Friday, September 05, 2014

Great Report.  The Center for Rural Policy and Development based in St. Peter has done a wealth of wonderful research over the past couple of decades and their recent report on the state of rural Minnesota is certainly no exception to that pattern of excellence.  Dr. Gregory Thorson has worked extremely hard over the years spelling out the plight of smaller rural districts and he has assembled a number of effective critiques on how the per pupil funding formula doesn't work for small rural districts, even with the additions of sparsity and small school funding.

Here is a link to the education portion of the Center for Rural Policy and Development's State of Rural Minnesota report that was just released:


Here is the homepage for the organization:

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Good Article from the Mankato Free Press.  With all the talk about the need for improved mental health and student support services in schools, there is still a shortage of trained personnel to fill the positions that are needed.  This well-written article by Jessica Bies of the Mankato Free Press points out the challenges facing school districts as they try to provide these needed services.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Happy Day After Labor Day!  Which means Happy First Day of School!  It's always an exciting and hectic day and I'm sure transportation coordinators throughout the state are sleeping well tonight with a vast majority of any bugs out of the system and kids moved to and from school successfully.

The big news today is that approximately 60,000 students will be attending funded all-day/every day kindergarten today.  It was hailed within a news story broadcast on Channel 5 news at 6 PM.  Here is a link to that story:

Here's a synopsis of new initiatives in place this fall for school districts throughout the state:

Another interesting story described changes in the Bloomington School District relating to school safety.  Bloomington has invested heavily in new student safety equipment and has implemented new procedures.  An expanded view of school safety is necessary in our increasingly complex world and kudos to Bloomington for beefing up their system.  The article didn't specify how Bloomington paid for the upgrades, but enhanced school safety needs to be part of the discussion when the funding recommendations of the Facilities Funding Task Force are before the Legislature in 2015 (which is expected).  I can't find the link to the story right now, but I will post it when I find it.

Career and Tech Education.  Here's a link to a story from the British news magazine The Economist.  It's a bit on the pricey side (approximately $150 for an annual subscription), but The Economist is one of the better news magazines out there.  It's quite corporate-friendly, but it provides a pretty straight from the hip assessment of the international political scene.

Anyway, here's a link from last week's issue on the need for career and technical education.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Post-Primary Analysis.  The August 12 primary passed and there doesn't appear to be too many surprises in the results.  For the most part, endorsed candidates prevailed, with the major exception being the 1st Congressional District Republican primary, where Jim Hagedorn defeated endorsed candidate Aaron Miller.  The Hagedorn name is a familiar one in Southern Minnesota Republican circles, as Jim's father Tom served in both the Minnesota and United States House of Representatives with his ten years of combined service.  That name recognition, along with the endorsements from current and past legislators and Republican party officials in that part of the state undoubtedly made Hagedorn more formidable than your standard challenge to an endorsed candidate.  Hagedorn's margin of victory was 54% to 46%.

The marquee race in the primary was that for the Republican gubernatorial place at the top of the ticket and endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson won the "race to 30%" and prevailed rather comfortably against his three challengers.  The other main challengers--State Representative and former Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers, former State Representative and Minority Leader Marty Seifert, and Orono business owner Scott Honour all finished within three percentage points of each other, polling between 20.8 and 23.9 (Zellers 23.9%, Seifert 21.1%, and Honour 20.8%) of the vote.  Johnson's final unofficial percentage was 30.3%.

I don't think the value of the endorsement can be understated in this race.  Johnson remarked on Monday how important it was to have Republican volunteers and accurate lists of Republican voters available to him in order to target his supporters and get them to the polls.  The value of the endorsement has been debated mightily over the years, but I believe this shows that in a race where no one is going to have a huge financial advantage or some other complicating factor related to the endorsed candidate, the endorsement takes on a lot of value.

One puzzling thing to me regarding the primary is that there were actually more votes cast in the more of less uncontested DFL gubernatorial primary (slightly more than 191,000) than in the contested Republican primary (just more than 184,000).  It's always difficult to unpack primary results and the turnout this year in Minnesota was below 10% of eligible voters (proponents of an engaged populace may want to rethink moving the primary to August), but I found that surprising.

There were a number of hotly-contested legislative primaries.  Here are short re-caps of these races:

  • The race with the highest profile featured 21-term State Representative Phyllis Kahn facing Minneapolis School Board member Mohamud Noor.  Kahn won the race, garnering 54% of the vote to Noor's 46%.  This was a race that was hot from the beginning as the endorsing convention surprisingly did not endorse a long-term incumbent.
  • Waconia Mayor Jim Nash defeated Norwood-Young America business owner Bob Frey in the District 47A Republican primary by a margin of 59% to 41%.  There was no endorsement in this race (although Nash came close to getting the endorsement at the district convention).
  • Dayton City Council member Eric Lucero defeated St. Michael City Council member Kevin Kasel 64% to 36% in the District 30B Republican primary.  Lucero was the endorsed candidate ousting sitting Representative David Fitzsimmons, largely based on Fitzsimmons' vote to legalize gay marriage, at the endorsing convention earlier this year.
  • Incumbent State Representative Jennifer Loon of Eden Prairie won the District 48B Republican primary by a 61% to 39% count against challenger Sheila Kihne.  The gay marriage vote of 2013 also played a role in this race.  Like Representative Fitsimmons, Representative Loon voted to legalize gay marriage and was denied endorsement at the endorsing convention.  But unlike Fitzsimmons, Loon was able to prevent the endorsement of her opponent, which certainly helped her cause.
So, I guess the moral of the story (at least for this year) is:  the party endorsement matters.  It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Republican US Senate candidate Mike McFadden had not received his party's endorsement in June.  Self-funded candidates with access to ample resources--financial and otherwise--are the ones who can usually successfully combat the advantage of an endorsement, but we'll have to wait for another day to see if the power of the endorsement retains its strength.

The results of every race can be found at the Minnesota Secretary of State's website:

Friday, August 01, 2014

Common Core Stuff.  Hard to know what to call the headline because the Common Core kerfuffle hasn't really hit Minnesota as hard as it has in other parts of the country.  That's not to say the debate has not shown up in Minnesota and I believe that discussion of the Common Core will find its way into the debate during the 2015 legislative session regardless of how the elections turn out.  Minnesota has only adopted a portion of the Common Core standards (Minnesota's math standards are considered to go beyond the Common Core) and perhaps that is why there hasn't been more discussion of the initiative in Minnesota, but there is a group--Minnesotans Against Common Core--that is holding meetings throughout the state outlining their concerns.

Minnesotans Against Common Core:

The group is holding sessions throughout the state and you may want to sit in on one just to get a feel of the debate from their angle.

Nationally, the discussion of the Common Core has taken on a much higher profile and is showing up as an issue in gubernatorial and legislative races.  The biggest drama is taking place in Louisiana, where a group of parents and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education sued the state to keep the Common Core standards in place in Louisiana after Governor Bobby Jindal froze the testing contract related to the Common Core standards.  Jindal contended that the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education had overstepped its bounds in the matter.  A group of parents then sued Jindal for supposedly overstepping his bounds.  The parents were then joined by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which approved its participation on a 6-4 vote.  Should make for an interesting lawsuit because the issue is as much about who has the authority to "do what" or "stop what" within their constitutional powers.

Anyway, here are a couple of articles about the case:

Louisiana Story #1:

Louisiana Story #2:

The Ohio Legislature introduced legislation last week to pull Ohio out of the Common Core standards.  Here is a link to the news story on that move.

Ohio Story:

It's hard to know what to make of the debate.  I've lived through so many standards discussions over the years that I get fatigued just thinking about it.  Having survived the discussion over the establishment and implementation of the Profiles of Learning and their subsequent repeal, I don't know if I can survive another round.  Right now, the Common Core only governs mathematics and English Language Arts, but opponents believe the standards will go much further in the future and create a national curriculum.  Curricular content is always the third rail in these debates and while standards don't in and of themselves strictly govern content, it is still a touchy subject.

Here's an essay from the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard that sums up both the perceived pros and cons (with a fairly cynical--but not entirely inaccurate--assessment of education reform in general) of the Common Core initiative.

The Weekly Standard article:

Last, but not least, conservative commentator Glenn Beck put together a live event that was held on July 22 entitled "We Will Not Conform" that outlines his--and other commentators--opposition to the Common Core.  Unfortunately, I missed the event (and the replay), but here is a link to it.  I don't know if video or audio of the event will ever be available online.


So that's all I've got to say on the subject.  While it hasn't hit the public imagination as aggressively in Minnesota as it has in other parts of the country, like I said earlier, I believe it will be discussed during the 2015 legislative session, so the standard I would set for everyone interested in the discussion of public education--both pro and con vis-a-vis the Common Core--is to study up on it.

Opening for a Principal.  Rockford Superintendent Paul Durand informed me last week that he is seeking applications for a high school principal.  Here is a link to the Rockford webpage if you are personally interested in the position or have a possible candidate for the district to consider:


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Feudin' on the Reform Front.  In the wake of the ruling in the Vergara case in California and the filing of a similar case in New York City, the temperature surrounding the education reform debate--especially as it relates to teacher tenure in staffing decisions--is heating up a bit.  Well, actually more than a bit as evidenced by this article by Jonathan Chait in The Daily Intelligencer.  The latest kerfuffle and resulting Twitter war surrounds comments by Dr. Diane Ravitch regarding former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who is now involved in efforts to revamp teacher tenure laws.

I'll just link the article and let everyone form their own opinion about Ravitch's comments and the charges and counter-charges that emerged after those comments.  Chait admits that he has a bias in the debate (his wife wrote the recently-issued report by the Center for American Progress outlining how difficult it can be to get rid of ineffective teachers) and, as a result, his comments border on snarky at some junctures.  That's not to say that his points aren't without merit (but again, Ravitch's points have merit as well).

New York Magazine Daily Intelligencer article:

Here is a link to the report cited in the article from the Center for American Progress:

Reichgott on Charter Schools.  Former State Senator Ember Reichgott, the chief author of Minnesota's charter school legislation passed in 1991 (the first charter school law in the nation) has been travelling the country for the past year-and-a-half talking about charter school laws throughout the country (and probably promoting her book "Zero Chance of Passage:  The Pioneering Charter School Story) and working to confront issues that are cropping up in the discussion surrounding charter schools.

Beth Hawkins published this article in today's MinnPost in which former Senator Reichgott Junge talks about some of the charges that charter school opponents raise in the discussion about charter school achievement and whether or not charter schools are a threat to traditional public schools.  In reading the article, I was glad to see that Reichgott Junge didn't invoke the "parents are more satisfied with their choice" line that drives me up a wall.  Maybe it's just me, but satisfaction alone should account for much of anything if enhancing achievement and fostering innovation are the goals of the program.  It's like someone going on a high-fat, high-sodium diet which would likely result in health issues going to the doctor and saying "Hey, I was really satisfied with that diet!"

Anyway, here is the link to the article:

And here is a link to Reichgott Junge's book:

Another Interesting Study.  The one really great thing about the non-session pace of business is the fact that I get to dive into articles and studies that add new perspectives to my thinking.  Governing magazine published this article today about a Johns Hopkins University study released in June that certainly adds credence to the points of many who contend the discussion of achievement and the achievement gap go well beyond what happens in schools.  I mentioned Diane Ravitch earlier in this entry, but she, like many others, point out the difficulties experienced by many families throughout the country, especially poorer families in urban areas, and how those difficulties contribute to educational deficits.  The study zeroes in on the issue of affordable housing and how affordable housing helps provide families stability and this stability then shows up in higher test scores by students in these families.  For the most part, the findings are self-evident, but it is always helpful when data is provided that shows that the issues surrounding achievement are about more than simply schools and school structure.

Governing article:

Johns Hopkins link:

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Next Set of Ripples from the Vergara Case.  When I first read a headline about the Vergara case, I thought "Who is suing Sofia Vergara?  I mean, Machete Kills was a lousy movie, but she wasn't that bad in it."    Imagine my surprise when I found out that the case was all about changing teacher tenure laws in California.

Seriously, for those of you who are not familiar with the case, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge ruled early in June that California's teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional because they disproportionately affected poor and minority students in a negative way and prevented them from receiving a quality education.  Judge Rolf Treu did not mince words in his decision, stating that the tenure laws "impose a real and appreciable impact on students' right to a quality education.  The evidence is compelling.  Indeed, it shocks the conscience."

Reaction to the case has been palpable and has fallen upon predictable lines.  A number of the more strident organizations seeking broad reform of the nation's K-12 system.  Included among the voices embracing the decision, albeit slightly less aggressively, is United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (which has earned him the wrath of national teacher organizations).

A number of other education interests, particularly state and national teachers organizations are decrying the decision, but couching their language in terms that is sympathetic to the students and families who brought the case with the assistance of Students Matter, a California-based education advocacy organization founded by high tech entrepreneur David Welch.

Implementation of a new system has been stayed until all appeals are exhausted and the defendants in the case have every intention of appealing the case.  That delay has not stalled efforts on the part of a number of reformers to seize the momentum and a similar case was filed in New York last week.

One of the interesting aspects that has not been reported is that it was funding equity litigation in California (Serrano v. Priest, 1971) which was first filed in 1968 and subsequently unleashed a wave equity lawsuits nationally, including the lawsuit--Van Dusartz v. Hatfield--that brought about the Minnesota Miracle.  They say as "Maine goes, so goes the nation," but it appears that California is the stepping off point for broad-ranging litigation on education issues.  Given that repeal of "last in/first out" was passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2012 (and vetoed by Governor Dayton), there may be interest in pursuing litigation in a similar vein as Vergara in Minnesota.

Here are a veritable plethora of links on the Vergara case and the recently-filed case in New York.

Los Angeles Times on Vergara:

Arne Duncan Statement on Vergara:

Students Matter Website (with timeline on court case):

AFT President Randi Weingarten statement on Vergara:

AFT President Randi Weingarten on Arne Duncan's Vergara Statement: in Washington Post:

MinnPost article on likelihood of "Vergara in Minnesota":

MinnPost interview with EM President Denise Sprecht:

New York Times article on Similar lawsuit in New York City:

New York City Parents Union:  Organization supporting the plaintiffs in New York City case::

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Interesting Thought Experiment.  Although I don't always agree with its perspective (especially on matters of business and finance), I truly value my subscription to The Economist.   In my more cynical moments, I've always believed that if we successfully taught critical thinking to students and gave everyone a subscription to The New York Times and The Economist, the rest of the news media would go out of business.  But that's not where we're at, so onward we go.

When I was paging through a recent issue of The Economist, I came across this article and thought it would make a great thought experiment.  It seems that Great Britain's education secretary Michael Gove is a bit outspoken and is speaking outside the realm of his office, causing some problems for British Prime Minister David Cameron.  It doesn't appear he's reached the level of mad-quotability of Martha Mitchell (anyone under 55 is probably going to have to hit Wikipedia for the tortured relevance of that reference), but that's not the angle of the article that piqued my interest.

If you head to the fourth paragraph and erase all the names, you'll find the discussion strikingly similar to the discussion we are having in the United States surrounding education reform initiatives.  Higher standards, school choice, and criticism of unions is all there reminiscent of the discussion currently taking place on this side of the Atlantic.

Even in his wildest moments, I doubt United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan would wander into as many verbal thickets as Gove seems to with regularity, but Duncan does sidle up close to some of the territory Gove has staked out in his attempt to reform British education.

Anyway, make your own judgments and if you have $150 lying around, I strongly recommend a subscription to The Economist.

Article on British education secretary Michael Gove in The Economist:

PS--Here's another link on the debate over British education reform policies that was published at The Economist's website shortly after the article linked above:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Book that is Making News.  A book that hit the market last fall is stirring up a lot of discussion.  The Public School Advantage:  Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools by husband and wife team Drs. Christopher and Sarah Theule Lubienski is a comparative statistical analysis of academic performance at traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools. The book also contains discussion of existing voucher programs.

What the research underpinning the book shows is that while raw numbers show that private school students score better on standardized tests, when controls for demographic differences are taken into account, public schools actually outperform private schools.  Needless to say, the results have caused a bit of a firestorm in the education reform community, especially from those quarters that stress greater reliance on market-driven reform.

Here is a link to the book, published by the University of Chicago Press, along with two reviews, one positive and one negative.


Positive Review:

Negative Review:

Interview with the Lubienski's from The Atlantic:

This book is going to be on my summer reading list, so I can't give you my own review, but the negative review from National Review (online) by Jason Bedrick hits my main nerve in the discussion of school performance and that is the use of the term "efficiency" and how private schools are more "efficient" in delivering education and having students reach educational outcomes.  It is difficult to paint with a broad brush here.  There may be private schools that are more efficient and private schools that are less efficient than public schools, but is efficiency the primary goal of the education system?  I highly doubt that exclusive private schools compare favorably in terms of efficiency.  They charge outlandish tuition and use that tuition to keep class sizes extremely low.

I'll let you know my opinion after I finish reading the book.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Politics, Politics, Politics.  Filings for statewide office ended earlier this month and the preliminary collection of candidates for all statewide, congressional district, and Minnesota House of Representatives races is set.  The list of candidates can be found at the Minnesota Secretary of State's website and I have supplied a link to that site below.  You can find the candidates for each race and websites of candidates who have furnished them are available.

Minnesota Secretary of State Election Website:

The primary will be held on Tuesday, August 12, 2014, with the Republican primary for Governor, which features four candidates, will be the headline event that day.  There are some very interesting Republican primaries for the House of Representatives and a lion's share of those contests are being held in legislative districts where SEE member school districts are located.  Looking through the list, I see three races that I will be watching closely.  They are:

  • District 30A (SEE members St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo), in a race that features Eric Lucero (endorsed candidate) and Kevin Kasel (St. Michael City Council member).
  • District 35A (SEE members Anoka-Hennepin and Elk River), where Justin Boals and Abigail Whelan (endorsed candidate) are facing off.
  • District 47A (SEE member Waconia), where Bob Frey (Norwood-Young America business owner) and Jim Nash (Waconia Mayor) are the Republican candidates vying for the slot in the general election.  There was no endorsement in this race.
I urge voters in these districts to acquaint themselves with these candidates and get out and vote in August.

The highest profile primary contest on the DFL side of the ledger features 42-year legislative veteran Phyllis Kahn facing off against Minneapolis school board member Mohamud Noor, who seeks to become the first Somali immigrant elected to a state-level office in Minnesota.

The battle for the House of Representatives will be extremely heated.  Both parties have identified the seats they are targeting to seize from the other party and those lists were outlined in a recent MinnPost article.  While there are usually surprises on election day in which a seat deemed "safe" by one side or the other switches parties, I think the list provided in the article are fairly accurate in their assessment.

Here is a link to the article that lists the seats both parties are targeting in the upcoming election.

MinnPost link:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back to the Blog.  I've taken my month off from visiting here and it's time to get back on the beam and start blogging again.  I'm going to try and cover a lot of territory during the interim, posting articles and comments about national and state education policy and national and state political news.

I'd like to kick off the summer with an article from conservative thinker/writer Reihan Salam that was printed in Sunday's Minneapolis StarTribune.  The article is entitled "What Would Actually Happen if Tea Partiers Ran the Country?"  The gist of the article is that the Tea Party does have a distinctive vision of how it would govern given the opportunity.  Salam writes from a national, federalist perspective and a lot of the piece is very straightforward, particularly in Salam's assertion that education would more than likely be funded through vouchers and/or an aggressive expansion of charter schools in the more conservative states.  He doesn't mention how federal education policy would change and one of the bigger issues would be how special education and other federally-funded programs would be handled.  Would IDEA be repealed?  A great number of unanswered questions would arise in addition to this.

Where I would like to depart a bit from his script is to point out the more worrisome aspect of subsidiarity that he describes early in the article.  Subsidiarity contends that power should lie as close to the people-at-large as possible (and often that simple association between individuals can replace government).  I'm not intent on arguing those points.  Salam has a viewpoint and he backs it up in this piece.  What worries me is what the piece does not say.

Minnesota has a very strong constitutional provision relating to education, as do most states.  What makes the constitutional protection stronger in Minnesota is that the Minnesota Supreme Court argued in Skeen v. State of Minnesota that education is a fundamental right under the Minnesota Constitution.  The question then becomes--and admittedly this may be apples-to-oranges--is how the concept of subsidiarity meshes with this fundamental right.  Clearly, Minnesota is a local control state when it comes to education policy.  While there are numerous state mandates that limit the scope of what local school boards can do (and many of those mandates cause considerable headaches), local districts still do their own bargaining, develop their own curricula, etc.

What is a bit troubling to me is whether our funding system and the concept of subsidiarity fit together.  The role of the property tax in funding education (a tax that is favored by many who subscribe to subsidiarity because it is the tax closest to the people and funding services consumed directly by local residents) is always going to be contentious.  The tax burdens experienced by taxpayers in low property wealth districts is much greater than it is in high property wealth districts on a dollar-per-dollar basis of revenue even with Minnesota's commitment to property tax equalization.  I don't think that the concept of subsidiarity threatens that in the near future, but if there is a turn in that direction nationally and in Minnesota, problems of differential property tax burdens may again arise.  It is always important to remember that Van Dusart v. Hatfield, the lawsuit that launched the Minnesota Miracle was a tax lawsuit as much as an education funding lawsuit.

Anyway, I found this article extremely interesting as it provides some very heady food for thought.  The Tea Party gets bounced around a lot by criticism that it doesn't have a set of guiding principles, but I believe Salam provides at least an outline of some of the intellectual underpinnings of that particular movement.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

E-12 Budget Done.  The E-12 Budget articles of HF 3172--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--were finalized early this afternoon.  $54 million will be spent on a variety of early childhood and elementary and secondary education purposes for the coming fiscal year with an additional $104 million built into the base budget for the next biennium.  The highlights of the bill include:

  • $25 per pupil unit on the basic formula increase (just under one-half percent) for FY 15 and beyond.
  • Expansion of eligibility for English Language revenue from 5 years to 6 years.
  • $4.7 million increase for Early Childhood Family Education by tying formula increases to increases in the general education basic formula.
  • $4.7 million increase in Early Learning Scholarships (cap lifted in FY 16).
  • $3.5 million for increasing subsidy for reduced price lunch, making it free.
  • $1.8 million increase in Learning Readiness.
  • $9 million in one-time money for teacher evaluation for non-alternative compensation districts (distributed on $302 per FTE).
  • $50 per pupil increase in lease levy.
  • $5 per pupil increase in safe schools levy for members of intermediate districts for use at intermediate districts.
  • Increase in debt service equalization factors.  Second tier increase effective in Pay 15.  First tier increase effective in Pay 16.

Deb Griffiths is posting a more comprehensive summary on the SEE website, so look for it there.

All in all, a very good year.  I'll be providing more details as things take greater shape.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Budget Conference Committee Moving (E-12 Portion Not).  Yesterday saw the first movement in over a week on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and four portions of state spending (Health and Human Services, Tranportation, Higher Education, and State Departments) are now approved.  This leaves the Environment and Natural Resources, Economic Development and Agriculture, and E-12 Education as the only segments yet to be unveiled and approved.

From what I hear, the major hang-up is how much money should be dedicated to the basic formula.  The House bill contained a 1% formula increase, but with the overall budget target for E-12 dropping by over $20 million from the mid-$70 million range for $54 million, that provision will have to be pared back considerably.  From what I understand, the House is holding tight around one-half of a percent, but even that is difficult to accommodate given the "tails" target that affect the revenue available for next biennium.  The Senate has a number of early childhood initiatives they are promoting and are holding fast to them.  The Senate also has one-time revenue for teacher evaluation costs in non-alternative compensation districts and that is a high priority for Education Minnesota and being a one-time expenditure, it has the advantage of not counting toward fiscal obligations in the next biennium.

The conference committee has been instructed to finish its work today, but it's 3:45 PM and there's not a lot of action.  That doesn't mean things won't happen quickly, but to finish today, things are going to have to happen quickly.

HITA Bill Passes.  Education Minnesota's Health Insurance Transparency Act (HF 2180) passed both bodies today by comfortable margins.  The final vote was 79-50 in the House (6 Republicans joining all the DFLers) and the debate was very short.  Things got a little more interesting in the Senate.  The debate was more heated and there was a motion to reject the conference committee report.  That motion failed on a vote of 27-39 on an almost strict party-line vote.  That made the final vote a fait accompli , as the vote to pass the conference committee report was 40-27, with two Republicans voting for the measure and one DFLer voting against.  I will provide a summary of the new procedures at a later date. A lot of this is busy-work, but it's still a pain and it continues to promote the impression that school district boards and administrations simply don't care about their employees.

Education Policy Conference Committee Report Passes.  The conference committee report on HF 2397 passed the Senate floor yesterday on a vote of 37-27.  As I reported yesterday, there was speculation that the conference committee report would be rejected due to opposition to the PSEO language in the bill that allows post-secondary institutions to advertise the advantages of their program.  The effort to point that out only swayed 3 DFLers to oppose the bill, but with 4 Republicans voting yes, those defections were more than made up for.

Here is a link to the final roll call:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Here's a Discussion that is Going On.  There is a lot of concern being expressed over the PSEO language in the Omnibus Education Policy bill (HF 2397) and the Senate will likely be taking up the conference committee report on the bill this afternoon.  This article gives a pretty good perspective on the "pro" side of the argument.  The key arguments against the provision--appropriate use of public money/quality of post-secondary courses taken by students--kind of get short shrift.


Supplemental Appropriations Bill.  The targets have been set, but the conference committee on the supplemental appropriations has yet to meet today.  It is expected that they will meet and it is hoped that at least some of the funding "skeleton" will be filled in.  I will certainly let you know if and when things proceed.
Rumors are True.  Here are the budget targets as reported late last evening.

Spending Targets by Budget Area
  • E-12: $54 million
  • Higher Education: $22.25 million
  • Health and Human Services: $103.9 million
  • Jobs and Economic Development: $19.8 million (Note: a $10 million transfer from the Assigned Risk Pool will boost total spending to $29.8 million)
  • Transportation: $15 million
  • Environment and Agriculture: $12 million
  • Judiciary and Public Safety: $35 million
  • State Government and Veterans Affairs: $705,000
  • Additional Spending: $20 million in various bills (Women’s Economic Security Act, synthetic drugs, medical marijuana, etc.)
Here is the MPR story:

Monday, May 12, 2014

HITA Bill Finished.  The conference committee on HF 2180--the Health Insurance Transparency Act--finished its work today.  One of the changes made to the final bill was an erosion to the Senate position that would have totally exempted self-insured districts from having to participate in the multiple bid program.  Instead of a straight exemption, the self-insured districts have to get three bids from providers of third party administrative services.  Districts that are currently self-insured or those with more than 1,000 insured lives that subsequently become self-insured do not have to seek a bid from PEIP for these services, but can if they so desire.  Districts who become self-insured in the future and insure less than 1,000 lives must get a bid from PEIP.

Other language relating to the self-insurance issue adopted today helps bring greater clarity to the issue of which districts are self-insured.  Under the interpretation of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, districts that buy their insurance through the self-insured pools developed by the service cooperatives are self-insured.  While self-insured in one sense, they are certainly not self-insured in the same sense as individual districts who build their own system of self-insurance and language was needed to delineate that difference.

The bill will now go to the House floor for final approval.  It is likely to pass relatively easily, even with the changes that some legislators who represent self-insured districts are not likely to support.  If passed, the bill will then head to the Senate, where there will likely be several defections from the DFL majority, but probably not enough to ground the bill.

In the end, it has always been difficult for me to comprehend the need for this bill.  Teacher bargaining units throughout the state still have unilateral authority to opt to be covered by PEIP during contract negotiations.  Given that "hammer," I don't know why bargaining units would need to saddle districts boards and administrations with a lot of paperwork that will change little, if anything.

Rumor of Targets.  Rumors are abounding that the budgets targets have been reached for each of the spending areas in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill have been set and that the target for E-12 education is $54 million (with a tails target of $108 million).  This is closer to the Senate target ($13 million above) than it is to the House target ($22 million below) and it will be difficult for the House position of a 1% increase on the basic formula to be achieved given the spending constraints resulting from a target at this level.

I would urge everyone who wants to see a lion's share of the target go toward the basic formula to contact members of the conference committee, especially the Senate members, and urge them to support the House's commitment to the basic formula.  Also, thank the House members for putting this provision in the bill and pushing it during the conference committee proceedings.

Here are the legislative home pages for each of the conference committee members.  You can e-mail them directly from their individual pages.



Please make these contacts as soon as possible.  By the end of the day Tuesday, it may be too late to make a difference!
Looks Like Things Will Start Moving.  The conference committee on HF 2180--the Health Insurance Transparency Act--will convene in about one hour.  Rumor last week is that everything was agreed to except for proposed treatment of self-insured districts.  The Senate version of the bill exempts self-insured districts from the bill while the House version does not and there is some question as to whether or not the Senate can pass a bill without at least some protection for the self-insured districts.  I will let you know the outcome as soon as it becomes known.

The Legislature has to finish its work by Sunday.  It must adjourn for the biennium on Monday, May 19, and under the Minnesota Constitution, no bill can pass on the last day of the biennium, making Sunday the last day on which a bill can officially pass.

Lots of work left to do and I will be reporting on all of it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

House Passes Education Policy Conference Committee Report.  By a vote of 80-49 after a debate that was surprisingly devoid of serious contention, the House passed the conference committee report on HF 2397, the omnibus education policy bill.  Nine Republicans joined an overwhelming majority of DFLers, with one DFLer voting against the bill in the final tally.  The primary complaint lodged by the Republicans was the additional mandates that are contained in the bill (and there are some).  A bulk of Article I is comprised of new requirements (some of which districts are likely already doing on their own) relating to English Language learners.  A bulk of the special education language springs from the Caseloads Task Force that met last fall, a bill that tightens up the seclusion and restraint process, and a study on the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).  The proposed study has elicited a lot of comments since it was included in the final conference committee report, as there are some who are concerned that a single system of MTSS will emerge from the study, but in my conversations with staff at MDE (who will conduct the study), they don't foresee that happening.  I urge you  all to look at the language (Article IV, Section 13) and, if interested in participating in the study, calling MDE.  I know some superintendents and special education directors have done so already.  This could be a very interesting study and a wide range of opinions on what a successful MTSS framework would look like and the discussion that surrounds this study should prove lively.

There is also language in the bill emanating from the recommendations of the task forces that dealt with the uniform adult basic education diploma and career and technical education.

The bill may be taken up in the Senate as early as tomorrow, but with the bonding bills making their way to their respective floors, it may have to wait until the action on those bills is completed.

Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Still Stalled.  Another day, another day in which the conference committee on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill did not meet.  One of the complicating factors is that it appears that the Governor may be reluctant to go as high on proposed expenditures as had been earlier thought.  There appeared to be agreement last Friday on a target of $293 million (I don't know where the $313 million comes from), but in a letter to legislators delivered on Monday, it appears that the Governor was not fully party to that agreement and does not want to go beyond $263 million.

Here is a link to the letter;

Monday, May 05, 2014

Still No Progress on Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill.  It would be difficult to call this glacial, because glacial implies some movement, but we're sitting still on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  Floor sessions went long today, making it unlikely the conference committee would meet.  It is difficult to determine what the hold-up has been, but even in a year when the budget outlays are purely supplemental and don't affect the on-going budget base to a great degree, there are a number of bills that need to be meshed--particularly the bonding bill--to ensure a smooth ending to the session.

Senate Releases Bonding Bill.  The Senate has released its version of the bonding bill, which proposes to spend approximately $1.1 billion on construction projects.  One puzzler to me is why the Senate is proposing to spend $200 million of the surplus on these projects as opposed to bonding for the whole amount.  With all the carping about the uncertainty of the budget situation for the next biennium that's been taking place in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill, it doesn't make much sense to take $200 million off the bottom line for the remainder of this biennium as opposed to putting into the budget reserve.  Further, interest rates continue to remain low, which makes bonding a bargain.  I realize there are other considerations that go into the decision to use cash instead of bonding, but it's always a puzzler to me.

Here is the MinnPost story on the Senate bonding bill:

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Ah, the Wonders of Technology.  A mere one day after the Education Policy conference committee finished its work, the conference committee report is online and available for download.  It's a 160-page conference committee report that covers the waterfront in terms of education policy.  Most of it is clean-up or customizing of existing programs, but there are a couple of provisions that, while not earth-shattering, do bring some new perspectives to the education process.  Perhaps the largest of these is the set of requirements dealing with English Language learners and world language proficiency that comprise Article 1 of the bill.  I will be providing more insight once I fully digest everything in the bill.

Here is the link to the bill:

"Saturday in the Park" or "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting."  It's hard to tell right now what it's going to look like, but we're all here--"all" meaning a broad range of lobbyists--waiting to see if the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations bill will be put together today or not.  The larger budget target from which all the differing issue area has been set, but now comes the trickier part of putting together the amounts for each of the different budget areas that comprise the larger bill.  The process used this year is not used very often (I can only think of one or two times there has been an omnibus supplemental appropriations process that combines multiple broad budget areas and that has usually been during special sessions) and it's more labyrinthian than the targets-by-budget area method that it usually used.

The supposed deadline for the work on the conference committee to be finished is Sunday night.  We'll just have to see if that deadline is met.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

One Down, One to Go.  The Education Policy conference committee finished up its work tonight.  As stated earlier, the overall budget target has been set for the Omnibus Supplemental Budget bill and that conference committee will be convening on Saturday in hopes of finishing its work.  The Education Policy conference committee covered a lot of turf tonight; striking a deal on assignment of students to Area Learning Centers and alternative programs, working out language on the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations, and accepting language from both bills on the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options issue.

I will provide more details when the conference committee report and the accompanying summary become available, which will likely be early next week.
Overall Budget Target Reached.  The Governor and legislative leadership have agreed on the overall budget target for the supplemental appropriations bill.  The budget target for the remainder of this biennium is $293 million, with a "tails" target of $883.5 million (sum of future commitments as a result of new current year spending).  This amount strikes a compromise between the House supplemental budget amount ($321 million), the Senate ($203 million), and the Governor ($165 million), with the balance clearly tipping toward the House amount.  No idea of the target amounts for individual budget areas, but there was discussion this evening in the conference committee with the House making its case for its position of a 1% increase in the basic formula and the Senate defending its position calling for a $10 million increase in the amount dedicated to the early childhood scholarship program established last year.

So stay tuned.  The conference committee has been directed to finish its work by Sunday evening, meaning its likely to be a hectic weekend ahead.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Quiet Day.  None of the education-related conference committees met today as targets have yet to be reached on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and the education policy conference committee postponed their next meeting until tomorrow.  The conference committee on the Health Insurance Transparency Act also did not meet and the only thing we know about that moving forward is that the House has the gavel and will be calling the next meeting.  The Legislature must finish its work by Monday, May 19, and it cannot pass bills on the last day of the session this year, meaning work will have to finish by Sunday, May 18.  It is rare that the Legislature meets in session on a Sunday, but it has happened with some regularity over the past decade.  Stay tuned.

Governor Gives State of the State Address.  Due to Governor Dayton's recovery from surgery earlier this session, the Govenror's State of the State Address was postponed until the last day of April, which is the latest State of the State Address that I can recall.  The focus of Governor's speech was progress he believes has been made over the past three-plus years.  He highlighted efforts he believes have bolstered Minnesota's economy and put Minnesota's fiscal house in order.  Below are the comments related to education.  I found it interesting that he highlighted several efforts that were passed during the biennium when Republicans controlled the Legislature.  Below is the portion of the speech relating to education:

Improving education is closely connected with good jobs and economic growth.  It is also closely connected with our citizens’ health and well-being.  I am very pleased to report that we have made significant new investments in education, all the way from early childhood through post-secondary, and improved results are beginning to show. 
We started in 2011, when, despite facing a projected $6 Billion deficit, we increased K-12 education funding by $223 million, reversing a decade of declining state support for our public schools. 
The 2011 legislature also passed an Alternative Pathway for Teacher Licensure and a “Read Well by Third Grade” literacy initiative. It enacted comprehensive teacher and principal evaluations.  Principal evaluations began last fall, and teacher evaluations will start state-wide this September. 
Last year, the 2013 legislature made $485 million of new investments in education.  It increased the per-pupil aid formula as well as support for Special Education. 

State funding for early childhood education scholarships was increased to $46 million last year, and the Senate wants to raise that amount this year.  Early childhood education is real education reform. 
The legislature also passed one of my consistent priorities; and state-funded, all-day kindergarten will begin this fall.  Studies show that both early childhood and all-day kindergarten can make crucial differences in boosting students’ performances and closing achievement gaps.  So do nutritious hot school lunches.  No child should be shamed because parents can’t afford lunch.  Hopefully, that funding will soon be enacted. 
And, very significantly, during the past two-and-a-half years, we have repaid ALL of the $2.8 Billion previously borrowed from our schools.  Now, school districts can put their money into classrooms, not bank loans.  Let us vow that no more will we balance state budgets by creating deficits in school budgets. 
Just weeks ago, the legislature passed strong anti-bullying legislation.  That is also important education reform.  Children don’t learn at school, if they are scared.  Or made to feel bad about themselves. 
Once, Minnesota students competed successfully not only with students around the country, but also with kids around the world.  We are on our way to doing that again. 
Testing by the Trends in International Math and Science Study ranks Minnesota #9 among world educational systems in Science and 6th in Mathematics. 
Back home, in the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, Minnesota’s 4th graders tested #1 in the nation in math.  They ranked 10th best in reading, which was a big improvement from 22nd the year before. Very important was that the state’s reading gap for African-American and Latino 4th graders closed by 10 points from 2009 to 2013. 
Our 8th graders ranked 11th best in the nation in reading and 5th best in math. 
We have had the highest ACT scores among seniors for 8 years running, and our graduation rate, nearly 80%, is the highest in a decade. 
Regarding higher education, we have started to make progress, but we have quite a ways to go.  In fiscal 2012, state support for higher education, in real, after-inflation dollars, fell to its lowest level since 1981.  Last year’s legislature began to reverse that trend, and increased state funding for higher education by a record $248.5 million. 
One result from that declining state funding had been the increased reliance on tuition revenues to fund our public colleges and universities.  According to the College Board, in this school year Minnesota has the 4th highest in-state tuition and fees for two-year public colleges and the 12th highest for four-year colleges and universities.  Last year’s legislature wisely imposed two-year freezes on tuitions at the University of Minnesota and the MnSCU colleges and universities. 
In addition, the State Grant Program was expanded.  As a result, over Minnesota 100,000 students have received increased state financial aid this year. 

The link to the entire text of the speech is here:

State of the State link:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Long Day in Education Policy Conference Committee.   One can never say that the Education Policy chairs in the House and Senate don't like to work or enjoy their work.  The conference committee on HF 2397--the omnibus education policy bill--met for nearly six hours spread over an eight-hour period and adopted a lion's share of the items remaining before the committee.  Included among the adopted provisions were language that will promote the study of (and hopefully eventual expanded use of) Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS--think Response to Intervention) and the approval of Minnesota's participation in the Interstate Compact for students in military families.  The former provision is a scaled-down version of Representative David Bly's HF 2683.  Under that bill, the current rule used to identify students with Specific Learning Disabilities would have been sunset with a new rule springing from use of MTSS.  That portion of the bill was eliminated, but the study was retained.  The discussion on the House and Senate floors on the Interstate Contact was quite pointed, with some legislators concerned that participating in the compact constitutes the state surrendering some control over its education system to the federal government.  The discussion also touched on opposition to adoption of the Common Core standards that Minnesota has largely adopted.

An issue that surfaced late in the hearing relates to the House position that would put limits on districts' ability to direct children to area learning centers and alternative programs.  In reaction to the change in the law that raised the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 that was approved late last session, school administrators believed they needed the ability to provide students who would ordinarily leave school at age 16 with direction toward programs that would be most appropriate for them as they stay an extra year.  The area learning centers and alternative programs believe that, while not carte blanche ability to assign students to these programs, if misused it could upset the delicate balance that exists in many of alternative education programs.  The House bill has a provision that makes it clear that building administrators could not directly assign a student to an area learning center or alternative program.  That provision was not approved this evening after considerable discussion, but the discussion will continue tomorrow.

Targets and Rumors of Targets.  Another day, another day waiting for targets.  While the rumor continues to waltz through the Capitol hallways that the Governor and the Legislature are on the verge of agreeing on spending targets, but no final decision has been reached as of yet.  What complicates matters this year is that it appears that first an overall spending target will be reached, but then a subsequent discussion will take place at the legislative level to determine how much will be spent in each area.  Normally, the targets for each budget area are determined in the initial discussion between the Legislature and the Governor, but that doesn't appear to be the case this session.

No Progress on Teacher Health Insurance Bill.  The conference committee on HF 2180 did not meet today, but there are very few outstanding issues that exist between the House and the Senate on that legislation, which should make agreement somewhat easy to reach.  One difference that exists between the two bills is the exemption of self-insured districts from the bid process required of other districts that is in the Senate bill.  If you are a self-insured district, contact your State Senator and urge them to tell the Senate conferees to retain that Senate position in the final bill.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Conference Committee Triple Play.  All three education-related conference committees were working today, with provisions being adopted in two of them.  The conference committees on HF 2180--the Health Insurance Transparency Act--and HF 2397--the Education Policy bill--adopted provisions deemed either same or similar in both the House and Senate versions of the bills respectively.  Of these two conference committees, the one most likely to finish its work first is HF 2180.  There are a number of differences that remain between the two bills, most notably relating to the treatment of self-ensured districts, but I can envision a scenario where these differences are ironed out in no time flat.

Things will proceed more slowly in conference committee on the Education Policy bill.  Today's meeting went for between five and six hours, largely because that is how many same and similar provisions contained in both bills.  Much of the content in each bill resulted from task forces and working groups that were convened by the Minnesota Department of Education last interim.  Add to that the comprehensive English Language learner provisions authored by Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) and Senator Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis) that were adopted today and you've produced a pretty good sized set of pages for the final bill.

The progress on HF 3172--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--has been stalled by the inability to reach an agreement on the budget targets that the House, Senate, and Governor have to agree upon before final decisions can be reached.  It is even more complicated this year because once the "macro" target that will govern the total amount of total spending is reached, that amount will have to be split into the targets that will govern each separate budget area (E-12 education, higher education, natural resources, state departments, etc.).

Contact Governor and Legislators.  It is crucial that in you contact legislators and the Governor's office as soon as possible, urging them to support the House education funding target (more than $30 million higher than the Senate target and $70 million higher than the Governor's target).  Further, the House has a 1% increase on the general education basic formula, which is extremely important to SEE districts.  There are a number of other spending initiatives (ECFE, scholarships, and teacher evalution revenue in the Senate bill; increases in EL funding and increases in Learning Readiness in both bills) that are worthy of consideration, but in a year when little money will be forthcoming, the dollars should be expended in the way that gets money equally to all school districts throughout the state and that is the general education basic formula.  So call the Governor's office, House and Senate leadership, and the conferees with your thoughts on the matter.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Education Provisions Discussed.  It was a fairly quiet day at the Legislature, with only a couple of education matters surfacing.  The conference committee on HF 3172 went through the education provisions of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  There was very little discussion of the provisions by the conference committee members as staff provided a thorough description of the various funding and policy initiatives contained in the bill.  Action in earnest will begin at the meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, when provisions deemed to be the same in each bill are slated to be adopted.

Education Policy Conferees Named.  A bill that has been flying somewhat below the radar is HF 2397, the omnibus education policy bill.  The House and Senate conferees for the bill have been named and are as follows:

House:  Representatives Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato), Barb Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview), Mary Sawatsky (DFL-Willmar) and Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City).

Senate:  Senators Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis), Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley), Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), Alice Johnson (DFL-Spring Lake Park), and Carla Nelson (R-Rochester)

In conversations with legislators, it is unclear when the conference committee will begin, but there are not a lot of provisions in either bill that would be considered unduly controversial, meaning that the proceedings may go quickly once the conference committee begins its work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Back in Action.  The Legislature returned to work today after its Easter/Passover break and they dove right back into action with a full day of floor action, committee hearings, and conference committee proceedings.  The largest part of the day was dedicated to the passage of the Education Policy Bill (HF 2397) on the Senate floor.  The bill passed on a vote of 39-21 after debate of two-plus hours and 13 amendments being offered.  Eight of the thirteen amendments passed, two were withdrawn, and three failed.  There is nothing particularly earth-shattering in the bill, although there are some interesting provisions.  The most comprehensive program contained in the bill is English Language literacy program requirements contained in SF 2611 (Torres Ray)/HF 3062 (Mariani).  There are a lot of new requirements in this legislation, but it is difficult to tell whether or not districts with high concentrations of English Language learners are already doing much of what will be required under the provisions of this legislation.

Here is the text of the Senate bill (without the amendments added today):

Here is the text of the House bill as it passed the House:

One item of interest in the House bill is the implementation of new eligibility requirements for the determination of special learning disability and the repeal of the current rule that requires districts use the discrepancy model to identify learning disabled students.  For those of you familiar with and supportive of Response to Intervention and Multi-Tiered Support Systems models, this would be a huge step forward.  This language can be found in Article 4, Section 13, of the House bill (p. 131).

Supplemental Budget Conference Committee Begins Deliberations.  The conference committee on HF 3712--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--met for the first time this afternoon and started going through each bill and explaining differences that exist between the two bills.  It was the intention of the conference committee to go through the entire bill, but because this year's supplemental appropriations bill contains all of the spending from all of the funding divisions, the length of the bill (462 page House bill and 492 page Senate bill). there were simply too many provisions for the conference committee to digest in one sitting.  The education articles in each bill (Article 13 in the Senate bill and Articles 16 through 21 in the House bill) will be presented tomorrow.

Deb Griffiths has put together a tremendous side-by-side comparison of the education provisions in the two bills that is available at the SEE website.  Here is a link to that report:

Last But Not Least.  The House Education Policy Committee held an informational hearing on two bills today.  Because the Legislature is past its deadlines for acting on bills in committee, the hearings were solely for informational purposes.  HF 2113 (Clark) would require school districts to provide aquatics instruction, which would be pretty difficult in school districts that do not have access to a swimming pool.  That said, it was a very interesting hearing and the bill is supported by a number of public safety organizations.  I never realized the discrepancy that existed in drowning deaths between white and minority populations.  Here is an article on the bill that was published in City Pages, the alternative Twin Cities news weekly.  I don't know if it's a civil rights issue in the traditional sense of that term, but the data presented at the hearing was compelling.


The other bill heard was Representative Mariani's HF 3045, which instructs the Minnesota Board of Teaching to develop a teaching license reciprocity agreement with other states.

As I stated earlier, neither of these bills will be heading anywhere this session, but they may find their way onto future legislative to-do lists.

Health Insurance Transparency Act Conferees Named.  The conferees for HF 2180, the Health Insurance Transparency Act developed by Education Minnesota, have been named.  The House conferees with be Representatives Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul), John Ward (DFL-Brainerd) and Greg Davids (R-Preston).  The Senate conferees are Senators Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport), Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna), and Jeremy Miller (R-Winona).  It is unclear when the conference committee will start meeting, but while there are differences in the bills, things could come together rather quickly.  I will certainly let you know when things start proceeding.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Health Insurance Transparency Act (HITA) on Senate Floor Tomorrow.  HF 2180 passed the Senate Finance Committee this morning and will be on the Senate floor tomorrow for final passage.  In a bit of a surprise, an amendment exempting self-insured school districts from the requirements of the bill offered by Senator Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) passed on a vote of 10-9.  Needless to say, Education Minnesota doesn't appear to be too happy with the vote, which saw two other DFLers join Senator Bonoff along with all but one Republican that was present to pass the amendment.  There will undoubtedly be an attempt to strike this amendment from the bill tomorrow on the Senate floor, so if you are a self-insured district, please make certain you contact your legislator and urge them to support keeping the Bonoff amendment on the bill.  Self-insured districts are an entirely different animal than districts who have chosen to purchase health insurance through other means.  While all districts clearly consult with their bargaining units on health insurance coverage and costs, in setting up a self-insured pools, district boards and administrations have worked hand-in-hand with teachers on every step of the transition to self-insurance.  To somehow contend otherwise is really misleading.

I'm still trying to figure out why this legislation is needed at all, but I'll let Education Minnesota do the explaining.  Other than that it was a pretty quiet day on the education legislation front.  As I noted in an earlier entry, the House conferees for HF 3172 were named and House Education Finance Chair Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) will be a member of the conference committee working out the differences that exist between the Senate and House versions of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.
Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Passes Senate.  With all eyes focused on the anti-bullying bill, I neglected to report that the Senate passed HF 3172--the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill--on Tuesday on a party-line vote of 37-27 with three Senators absent.

There were no major changes to the bill and the education portion of the bill remains intact,  Here are the increases in funding proposed in HF 3172 for E-12 education programs:

  • $4 million for English Language learners by raising eligibility from five years to six years.
  • $2 million for early literacy.
  • $9 million in one-time money for teacher evaluation (non-Qcomp districts).
  • $3.5 million in school lunch aid (makes reduced price lunch free).
  • $3.4 million for school readiness
  • $8.9 million for ECFE.
  • $8.8 million for early childhood scholarships

There are a number of smaller appropriations, but the above proposals comprise a "cage full of lions'" share of the $41 million budget target for the division.

The House refused to concur with the Senate amendments and have named their conferees for the upcoming conference committee, which will commence when the Legislature returns from its break for the spring religious holidays on April 21.  The House conferees are Representatives Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal), Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth), Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul), Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) and Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth).  Note that there are no Republicans on the conference committee, but it is tradition that in order to serve on the conference committee pertaining to a bill, a legislator must vote for that bill.  Because no Republicans voted for the bill, there will not be one on the conference committee.

Long Day's Journey into Night.  It took about ten hours and seemed a lot longer, but the House concurred with the Senate amendments to HF 826--the Safe and Supportive Schools Act--by a straight partisan line vote of 69-63 late Tuesday evening (or maybe it was Wednesday morning).  There wasn't much new territory covered in Tuesday's debate.  It's hard to embellish the debate, which was very serious and bordered on contentious at some junctures.  There were a number cultural references from those who opposed the bill, and if you are interested, I would suggest you listen to the archived audio of the floor session.  There is no way that I can do the debate justice by trying to recount it here.

The bill will now go to the Governor and he is expected to sign the bill.  This will certainly be a centerpiece issue in the 2014 election House election cycle, so stay tuned.

Here is a link to the House floor session from Tuesday, April 8:

The roll call vote:

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Interesting Monday.  We've reached the stage of the session that I like to describe as "putting bolts in a blender."  Lots of noise and you don't know if you'll ever get to the puree stage.  Things are coming together, but the pace is a lot more deliberate than two weeks ago when there appeared to be a mad dash toward the finish and there's no question we will be back after the traditional break for the spring religious holidays that will start this Friday.

Monday's legislative day ended with the passage of HF 2180 (E. Murphy), the health insurance bill promoted by Education Minnesota in the House or Representatives.  The final vote was 76-57 with four Republicans (Representatives Davids, Gunther, Hamilton, and Urdahl) joining the entire DFL caucus in passing the bill.  The debate on the bill was curious.  Republicans offered nine amendments, but withdrew five of them before a vote could be taken.  As many of you know, I've been around here a long time and I've never seen that type of strategy (if it can indeed be called a strategy) used during floor deliberations on a bill.  Usually, the minority will offer amendments and attempt to catch members in what may be considered "bad" votes.  Whether or not the votes on these amendments could be considered suitably "bad" enough to be used in campaigns probably dictated the Republicans' actions (or lack thereof) on the matter, but I still found it interesting.  There were some spirited speeches against the bills after all the amendments had been disposed off, mostly against the bill, but it was pretty clear the bill was going to pass.  The one amendment that was approved was offered by Representative Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton).  This amendment requires that school districts use the sealed-bid process for all of their bargaining units, not just those covered in the teachers' contract.

There was an expressed intention for the House to vote on HF 826--the Safe and Supportive Schools Act--last evening, but the House decided to adjourn for the evening around 10 PM.  The debate on the House's concurrence with the Senate's amendments would have likely gone on into the wee hours of the morning and after the fairly contentious debate on a couple of labor-related bills yesterday,  So, look forward to witnessing that debate today.

The Senate has put together its omnibus tax bill and its omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and it is expected that those bills will pass off the floor prior to the break.  That should set up the conference committee process on those major bills when the Legislature returns after its break.