Thursday, March 22, 2012

Week Winding Down. The second deadline passes tomorrow and the policy committees will have finished their work for the session. It's still unclear how many items will be heading to the floor on their own and how many will be folded into omnibus bills.

Things happened quickly in the House Education Finance Committee today, as three bills were heard. Nothing earth-shattering, but here are the bills.
  • HF 2792 (Doepke-R-Orono): Allows Wayzata to use lease levy for administrative space.
  • HF 2918 (Anzelc-DFL-Balsam Township): Modifies changes made to cost allocation process for special education transportation expenses made during the 2011 session.
  • HF 2939 (Downey-R-Edina): Makes changes to the school district detachment and annexation process by creating a parent petitioning process.
The Senate Education Committee went beyond its normally allotted hour-and-a-half and had a couple of very interesting discussions. The lion's share of the committee's time went to a bill that would establish a casino with video slots at Canterbury Park and, like the fate of SF 1046 (Senjem-R-Rochester) on Monday in the State Government and Innovation Committee, the bill did not meet with a positive fate. At the State Government and Innovation Committe, SF 1046 failed on a vote with five "yes" votes and eight "no" votes. The bill heard today in the Education Committee--SF 1909 (DeKruif-R-Madison Lake)--was very similar to the bill defeated on Monday and while it did not meet with outright defeat, the bill was placed on the table and with no further committee meetings scheduled, breathing life into the bill will prove extremely difficult.

This is another example of one of the odd aspects of this year's session. I have never seen a session when so many similar (sometimes identical) bills or bill provisions have been introduced by different authors and heard in different committees. Most of the time, it doesn't make a bit of difference as one bill takes precedence over the other and heads through the process by itself. Still, it has been a bit of a departure from accepted practice and it can make life more complicated for those trying to follow bills.

The committee also heard SF 2515 (Senjem-R-Rochester), the Senate companion to HF 2917 (Quam-R-Byron) that was heard yesterday in the House Education Finance Committee. I need to clarify my comments from yesterday, as I didn't get the explanation quite right. I was under the impression that the primary reason for the bill was the fact that the Stewartville and Byron school districts (both of which have a portion of the city of Rochester in their district) were adversely affected by Rochester's being granted city of the first class status last session. It is true that the Rochester move did cause problems for Stewartville and Byron, but Rochester's level of bonded indebtedness also put them dangerously close to the cap imposed on cities of the first class for that category. Rochester is projected to undergo continued growth over the next decade and the pressure for new facilities and facility upgrades may well push the district's bonded indebtedness over the cap for cities of the first class. Thus, a change is needed.

The committee also heard SF 2460 (Harrington-DFL-St. Paul). SF 2460 would allow charter schools where more than 60% of the school's students are eligible to participate in the high school graduation incentives program to be classified as an area learning center for student evaluation and graduation rate determination. The bill featured some wonderful testimony from high school students who are now on track to graduate after falling dramatically behind earlier in high school. There was some trepidation expressed over the bill, as the NCLB waiver received earlier this year has a number of very specific requirements pertaining to how low-performing schools will be treated. I can appreciate these concerns, but again, so much of the obsession with evaluation misses the fact that students' academic promise (heck, maybe even their lives) are saved by alternative educators and that maybe we should back off the evaluation schtick for both students and schools a bit and look at the big picture. Here's hoping that a more comprehensive view of learning can be established in the wake of the NCLB waiver and that Minnesota can retain its position as a leader in meeting the needs of students where they are and bringing them to a place where they can take their next life step comfortably.

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