Thursday, April 05, 2012

Senate Sweeps Two Bills off the Floor. The Senate has just passed its version of the education technical/policy bill off the Senate floor on a vote of 49-13. There are a few helpful provisions in the bill and a few that are a bit on the troublesome side, but overall it's a solid bill. There was one particularly troublesome section of the bill that would have limited bond elections to the November election day (this is not to be confused with the bill that was never heard that would have limited operating referendum elections to the general election date). This section of the legislation was removed thanks to Senator David Brown (R-Becker).

And it was no small matter. Initially, the amendment was ruled out of order because it was asserted that the removal of the provision that limited bond elections to the November election day would lead to property tax increases (possible, but I find the estimates iffy at best) and throw the bill out of balance. Not to be deterred, Senator Brown questioned the ruling of the chair and prevailed on a vote of 37-21 and the amendment was established as being in order. The amendment then passed on a voice vote and the provision was removed from the bill. It likely wasn't easy for Senator Brown to question the ruling of the Senate President, who is of the same political party, but Senator Brown had the amount of political courage to represent his constituency of school districts, many of which continue to grow and have on-going building needs.

I'm sure there are taxpayers who wonder why school districts seeking revenue for building construction and maintenance conduct their elections the way that they do. It has to be noted that there are windows of opportunity for school districts to plan and build and elections often fit into that process so that the timing of the vote and the beginning of the construction project. Limiting elections to once a year would put more pressure on existing facilities--especially in growing school districts--and push projects further into the future, which would drive up costs.

So kudos to Senator Brown for offering the amendment that removed the election limit and having the fortitude to go the extra mile to get the amendment passed. It's important to remember that all bonding projects have to be voted upon, so school districts levies won't be automatically rising because of this action. Senator Brown's action merely gives school districts more flexibility in the conduct of their conversation about facility needs with the voters.

The other bill that passed on the Senate floor was HF 2506, the bill that strikes the current formula for the distribution of staff development revenue. As many of you know, 50% of staff development revenue goes directly to school sites, 25% goes to the district, and 25% goes toward best practices. This is a somewhat archaic provision that really doesn't fit with district needs, given the statewide initiatives that are centered on school districts, especially in terms of achievement and teacher evaluation. School boards and district administrations need optimal flexibility in dealing with these challenges and tying up half of the staff development revenue at the site level prevents the kind of cohesive approach that is absolutely necessary.

The requirement that students receive a half hour of CPR training during their high school years has been attached to the bill. While this does constitute a new mandate, it certainly pales in comparison to the mandate that the bill repeals, but I'll let the reader decide if it's a fair trade or not.

HF 2506 passed on a vote of 56-6, which is a somewhat surprisingly high total. The bill will now head back to the House, where I would expect Representative Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), the House chief author, to accept the Senate amendment. That would send the bill to the Governor. I will inform you of what happens next. The Governor needs to hear from interested parties how important allowing districts greater control over the development and implementation of staff development programs is, so if and when this bill hits the Governor's desk it will be extremely important for districts to make their voices heard.

Again, I cannot stress enough how statewide initiatives like teacher evaluation, the new literacy requirements, and the NCLB waiver require cohesive, district-wide staff development strategies. The passage of HF 2506 and the Governor's signature on it would be of great assistance to school districts in successfully developing and implementing staff development programs that aggressively meet these new challenges.

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