting to see if Representative Dettmer can find a home for it by the end of the session.

The committee then turned to HF 2890 (Quam-R-Byron), a bill that would create a pilot project in the Byron school district to create more comprehensive immersion of technology in the school system. Dr. Wendy Shannon, Byron Superintendent, and Jen Hegna, Director of Information and Learning Technologies, testified in favor of the bill and did a wonderful job showing how Byron has effectively used technology in raising student achievement. The major stumbling block for the bill is its $120,000 price tag. While $120,000 wouldn't be an overwhelming obstacle during a budget year, it becomes one in a legislative session when many legislators believe spending an additional nickel is too much.

The final bill addressed in House Education Finance was HF 2714 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine), another bill currently without a Senate companion. The gist of the bill is to clean up some charter school language and, in the words of the bill's title, "foster charter school accountability and success." The most controversial provision of the bill is the one that would allow charter schools to "fast track" teachers licensed in other states to teach in Minnesota. This provision caused a bit of a rift between the charter school directors who testified in favor of the bill and the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, which expressed concern over how the hiring of staff not holding a valid Minnesota teaching license would both be perceived and what it would mean to student achievement.

The day ended in the Senate Education Committee. The first portion of the hearing was dedicated to a presentation on collective bargaining from the Minnesota School Boards Association. MSBA staff members Gary Lee and Amy Fullenkamp-Taylor did a great job outlining the process and describing the various salary grids that local school districts have developed. Jan Alswager and Lee Johansen offered additional comments from Education Minnesota's perspective. All in all, it was an informative session, especially for those legislators who had little familiarity with the negotiating process.

Attention then turned to HF 2083, the bill passed by the House last week that would accelerate the re-payment of the education aids payment shift with money from the state budget reserve. The bill that passed the House had a number of policy provisions, most notably the repeal of "last in/first out" as layoff policy for school districts. Senate chief author Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) stripped all of the House policy provisions out of the bill, making the bill almost exclusively devoted to bringing the aid payment shift to 70%/30%. Senator Olson's amendment to the House bill did contain language that would prevent the extension of a continuing contract without a settlement.

The DFLers offered an amendment that would have increased taxes by making some changes to the corporate tax base and closing some perceived loopholes in Minnesota's corporate tax framework. I'll have to admit that things got a bit heated as the two opposing schools of tax policy had at it as the amendment was discussed. In the end, the amendment was defeated on a vote of 5-11. The bill was then recommended to pass and sent to the Senate Finance Committee.

Interesting Rumor Making the Rounds Today. A very interesting rumor contending that the Legislature may aim for adjournment prior to Easter whipped through the hallowed halls of the Capitol today. My impression? Fine by me if true. There are some smaller bills that it would be "nice" to pass, but there's nothing earth-shattering that should hold the Legislature in St. Paul.

It's like this. Legislative re-districting complete? Check. Budget forecast in at an amount that doesn't require further budget cuts? Check. That leaves the bonding bill, which remains unfinished business. Other than that, there are a few pieces of legislation (the extension of the use of prone restraint in the education arena) that are on their way to passage (and would likely be signed) and there's plenty of time to get that done by the first week of April.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

J. Novak said...

HF 682 states that a tech class needs to have "some" science credits in chemistry, physics, earth science, or biology. I quote, " . . .utilizes standards associated with either the chemistry, physics, or biology credit or a combination thereof."
You claim it to be an advancement for students seeking further education at a tech level. If that is the case, why did we spend billions (?) to establish standards. Doesn't this water down the science standards?