Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Governor's Education Finance Working Group Finishes Its Work.  The work is done and now the work is  beginning?  Huh?  Let me rephrase:  The working group appointed by Governor Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius approved its final report today.  The report will now be presented to the Governor and will probably serve as a blueprint for the Governor's education funding proposals in the coming biennium.

The bulk of the report's content remains the recommendations of working group from May, 2011.  There have been several additions, most notably a revised special education formula, and revisions to the original report, but the primary direction remains clear.  What is especially heartening is one of the central messages of the report is a clear call for greater property tax equity with the re-establishment of the general education levy, a nod (without a specific funding recommendation) to greater equalization of the referendum and debt service levies, and a roll-in of $300 per pupil unit from the referendum to the general education formula basic amount.

The last item is one that has changed a bit from the original report, which called for a $400 per pupil unit roll-in.  The revised suggestion calls for a $300 per unit roll-in and a revised (and streamlined) equity formula that has a maximum benefit of $100 per pupil unit.  This would make the maximum benefit $400 per pupil unit--the same as the initial recommendation--but it would be accomplished in two steps.  The per pupil equity revenue would be calculated on a sliding scale that would measure a district's referendum revenue "distance" from $1,400 per pupil unit in referendum revenue.  This is an important change, as the original roll-in treated all referenda the same when there is a clear differentiation between a district with a referendum of $500 per pupil and one with a referendum in excess of $1,000 per pupil.  In the original recommendation, all districts with referendum levies in excess of $400 per pupil were treated exactly the same.  That needed to be corrected and the revised report accomplishes that.

Dr. Tom Melcher from the Minnesota Department of Education will be presenting the working group's recommendations at our meeting on Friday.  It should be an interesting discussion.

Beth Hawkins at MinnPost published this article in today's edition of that online newspaper.  It contains a solid synopsis of the working group's recommendations.

MinnPost link: http://www.minnpost.com/learning-curve/2012/11/education-equalization-proposal-go-state-task-force 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Legislative Chairs Named:  Both the Minnesota State Senate and State House of Representatives named their committee structure and the chairs of the committees last week; less than two weeks after the election.  There were rumors right after the election that the new majorities were planning on moving quickly in announcing the committee structure and committee chairs for the coming biennium, but this is veritably light speed.

Here are links to the new roster of the standing committees with the chair in the House of Representatives and the Senate:

House of Representatives:  http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/leginfo/PR_2013_Comm_Names.pdf

Senate:  http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/2013-14-minnesota-legislative-committee-14120/  (link to Winthrop and Weinstine P.A. website)

The committees that are of most interest to the education community will be the Senate Education E-12 Funding Division chaired by Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), the Senate Education Committee chaired by Senator Patricia Torres-Ray (DFL-Minneapolis), the House Education Committee chaired by Representative Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) and the House Education Policy Committee chaired by Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul).  The Senate Tax Committee, which SEE will be following closely will be chaired by Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook).  The House Tax Committee will be chaired by Representative Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) with the Property Tax Division chaired by Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movie Review.  I had the opportunity to see the premiere of "Girl from Birch Creek," a biography of former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Wahl, the first woman to serve as a member of Minnesota's highest court.  The film is written and directed by local filmmaker Emily Haddad and is produced by John Kaul, one of my old partners in legislative hi-jinks and currently a lobbyist for a number of clients.  Emily and John's production company--Lightshed Productions--has put together a number of interesting films over the years and this is no exception.

Here is a link to the trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SLwMbOfq9c&feature=plcp

And here is a link to Lightshed Productions:  http://www.lightshedproductions.com/bios.htm

Congrats Emily and John!  This is a very inspiring piece of work and should be viewed by anyone and everyone interested in Minnesota history.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Governor's Work Group Meets.  The Governor's Education Finance Working Group met this afternoon in what will be one of its final meetings.  The panel has nearly finished a slate of public meetings held throughout the state in an attempt to get public input into the initial set of the group's proposals.  Today's meeting was dedicated to going through the group's proposals (can't really call them recommendations at this point) and discussing them.  The group--led by Tom Nelson and Peggy Ingison--reviewed the array of proposals, which include all components of the general education formula, the special education formula, and facilities funding.

The working group will be putting together it's final package of proposals at their next meeting on November 27.  We're really lucky at SEE, as Dr. Tom Melcher will be presenting the group's work at our monthly meeting on November 30.  I will keep you posted on these important proceedings.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More Election Related Items.  I neglected to post in the my election wrap-up the links that provide information on the newly-elected legislators.  The House Information Office has assembled a downloadable election guide with information on each of the newly-elected member of the House of Representatives.  That document usually contains information on the newly-elected members of the State Senate as well, but the Senate has chosen to publish its own directory instead.

House Election Directory:  http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/leginfo/elecdir12.pdf

Senator-Elect Information: http://www.senate.mn/members/2013-2014/info/electiondirectory.pdf

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Election Update.  I was watching television on Wednesday night and I saw an advertisement for something called pizza.  It had been so long since I had seen an advertisement for anything other than a political candidate that I thought there may have been a law passed prohibiting any other kind of advertising.  But now the ballots have been cast and the dust has settled.  Tears have been shed, teeth have gnashed, and the Legislature will now get down the business of governing.  Depending upon who you talk to or what news outlets you listen to (or read), you may or may not be surprised.  Nationally, political analyst Nate Silver at The New York Times never seemed to take the supposed threat to the Obama presidency seriously and his analysis was vindicated.  While the Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives was never in any danger of being reversed, many observers believed that the Democrats' 53-47 advantage in the United States Senate would, if not be lost, be narrowed.  Instead, the Democrats gained 2 seats, which was somewhat unexpected.

In Minnesota, there was some belief that the DFL would regain control of the Senate.  Going into the election, the Republicans held a 37-30 advantage, meaning that four seats needed to flip for control of the body to shift back to the DFL.  The DFL went well beyond that, winning 9 seats in fashioning a 39-28 majority.  The DFL recapturing the House was less expected (for several reasons), but the DFL won 13 Republican-held seats to turn a 70-63 (one vacancy) deficit into a 73-61 majority.

Again, there are going to be a ton of theories tossed about as to why the DFL ran so well in 2012.  President Obama ran stronger in Minnesota than most Republican strategists thought he would.  I'm not a Republican strategist, but the President ran about where I thought he would in winning by about 7.5 percentage points (I thought he'd win by between 5 and 8 points).  There may have been a time when Republican strategists believed that the turnout for the constitutional amendments would bolster their chances, but that did not materialize.  The real wildcard is that the new legislative district map that resulted from the reapportionment produced a lot of swing districts and in a year when the President ran strong, that may have helped tip the balance toward DFL candidates.

Whatever the cause, the result is clear and the newly-elected majorities are already busy at work selecting their leadership.  Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) moves from Senate Minority Leader to Senate Majority Leader.  Senator Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) will be the Deputy Majority Leader.  The Senate caucus also chose two committee chairs:  Senator Dick Cohen (DFL-St. Paul) will be Chair of the Finance Committee--a post he held before the DFL lost the majority in 2010--and Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) will chair the Senate Tax Committee. 

While the overall budget situation will certainly create boundaries that may limit legislative action, I was heartened to see among the slate of leaders legislators who clearly understand the need for greater property tax equity, especially as it relates to education funding.

In the House, Representative Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) was elected Speaker of the House last week.  He held the office of Minority Leader last biennium.  Representative Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) was elected Majority Leader.
The Republican minority caucuses also elected their leadership, choosing Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) and Representative Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) to lead their respective caucuses.

The next step will be for the majorities to select the committee structure in each body to be followed shortly thereafter with the selection of the chairs to lead these committees.  After that, the membership roster of each committee will be determined.  There will likely be many happy and sad faces as a result of this process, as not everyone can get the committee assignments they covet.

I will be following (and reporting on) this process on the blog.  This is a very good time to get acquainted with newly-elected legislators, especially if they live in your school district.  Local school boards and district administrations may be holding meetings with newly-elected legislators, so check with your school district to see if anything is in the works.  Once the session starts, legislators' time becomes very precious and it becomes more difficult to have face-to-face meetings with them in a relaxed environment. 

If you have questions or comments, always feel free to contact me, either by e-mailing me through the blog or calling me at 612-220-7459.