Sunday, April 01, 2012

We're Going to Be Coming Back. For awhile over the past few weeks, it looked the Legislature was going to be working on a sequel to the Fast & Furious movie franchise entitled Fast & Furious: St. Paul Drift and finish up the 2012 Legislative Session by the Easter/Passover break, but it was not to be. A number of factors look to be contributing to extending the workload beyond the Easter/Passover break, which runs from Friday, April 6, until Friday, April 13. If the Legislature returns, the next target for an end-date is April 30.

Foremost among these factors is the status of the bonding bill, which has yet to hit the flo

or of either legislative body. As it stands now, the Senate's bonding bill is comprised of $496 million in state projects, while the level of bonding in the House bill is at $280 million. Negotiating a bonding bill is always a complex operation, and when the divide is this significant, the magnitude of complexity is redoubled. Hopefully, the bills will pass in their respective bodies before the break and negotiations to construct a single proposal that will garner the necessary votes for passage in both bodies (60% of members and not a simple majority) will begin when the Legislature returns after the Spring religious holidays.
The levels of spending in the bonding bill are relatively low--especially in the House proposal--but it is important to remember that a $500 million bonding bill was passed as part of the agreement between the Legislature and the Governor that brought the end to the government shutdown last year.

Bonding Bill Analysis from MinnPost:

The bonding bill was not the only reason why progress toward a quick ending to the 2012 Legislative Session stalled. The Racino bill--dead about a week ago--was revived as an amendment to a technical bill relating to the total operating capital levy that passed on the House floor last session--HF 873--and passed the Senate Finance Committee. It was a long hearing, as opponents of gambling expansion offered multiple amendments aimed at limiting the operations of the proposed Racino. In the end, most
of those amendments were unsuccessful (and those that were successful weren't that significant) and the bill was recommended to pass and sent to the Senate floor, where it will likely be discussed after the Legislature returns from its break.

The fact that the legislation to which Racino was attached is a House File, if it passes the Senate successfully, it will not have to be returned to a House Committe, but would instead go directly to the House floor, where the House author (Representative Pat Garofalo-R-Farmington) will either move to accept the amendment or refuse to concur with the amendment and send the bill to a conference committee. I have no idea what Representative Garofalo is thinking about doing, because the bill would have to pass on the Senate floor first, and the odds on that (hey, it is a gambling bill so it has to have odds) are anyone's guess at this point. Representative Garofalo is not listed as a co-author on any of the Racino bills, which muddies the waters even more.

But, and I can't stress this enough, the Racino bill still has tough sledding ahead, seeing that it was defeated in the State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee on March 20. The Senate author of the Racino legislation is Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem (R-Rochester). He may want to talk with his fellow Rochester State Senator Carla Nelson, who is the chief author of SF 2059, a bill that would require students to receive training in CPR and th
e use of defibrillators. My guess is this bill is going to need resuscitation at several junctures between now and the end of session.

Elimination of Staff Development Allocation Formula Passes on House Floor. A policy that has stuck in the craw of many over the past twenty years is the requirement that staff development revenue be allocated by the following formula: 50% directly to sites for site-determined staff development efforts, 25% to the district for district-wide staff development programs, and 25% to best practices programs. HF 2506 (Loon-R-Eden Prairie) passed the House floor on a vote of 78-51, with five DFLers supporting the measure. HF 2506 met up with its companion bill, SF 2059 (Nelson-R-Rochester), on the Senate floor and has been substituted (in other words, we are working off the Senate language with the H
ouse's label). It's anyone guess when it will come up on the Senate floor and whether the Governor will sign it if it gets to him.

I would hope that the Governor gives serious consideration to signing the bill even though the bill has limited bipartisan support. This is a good bill and necessary as the state moves forward with the implementation of the recently-granted Federal waiver from No Child Left Behind. In order to successfully implement the policies changes outlined in the waiver, districts are going to need to have greater control over how staff development revenue is allocated within the district. Currently, the 50% allocation of staff development revenue directly to sites puts each site in control of staff development dollars, which may or may not contribute to a cohesive district-wide staff development program.

Added to the waiver, legislation passed last session relating to teacher evaluation and elementary school literacy efforts require the development of district-wide plans. As in the case of the waiver, sending half of the staff development revenue to sites erodes a district's ability to create plans that will be applied across the district. Here's to hoping that HF 2506 will merit Senate approval in the days ahead and earn the Governor's signature.

Prone Restraint Extension Passes. After passing the House on a vote of 116-16, the
Senate accepted the House amendments to SF 1917 and re-passed the bill by a vote 0f 61-0 on Thursday, March 29. This issue will re-surface again next session, as the bill stipulates that prone restraint can continue to be used in emergency situations until August 1, 2013. There are segments of the special education and mental health advocacy communities that want to see the use of prone restraint totally eliminated, making discussions to reach an accord to extend prone restraint's use absolutely necessary. Hopefully, if an agreement is reached, it will include policy provisions that provide the advocacy community with the assurances necessary that use of prone restraint can be reduced to a smaller number of instances, but not eliminated, as it may be necessary in some instances with a targeted number of students (and patients). This would prevent the Legislature from having to extend the sunset date year-after-year.

Having a Little Fun. One of the interesting angles during this session has been the waiver from No Child Left Behind that was granted to Minnesota and the discussion it has generated. But what has really been interesting is how the waiver has been used as it relates to the discussion of various legislative proposals, especially those proposals that pertain to student achievement and the evaluation of school sites. I am exaggerating, but it seems like every time a legislative proposal comes anywhere near the policies advocated in the waiver, it's like watching an episode of "You Bet Your Life," with Groucho Marx. As some was you may recall, whenever the secret word was uttered on the show, a puppet-bird would descend from the ceiling with a placard reading the secret word and the contestant who uttered the secret word won an additional $50. Some legislative hearings are reminiscent of that sans the $50 prize. The Legislature can't do this . . . because of the waiver. The waiver is going to solve ________. The waiver is going to cost this or save that. The waiver is undemocratic because it leaves the Legislature out of its design and implementation. The waiver is just about anything you want it to be and it's good or bad depending on your vantage point.

We'll be hearing more about the wavier at our April 13 meeting and I'm looking forward to the Minnesota Department of Education's presentation. For my part, I believe the waiver (cue the descending duck) is going to be beneficial to the state's educational environment, but how the details of the plan will mesh together remain somewhat of a mystery to me.

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