Two More Task Forces Finish Their Work. The Special Education Caseloads Task Force and the Integration Rule/Statute Working Group finished their work on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Nothing really earth-shattering will likely come from the work of these panels, but the discussions will lead to some needed clarification in both of these areas. Perhaps the biggest development came in the Integration Rule, where it appears the discussion will shift back to the legislature. The final vote on approval of the recommendations was not unanimous, with the primary friction coming in the area of whether or not the rule/statute should encourage the creation of racially-balanced learning environments. It is a difficult issue and the discussion will continue well past this working group and this year's legislative session. Another item that is left hanging to some extent is the status (perhaps classification is a better word) of the "integration" schools (EMID, WEMAP, etc.). Those environments were created in reaction to the expansion of desegregation/integration efforts in the 1990s, which were predicated on the creation of racially-balanced environments. If the law were to move in a different direction, the status of those environments would likely change at some level.
School Lunch Changes. With a healthy budget, a number of initiatives that fell by the wayside last session are likely to become law during the 2014 session. The first of these to surface in the education area is the bill that would provide that no child would be turned away from receiving a hot lunch due to lack of financial resources. This bill was heard extensively during the 2013 legislative session, but with a tight budget, there wasn't room to include the approximately $3.35 million per year needed for the program in the final omnibus E-12 budget bill. The group that lobbied most vociferously for the bill was Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and they conducted a study recently showing that 70 Minnesota school districts refuse to serve hot lunch to students who have deficits in their lunch accounts. In the wake of the study's release, Governor Dayton and MDE Commissioner Cassellius have both stated that they will include a provision in their 2014 budget that will ensure that children will still receive a hot lunch in the event their account is in deficit.
Bills from last session that would have changed polcy included SF 146 (Hayden)/HF 336 (Winkler) and SF 38 (Hoffman)/HF 31 (Newton). The provision was in the Senate omnibus education policy bill at one point during last year's session, but it did not survive.
It appears that a new bill will be introduced and the chief authors will be Senator Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis), who carried one of the bills last year and Representative Yvonne Selcer (DFL-Hopkins). Given the level of support, it is extremely likely that the provision will pass and become law, but it won't be without some spirited discussion. The debate over the SNAP program as the U.S. Congress put together the omnibus Agriculture bill probably serves as a preview for the debate that will take place in St. Paul starting later this month.
Beth Hawkins has written stories on the issue in MinnPost the past two days. The links to those stories are below, along with a link to SF 38/HF 31 from the 2013 legislative session.
MinnPost (2/11/13): http://www.minnpost.com/learning-curve/2014/02/many-minnesota-students-are-subjected-lunch-refusals-including-tray-pulls
MinnPost (2/12/13): http://www.minnpost.com/learning-curve/2014/02/tray-pulling-school-lunchrooms-gets-political
SF 38/HF 31: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=SF38&version=0&session=ls88&session_year=2013&session_number=0&format=pdf