Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Testimony on Shift Payback Bills.  There's not a whole lot to report today other than the hearing in the House Education Finance Committee this morning, where four bills dealing with the education aid payment shifts were heard.  The four bills--HF 1 (Selcer-DFL-Minnetonka), HF 134 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine, HF 53 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine), and HF 235 (Woodard-R-Belle Plaine).  HFs 1 and 134 would repay the school aid shifts and restore them to the statutory 90%/10% payment schedule in the coming biennium. This would take over half a billion off the table for other purposes during this year's budget negotiations.  HFs 53 and 235 would require, if passed, a 3/5 vote in each house of the Legislature to increase the shift as part of a budget-balancing agreement.

Scott Croonquist, Executive Director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, and I testified on behalf of a coalition of education lobbying groups that composed a memorandum to the committee.  Our message was very straightforward:  while the shift can be troublesome (and certainly isn't the best budgeting policy), it is certainly preferable to the alternative of reducing the aid entitlement to school districts.  The level of cuts, borrowing, and drawing-down of school district fund balances is considerably less than what would result if the same amount of revenue were cut, instead of borrowed, from school districts.  The angle I added in my testimony is that when the state eliminated the general education levy in 2001, it added nearly one billion dollars to the amount of state aid to meet the state aid entitlement.  Because the state takeover of the general education levy was implemented without any increase in state revenue through tax increases, it has become increasingly difficult, especially given the uneven economic performance of the past decade, for the state to make good on its statutory commitment to pay 90% of a school district's aid entitlement each year.

Other Hearings.  The House Education Policy Committee heard from a slate of individuals who work in the teacher licensure area, including Board of Teaching Executive Director Karen Balmer and MDE's lead staff person on teacher licensure issues, Richard Wassen.  The Senate Education Committee spent its time discussing a report recently issued by a task force convened by the Minnesota Department of Education dealing with assessment issues.  The report calls for the elimination of the math GRAD and its replacement with either the ACT test or something in that vein.  This report will certainly spark a lot of discussion and it will be interesting to see where things end up.

Monday, February 11, 2013

3 Days Worth of Bills.  I didn't post last Thursday and I neglected to mention in last Wednesday's entry on Governor Dayton's State of the State address that bills were introduced during the sessions that accompanied the speech.  Here is a list of some of the higher-profile education-related bills introduced last Wednesday, last Thursday, and today:

Senate Files

SF 356 (Hoffman-DFL-Champlin):  Allows a school board to renew an expiring referendum levy if an increase is not being sought.  Link: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0356.0.html&session=ls88 
SF 362 (Stumpf-DFL-Plummer):  Modifies charter school funding by allowing them to borrow on aid anticipation.  Link:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0362.0.html&session=ls88

House Files

HF 364 (Bly-DFL-Northfield):  Increases aid for Area Learning Centers and Alternative Programs.  Link:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0364.0.html&session=ls88
HF 383 (Benson-DFL-Minnetonka):  Creates Location Equity Index formula as part of General Education Program.  Companion to SF 221 (Bonoff-DFL-Minnetonka).  Link:   https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0383.0.html&session=ls88
HF 393 (Morgan-DFL-Burnsville):  Allows district to use compensatory revenue for early childhood programs.  Link:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0393.0.html&session=ls88
HF 416 (Radinovich-DFL-Crosby): Creates guaranteed annual inflationary increase on general education revenue basic formula.  Link:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0416.0.html&session=ls88  
HF 432 (Dorholt-DFL-St. Cloud): Re-instates integration revenue program.  Link:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0432.0.html&session=ls88
HF 477 (Davnie-DFL-Minneapolis):  Standardizes requirements for graduation.  Link:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0477.0.html&session=ls88

Interesting and Spirited Debate.  The winner of the early-session "Spirited, Yet Polite Debate" award goes to the Senate Education Policy Committee for its discussion of Senator Chuck Wiger's (DFL-Maplewood) SF 160, a bill that would increase the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18.  St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva is an ardent proponent of the bill and testified that she believes it would help raise the graduation rate in St. Paul as well as other school districts throughout Minnesota.  Several members of the committee disputed that by pointing to statistics that increasing the compulsory attendance age alone does little to enhance graduation rates.  In response, Dr. Silva contends that keeping students in school longer gives the district the opportunity to intervene in ways that will impress upon students the importance of earning their high school diploma.  This debate will continue throughout the session and the fact that the Senate author is the Chair of the E-12 Funding Division and the House author is the Chair of the House Education Policy Committee pretty much guarantees the bill will receive a lot of attention.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

State of the State.  When the State of the State address comes after the budget has been released (and this is one of the only times in my memory--of course, I could be wrong--when the SOTS has been delivered in this time frame.  In his address, the Governor didn't reveal much of anything new outside of support for legislation that would allow gay marriage in Minnesota.  He has long been a proponent of gay marriage, but his comments tonight seemed to indicate that he would like legislation passed this session.

As far as the budget landscape goes, the Governor was very firm in his comments that the tax cuts enacted in the late-1990s and the early-2000s have blunted progress toward a better Minnesota.  Summing it up pretty succinctly, he said (and I paraphrase) that we can't "cut our way to greatness."  He didn't say anything about the state takeover of the general education levy contributing to the problem, but he did point out that Minnesota's state spending per $1,000 of income for E-12 education now ranks 33rd in the nation and is a significant departure from Minnesota's tradition of support for public education.

In his comments, the Governor stressed that he is pursuing a path of fiscal responsibility by both proposing tax increases and spending reductions.  It is important to remember that the state is facing a $1.1 billion revenue hole for the coming biennium and that spending cuts (most likely to come in the form of reductions in the growth of the base and not reductions in the base in real terms) will have to be part of the equation.  The other thing to remember is that the Governor is proposing a $1.4 billion property tax rebate program and that  drives the total revenue need up to $2.5 billion.  Add in roughly another billion in new expenditures (or investments) and the number rounds out to about the $3.5 billion in tax increases the Governor is proposing. He didn't lay things out at this level of detail this evening, but it did provide a broad outline of where he proposes to go.  It was hard to tell from the video feed, but it didn't look like a lot of Republicans were applauding.

The Day at the Capitol.  The State of the State was the highlight of the day, but it was also the annual STARS day sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs.  Students and teachers from alternative programs and area learning centers throughout the state came to the Capitol to lobby legislators.  Teachers, students, and administrators testified before the House Education Finance Committee and Representative Linda Slocum's HF 165--a bill that would increase funding for approved recovery programs (area learning centers/alternative programs that deal with students who are in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse)--was then heard by the committee.  As per usual, it was an interesting day watching these students interface with their legislators and describe their experiences.

Faust to Carry House Companion to SF 177.  Representative Tim Faust (DFL-Mora) has agreed to be the House author for SF 177 (Skoe-DFL-Clearbrook).  Representative Faust and I are rounding up authors (House bills can have 34 co-authors in addition to the chief author) and if we are successful, the bill will probably be introduced on Thursday, February 14.  What a great valentine that would be for low property wealth school districts.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Bookends.  It was an interesting day of testimony in education-related (and other) committees.  The morning started out with testimony from the a variety of interests in the House Education Finance Committee presenting a number of perspectives on early childhood education and support programs.  It was an informative discussion and there is push-back from some quarters who believe, that while the cause of making certain that children throughout Minnesota are prepared to enter school ready to learn, the government has usurped the role of the family in these efforts.  Makes for interesting discussion.  The second bookend dealt with the other end of the pre-K through 12th grade spectrum with testimony provided in the Senate Education Policy Committee outlining strategies for making students college and career ready.  Testimony was provided by Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Chancellor Steven Rosenstone from the Minnesota State College and University system, Commissioner Larry Pogemiller from the Minnesota Office Higher Education, and staff from the Mounds View School District and Irondale High School describing the early college program being pursued at the school in conjunction with Anoka-Ramsey Community College.

Wedged between these bookends was the first day of testimony on firearms policy in the state.  As I was leaving the House Education Finance Committee this morning, there was a throng of pro- and anti-gun control advocates waiting to enter the hearing room from which I was departing.  The discussion of how to reduce gun violence is going to dominate the House Public Safety Budget and Policy Committee this week, with a variety of proposals.  I don't see Representative Tony Cornish's (R-Vernon Center) proposal to allow teachers and school administrators to carry firearms at school.

MinnPost story on Gun Legislation:  http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2013/02/house-gun-hearings-open-charged-polite-arguments-both-sides

Texas Court Decision.  The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Texas' education funding system to fail to meet Texas' constitutional standards for providing education services to its student population.  Texas has lurched back and forth over the past couple of decades with the state's system being rule unconstitutional (at least once in my recollection) previously.  Those of us who follow school funding litigation find this decision interesting, as the language in the decision is similar to that in recent court decisions in Colorado and Washington that found those states' systems in violation of their respective state constitutions.

Here are a couple of stories about the Texas decision:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:  http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/11/20/4430062/judge-in-education-lawsuit-wonders.html

National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2013/02/04/171113168/judge-rules-texas-school-funding-method-unconstitutional

Education Week:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/02/04/589635ustexasschoolfinancetrial_ap.html

Monday, February 04, 2013

Children's Mental Health Bills Introduced.  A slate of children's mental health bills were introduced today in  both the House and Senate.  Each  bill introduced had its companion introduced in the other body on the same day and while the order of the bills are not identical, the companions are closely packed in both Houses.

So here, from first to last, are the bills:

SF 259 (Hoffman)/HF 353 (Davnie):  Funding of school-based mental health clinics:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0259.0.html&session=ls88
SF 260 (Dahle)/HF 354 (Selcer):  Clarifies that mental health education and recognition of mental health issues can be part of curriculum for renewing teachers' licenses:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0260.0.html&session=ls88
SF 261 (Torres Ray)/HF 355 (Bly):  Mental health instruction required for Grades 6 through 12:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0261.0.html&session=ls88
SF 262 (Johnson)/HF 356 (Newton):  Safe schools revenue can be used for costs associated with colocation and collaboration with mental health professionals:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0262.0.html&session=ls88
SF 263 (Sheran)/HF 357 (Mullery): Appropriates funds for the early identification of psychosis: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0263.0.html&session=ls88
SF 264 (Lourey)/HF 358 (Loeffler):  Requiring annual reviews of children's mental health programs and creates peer mental health specialist for adolescent mental health issues:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0264.0.html&session=ls88
SF 265 (Sheran)/HF 359 (Laine):  Appropriates money for children's mental health services including school-linked mental health clinics:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0265.0.html&session=ls88
SF 266 (Eaton)/HF 360 (Morgan):  Requires development of a program to certify certain behavioral health aides:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0266.0.html&session=ls88

This is a bold set of initiatives and are thankfully split between health and human services and education.  So much in the area of mental health falls into a gray area between human services and education and this set of  bills may go a long ways toward clarifying who does what and which budget pays for the services.  This is a very interesting discussion and one that needs to take place.

Other bills of interest.

HF 309 (Atkins)/No Senate Companion as Yet.  Allows Health and Safety Revenue to be used for facilities upgrades that enhance student security:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0309.0.html&session=ls88

SF 211 (Bonoff)/No House Companion as Yet.  Creates location equity index based on wage rates and housing values in various regions of the state.  Unlike the recommendation of the Governor's Education Finance Working Group, which created a location equity index by rolling in a portion of a district's referendum revenue for this purpose, this creates a new general education revenue category comprised of state aid.  Link: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0221.0.html&session=ls88

Great Forum in Rochester on Saturday.  The annual Southeast Minnesota Service Cooperative's legislative forum was held on Satruday morning in Rochester and, as per usual, Executive Director Suzanne Riley and the area school board members and superintendents did a bang-up job in putting together a panel that clearly described the challenges facing school districts in that part of the state.  Dover-Eyota Superintendent Bruce Klaehn did his usual exemplary job as moderator and helped lead the discussion of a number of vital issue areas.  The presenters for each issue area were as follows:

Mandates:  Steve Sallee, Superintendent, Southland Public Schools and LeRoy-Ostrander Public Schools.
Renewal of Referendum Levy without a Public Vote:  Dave Krenz, Superintendent, Austin Public Schools.
School Calendar Issues (pre-Labor Day Start):  Jeff Elstad, Superintendent, Byron Public Schools, and Jim Freihammer, Superintendent, Wabasha-Kellogg Public Schools.
Effects of Inflation on School District Budgets:  Dave Thompson, Superintendent, Stewartville Public Schools.
All-Day Kindergarten:  Ed Harris, Superintendent, Chatfield Public Schools.
Special Education Cross-subsidy:  Todd Sesker, Superintendent, Faribault Public Schools.
Technology:  Tammy Berg-Beniak, Superintendent, Pine Island Public Schools
School Safety:  Gary Kuphal, Superintendent, Plainview-Elgin-Millville Public Schools.

The presentations were followed by remarks from the legislators present.  I can't remember all that were present, but it was at least a dozen.  Good job by all concerned with a healthy exchange between legislators and school officials.