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.

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