Saturday, January 31, 2015

First Month is a Wrap!  This marks the end of the first month of the 2015 legislative session and there haven't been many, if any, surprises thus far.  Both sides of the street have been mapping out their policy territory and it's way too early to tell where most of the battle lines will be drawn.  I think it's safe to say that the dueling visions of transportation funding (Governor with gas tax increase and more ambitious and comprehensive set of proposed improvements versus a House package with no tax increase and by extension a smaller scale proposal) will be among the toughest nuts to crack at session's end.  It has been relatively quiet in most other areas as the Legislature is now poring through the Governor's budget to try and get a stronger handle on what he is proposing and how that fits with their particular visions in the session ahead.

On education,the Governor went in big on early education.  The details are still being unpacked, but it appears the Governor has put a significant amount of increased support into the early childhood scholarship program and providing 4-year-olds with a student "weight" to provide interested districts with a revenue stream to provide universal voluntary pre-school to their residents.  The proposal is not without controversy and the debate may get contentious at some point.  First, funding for the proposal has come at the expense of support for the general education basic formula.  Along with the increase in the projected base increase in the E-12 budget of over $200 million, the Governor has added $392 million.  But out of this $392 million, less than half will be going toward the primary funding engine of the E-12 system:  the general education formula basic amount, which only receives a 1% increase in each year of the biennium under the Governor's budget.  As expected, this is not sitting well with the K-12 community and testimony taken in the House last week bears that out clearly.  There is no question that districts throughout the state will be cutting their budget--some of them significantly--if the basic formula doesn't receive additional support by the time the session ends.

The Governor's budget proposal also overlooks the recommendations of the School Facilities Funding Working Group and the more recent task force that was charged with melding the alternative compensation (QComp) program with the more recently enacted Teacher Development and Evaluation program.  About half the districts in the state are participating in the alternative compensation program and while it will not be easy for a number of these districts to seamlessly incorporate the requirements of the Teacher Development and Evaluation law into their systems, it will likely be easier for alternative compensation districts to accommodate any additional costs that may result from the new direction than it will be in districts that do not have a revenue stream to shoulder these costs.  The price tag for providing non-alternative compensation districts to receive the state aid portion of the alternative compensation formula is gauged to be around $100 million.

As in the case of the Teacher Development and Evaluation program, the Governor chose not to put any money into the suggested improvements for facilities funding contained in the School Facilities Finance Working Group that met in the summer of 2013.  The price tag on the first step toward full implementation of that panel's report would be approximately $200 million for the second year of the biennium.  This state aid entitlement would come both in the form of new revenue and property tax relief through increased debt service and equalization of levies that currently are not equalized or equalized at a very low rate.

One of the frustrations I am having is that these two task forces (along with the more comprehensive education finance working group that met in 2011) have been largely ignored.  All three of these fora have provided a tremendous amount of insight and evidence that Minnesota's education funding framework is in need of more than just some sprucing up around the edges.  SEE was one of the prime movers in the PS Minnesota/New Minnesota Miracle efforts that called for a massive infusion of revenue into the education funding system to make up for the underfunding that had been occurring since the 1990s.  Unfortunately, the downturn in the economy that crippled state finances at the end of last decade prevented the kind of investment that was needed to put the state back on track in this regard.  And while there may be more will to move forward now, it's not like the state (and national) economic picture has improved sufficiently to create the revenue stream significant enough to reach the ambitious goals set out by PS Minnesota/New Minnesota Miracle.

I don't think anyone is expecting a massive infusion beyond what the Governor has suggested and it's probably not possible given the budget constraints and economic uncertainty.  But it would be nice if a nod were given to some of the impressive work that the Minnesota Department of Education has undertaken in the various work groups it has convened over the past four years.

Speaking of Money in Education.  For those of you not familiar with Dr. Bruce Baker, he is an education finance expert and Professor of Educational Theory, Policy, and Administration in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers (New Jersey) University.  Dr. Baker has testified in a number of high-profile adequacy lawsuits throughout the nation and is generally recognized as one of the stronger voices for increased funding for education.  Dr. Baker has a blog entitled School Finance 101 and a great number of his posts make a compelling case for increased funding for K-12 education.  Below is one of Baker's recent entries on why money matters (contrary to the opinion of a number of education reformers).

School Finance 101:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Testimony on Governor's Bill.  It's always one of the more uncomfortable pieces of testimony that a lobbyist has to give during the session; reaction to the Governor's budget.  There's always something to like and always something to dislike in the Governor's recommendations and it's no different this year.  The key is finding a balance that respects all of the work that has gone into the development of the budget, thank the Governor for the things that are there, and politely point out things that one wishes weren't there.

My testimony today thanked the Governor for at least putting some money on the general education formula, suggesting a universal/school-based approach on early childhood education, and advocating for more funding for PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports).  The downside of the budget recommendation is that there isn't more there, especially in terms of funding for facilities and funding for school districts that aren't participating in the alternative compensation program to assist with the teacher development and evaluation mandate.  I wasn't alone in my assessment.  Most every educational organization came forward and expressed concerns in the same vein.  Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen, representing the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, was pretty much the rock star of the day as he pointed out what a 1% increase on the basic formula will mean in many districts.  In a word, most everyone will be cutting.  Haugen, like superintendents and other school personnel throughout the state, are on the front line on this issue and they are the ones who experience the effects of inadequate funding.

Another item I pointed out is that the Minnesota Department of Education has convened some really terrific task forces and working groups over the past couple of decades.  The problem is that bulk of the work product of these groups never seems to find its way into Governors' budget proposals.  This is nothing new, but it is frustrating.  The findings of the School Facilities Finance Working Group and the task force melding the alternative compensation and teacher development and evaluation programs are the results of a lot of hard work and they address some glaring inequities in the school funding framework.  Hopefully, some progress can be made on these issues as the session continues.  As I wrote yesterday, the Governor's budget is simply the first pitch in a long season.  It's a very important first pitch, but there's a long, long ways to go.

School Support Personnel Push.  Here's an opinion piece from Thursday's StarTribune decrying Minnesota's lack of guidance counselors.  It's not just guidance counselors.  Minnesota school districts are light in terms of all types of support personnel, including guidance counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and school nurses.  There will be an effort made this year to provide incentives for school districts to hire additional support personnel and from what I've heard, it will come in the form of incentives and not in the form of mandates.  Given the increasing challenges facing school districts, support personnel have become more important and it will be interesting to see how this effort unfolds and what shape it takes.


Thursday Bill Introductions.


SF 398 -- Dziedzic -- Authorizes grants for the collaborative urban educator program --

SF 430 -- Kiffmeyer -- Requires a study on concurrent enrollment course --

SF 434 -- Chamberlain -- Postpones the statutory review of state mathematics standards --


HF 392 -- Newton -- Allows school board to renew an expiring referendum levy for up to five years --

HF 394 -- Freiberg -- Integrates service learning into Minnesota's education system --

HF 424 -- Pinto -- Makes technical change to conform the definition of directory information with federal law --

HF 435 -- Newton -- Resolution memorializing President and Congress to uphold federal government's pledge to fund 40% of special education costs --

HF 466 -- Kresha -- Permits September 1 school start date for he 2015-2016 school year --

HF 471 -- Erickson -- Permits September 1 school start date for he 2015-2016 school year --

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Busy Day for Commissioner Cassellius.  Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius presented an overview of the Governor's education budget before two committees--the Senate Education Finance Committee and the House Education Finance Committee--on Wednesday.  While not going into the minutiae surrounding the budget, she did provide the rationale used by the Governor in assembling his education priorities for consideration during the 2015 legislative session.  The logic is pretty straightforward.  Given the deficits that many young children experience, the Governor has deemed it extremely important that a comprehensive early education program be developed.  The early learning scholarship program will be part of the Governor's program, but he also wants to greatly expand opportunities for all children through a more universal approach and is proposing that 4-year-olds be "weighted" for formula purposes with the resulting revenue being used for programs to promote early learning.  While there was a bit more detail provided today than what is contained in the budget document, there are still a lot of unanswered questions (which is to be expected) that will need clarification as the proposal moves through the process.

The Senators and Representatives asked a number of pointed questions, particularly why more money wasn't directed toward the general education basic formula or no provisions from the task forces on school facilities and teacher development and evaluation were included in the Governor's budget document.  It will make for an interesting debate as the session continues.

Free College Story.  When Tennessee implemented a free community/technical college plan last year, it was expected that it would create a buzz.  That buzz reached Minnesota earlier this month when Senator LeRoy Stumpf introduced SF 2, a bill that would provide similar benefits to Minnesota students.  Last week, President Obama also embraced the plan in his State of the Union address, which amped up interest even further.  There are obvious cost (and eligibility) concerns, but given continually rising college costs and the oft-discussed (but never really solved) "skills gap," approaches like this are bound to find their way into the spotlight.

Below is a link to the bill and to an MPR story on the concept.


MPR Story:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

First Day of the Regular Season!  The release of the Governor's budget is kind of like the opening day of the baseball season.  Up to this point, the Governor and legislators have been honing their game; sending up trial balloons and seeing what might stick this session.  The Governor's budget is like the first pitch and from now on we'll be playing ball.

It's always important to treat the initial budget proposal as a first step; a very rudimentary first step.  The Governor outlines his priorities in rough terms and puts his money behind those priorities.  Governor Dayton's top priority this year is very straightforward.  In a speech last Friday, the Governor dropped some less than subtle hints about what direction his budget would head.  He stated in that speech that he was planning on devoting approximately half of the projected $1 billion forecast surplus toward programs for children and families.  Good to his word, the Governor proposed a significant increase in the child care tax credit (over $100 million) and has recommended an increase in the E-12 budget of $371 million over base.  The base is scheduled to rise by $219 million without legislative action, making the total increase contained in the budget $590 million.

It appears that the Governor isn't going to inundate the Legislature with a lot of policy changes.  There are only 14 change items--Governor's recommendations that go above the base--in  the budget. The largest single change item is the proposed 1% increase in the general education basic amount in each year of the biennium.  This accounts for $173 million of the $371 million (46%) of the Governor's proposed increase.  The next largest change item will likely be the most interesting (and perhaps most hotly debated) is the expanded early childhood education program that will provide 4-year-olds throughout the state with access to all-day preschool programs.  That program takes effect in the second year of the biennium and costs approximately $103 million.

Other change items are as follows (biennial costs):

Elimination of Current Head Start Wait List  --  $19.4 million
Increase for Minnesota Reading Corps  --  $10.0 million
Implementation of Help Me Grow  --  $2.0 million
Increase of Regional Centers of Excellence  --  $6.0 million
Increase in School Breakfast Program  --  $27.0 million
Extension of Eligibility for English Language Programs (6 to 7 years)  --  $7.9 million
Expanded Support for Success for the Future Program  --  $4.5 million
Additional Funding for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS)  --  $4.6 million
Additional Funding for Minnesota Department of Education  --  $818,000
Increased Support for Norhside Achievement Zone and Promise Neighborhood --  $4.0 million
Increase for State Board of Teaching  --  $200,000
Increase for Board of School Administrators  --  $9,000

There are obviously a number of details forthcoming, especially as to how the new early childhood program will mesh with existing programs, particularly the early childhood scholarship program.

As is the case every time a Governor's budget is released, there are a few disappointments that accompany the event.  Probably the two biggest (at least they are to me) are the exclusion of any part of the recommendations of the School Facilities Finance Working Group and the Teacher Development and Evaluation-Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System Alignment Work Group.  These two groups convened by the Minnesota Department of Education addressed two of the major inequities that exist between groups of school districts.  In the case of facilities, 25 districts in the state have access to the alternative facilities program which provides them with expanded ability to address deferred maintenance needs, while the remaining 300+ districts are limited to the deferred maintenance program and several other smaller facility-related programs.  Further, the debt service equalization program that provides taxpayers in low property wealth districts considerable tax equity when undertaking construction programs has not been updated markedly in over 20 years.

On the teacher development and evaluation/alternative compensation issue, approximately half the teachers in the state work in districts/cooperatives that do not have on-going revenue for the recently-implemented teacher development and evaluation program, which puts them at a clear disadvantage when compared to districts that are participating in the alternative compensation program.

I guess the bottom line for me in terms of my disappointment is that MDE has convened a number of very impressive task forces and working groups over the past few years, only to not see the recommendations appreciably embraced as they've moved up the line to the funding discussion.  We've seen it with the comprehensive funding working group that was convened in 2011 and now with these two working groups.

It's still early.  I always have to remember that.  Like I said in the opening paragraph, today was the first pitch.  The Legislature will now be taking its swings.  I'm sure there will be some swings-and-misses and some solid connections over the next three-plus months as the budget for the 2016-2017 biennium is constructed.  It's up to all of us who see gaps in the Governor's budget to make our case as to why those gaps should be closed.  It will likely take more in terms of resources and we simply don't know what the February budget forecast will yield in that respect.  The next few weeks leading up to that forecast will certainly be interesting and it will be a good time to make the case to legislators that more revenue is needed and that revenue needs to address some of the inequities that do exist in our E-12 funding system.

Here is the link to the education budget document (all 286 pages of it):

Monday, January 26, 2015

Budget Eve Report.  The big news this week will be the release of the Governor's 2015-2016 budget tomorrow at 11 AM.  The Governor has dropped a few hints of what will be in his budget (and he did unveil a substantial transportation package today), but, for the most part, it's just a set of hints.  He will propose a $100+ million enhancement of the child care tax credit along with increases in the early childhood scholarship program and unspecified (at least in his comments) school-based early childhood programs.  The Governor has given no indication of what he will do in terms of funding teacher development and evaluation or the school facilities finance and it will be unfortunate if revenue is not directed toward these purposes.  The Minnesota Department of Education conducted task forces over the past couple of years on both of these issue areas and those task forces did marvelous work.  Further, both of these areas are examples of clear funding inequities that exist between districts.  So, for lack of a better term, here's hoping there is at least a nod toward these programs in the Governor's budget.

Bill Introductions.


SF 284 (Koenen) -- Allows Willmar school district to start school before Labor Day --

SF 285 (Koenen) -- Allows BOLD school district to start school before Labor Day --

SF 286 (Koenen) -- Allows Renville County West school district to start school before Labor Day --

SF 287 (Koenen) -- Allows New London-Spicer school district to start school before Labor Day --

SF 288 (Koenen) -- Allows Benson school district to start school before Labor Day --

SF 290 (Koenen) -- Allows Buffalo Lake-Hector-Strewart to start school before Labor Day --

SF 298 (Stumpf) -- Provides extension of temporary teacher license in instances where teacher examination requirements have not been met --

SF 299 (Stumpf) -- Enhances online learning opportunities --

SF 302 (Pratt) -- Requires 3/5 vote of both houses of the Legislature to shift state aid payment percentage below 90% --

SF 322 (Saxhaug -- Provides a grant for Headwaters Science Center --

SF 333 (Lourey) -- Provides flexibility for the expenditure of ECFE and school readiness revenue --

SF 334 (Johnson) -- Requires students receive comprehensive vision examination before kindergarten enrollment --

SF 337 (Pappas) -- Makes a technical change to conform the definition of directory information with federal law --

SF 341 (Rosen) -- Expands allowable use of health and safety revenue to include improvements made for student and staff security purposes --

SF 343 (Kent) -- Provides for physical education standards and benchmarks --

SF 344 (Johnson) -- Increases state aid for the school breakfast program --


HF 334 (Bly) -- Provides teacher development and evaluation revenue to cooperatives and education districts --

HF 350 (Uglem) -- Increases general education basic formula by $300 per pupil unit --

HF 360 (E. Murphy) -- Allows tax credit for K-12 teachers who complete a master's degree in a content area related directly to their licensure field --

HF 363 (Miller) -- Permits Renville County West school district to start school before Labor Day --

HF 364 (Miller) -- Permits BOLD school district to start school before Labor Day --

HF 365 (Miller) -- Permits Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart school district to start school before Labor Day --

HF 366 (Miller) -- Permits Benson school district to start school before Labor Day --

HF 367 (Miller) -- Permits Montevideo school district to start school before Labor Day --

HF 369 (Gunther) -- Expands allowable use of health and safety revenue to include improvements made for student and staff security purposes --

HF 384 (Urdahl) -- Makes year-long student teaching programs part of teacher preparation --

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thanks to All.  Great SEE meeting today.  I want to thank all of the participants.  For those of you who weren't there, the first panel dealt with the alternative compensation/teacher development and evaluation issue and the report from the task force convened by the Minnesota Department of Education to meld the two programs.  Rose Hermodson (who I refer to as Queen to Task Forces), Belle Plaine principal Liann Hanson (a member of the task force), LaCrescent-Hokah superintendent Ron Wilke (whose district has been in alternative compensation--QComp--since its inception), and Prior Lake Assistant Superintendent Jeff Holmberg (whose district just got into the alternative compensation program two years ago) comprised the panel and they all provided a lot of valuable insights on the history of alternative compensation and some of the challenges faced by districts in all stages of the process of either alternative compensation or teacher development and evaluation.  It appears that the recommendations coming from the Task Force will require alternative compensation districts to incorporate the requirements of the teacher development and evaluation program into their existing plan.  While it is easier to start from scratch for those districts who haven't been participating in alternative compensation, the question for those districts will be whether or not sufficient revenue will be forthcoming for them to implement the teacher development and evaluation law without having to resort to dipping into their general funds for yet another cross-subsidy for an unfunded mandate.

Our legislative panel consisted of the House education chairs:  Representative Sondra Erickson, Chair of the House Education Innovation Policy Committee, and Representative Jenifer Loon, Chair of the House Education Finance Committee.  Both chairs did an excellent job outlining the challenges and opportunities facing their respective committees (and their caucus as a whole) as they look ahead into the 2015 session.

Our after-lunch program featured a presentation by the Austin School District's STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Manufacturing) program.  Superintendent Dave Krenz, L.J. Holton Middle School Principal Jean McDermott, and the district's Director of Curriculum John Albert provided an excellent description of their top-notch program that is really doing great things for the students at the school.  The Powerpoint of their presentation will be available on the SEE website under General Meeting Handouts shortly.

It's was good to see so many members at the meeting and energized by what should be an exciting legislative session.

Dribs on Drabs on the Governor's Budget.  In a speech to a conference of child services advocates, Governor Dayton announced that he plans to dedicate over half of the approximately $1 billion forecasted budget surplus for education and other programs that help families with school age and younger children.  Details are sketchy at this point, but the Governor said he plans on expanding the child care tax credit by over $100 million, putting more money into the pre-K scholarship program, providing more financial support for school-based pre-K programs, and increasing revenue for the school breakfast program.  It is assumed (I know, I know, never assume) that the Governor's primary vehicle for increasing support of the K-12 system will be through an increase in the basic formula.  That leaves a lot of holes in the current system left unfilled, but we are still early in the game (and we haven't seen the details of the Governor's proposal).  The Governor will release his budget on Tuesday, January 27, and check back here for details.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Busy Thursday.  There was a full slate of education-related hearings today and they all featured a lot of testimony.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee featured testimony from education organizations that will have issues before the committee in 2015.  Education policy actually touches a wider range of interests than education finance so it was a pretty long line of testifiers.  In fact, a lot of folks will be coming back next week because they couldn't get through the entire list.

The Senate Education Finance Committee spent its time allotment discussing three bills dealing with school facilities.  SFs 75 and 76 (both authored by Senator Kevin Dahle) contain major provisions from the School Facilities Funding Working Group that is strongly supported by SEE.  SF 75 increases the equalization factor for the capital projects levy, which is currently all local levy with no state participation to help low property wealth districts.  SF 76 proposes to enact the deferred maintenance portion of the aforementioned recommendations.  The bill would expand eligibility for the alternative facilities program to all school districts in Minnesota.  Currently, only 25 districts are eligible to use this program and, as currently designed, there is no limit to what these districts can levy to pay for these repairs.  The bill would combine several facilities levies and greatly increase the total amount that the districts not eligible for alternative facilities could access to pay for deferred maintenance purposes.

There was a lot of testimony in favor of the bill, including Dr. James Behle, the St. Michael-Albertville superintendent and our SEE Legislative Chair.  I also provided testimony.  In my testimony, I stressed the need for the committee to also look at other recommendations contained in the report of the School Facilities Finance Working Group, particularly increased debt service equalization (which hasn't been appreciably increased since its inception in 1991) and equalization of the lease levy.  Other groups testifying including the Minnesota Rural Education Association, the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, and the Minnesota Educational Facilities Management Professionals.  I'd say we all "got on base," but it was Worthington School Board member Linden Olson who hit the ball way out of the park.  He hit every note forcefully and addressed the complications that many rural districts face because of the roller coaster pattern of agricultural land valuation.  Agricultural land values are very high right now and because agricultural land is included in the tax base that debt service is levied against, it is very difficult for many rural districts to pass bond issues without virtually pauperizing farmers in the district.  Agricultural property is exempted from the tax base used to raise operating referendum revenue.  The role of agricultural property in school levies will be discussed during the 2015 session and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

The House Education Finance Committee finished its testimony on early childhood education funding and policy before turning to discussion of career/technical programs.  Several groups from SEE-member districts testified about their programs.  Forest Lake agriculture teacher Mike Miron--who is a true superstar--testified about the Forest Lake agricultural education program.  Anoka-Hennepin Associate Jeff McGonigal gave the committee a synopsis of their district career and technical programs.  Given all the rhetoric surrounding the "skills gap" nationally and in Minnesota, a long overdue discussion of career and technical education programs will undoubtedly take place this session.  We have a number of SEE districts with a strong interest in this particular issue and I hope to get as many of them as possible in front of the appropriate legislative committees this session.

Bill Introductions.


SF 267 (Coenen) -- Allows Montevideo school district to start school before Labor Day --

SF 271 (Chamberlain) -- Modifies and renews reading tax credit that is set to expire --


HF 306 (Quam) -- Amends definition of public employee to include replacement employees who work more than 60 days as a replacement teacher or faculty member --

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Early Childhood Day at the Capitol.  Both the Senate and House Education Finance Committees dealt with the issue of early childhood education today.  While the hearing on the House side of the street was informational in nature with a variety of education organizations providing their perspectives on the issue, the Senate hearing focused on several bills, most notably SF 6 (Hoffman), a bill that would create a universal program for 4-year-olds by weighting them at the same level as a regular K-12 student.  The fiscal note for the bill came in a $416 million for the biennium, which knocked a lot of people over (including me) at first blush due to the cost.  The cost estimate is clearly higher than most people expected given that the implementation of all-day kindergarten didn't cost nearly that much, but after some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations, it's readily apparent why the cost is what it is.  First, it's important to note that the $416 million number is for the full biennium.  When all-day kindergarten was funded, it was for only one year of the biennium (that cost is built into the base going forward so it no longer shows up as an individual funding initiative).  Second, kindergarten students had a "weight" which was over a half of the weight of a first-grader.  4-year-olds currently do not have a "weight," meaning the student count goes from 0.0 to 1.0 instead of approximately 0.5 to 1.0 as it did when all-day kindergarten was funded.  If universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds was fully funded, it would soak up most of the revenue that will likely be in the Governor's and Legislature's E-12 target and there are more priorities than just early childhood education floating around among decision-makers right now.

In my testimony before the Senate Committee in support of SF 6, I pointed out that there will be some complications in terms of transportation and instructional space that will have to be considered in conjunction with the expansion of early childhood programs.

Here is an MPR story on the Senate hearing:

Road Work.  I've been on the road the past couple of nights.  Tuesday night I attended the Byron School Board meeting and gave a presentation to the board about SEE.  Tonight, I attended the Legislative Forum for the St. Croix River Education District, giving a short presentation about the SEE platform and facilitating a discussion between the audience and Representatives Bob Barrett and newly-elected Jason Rarick.  The session is hectic, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy getting out and meeting with members on their home turf.  Feel free to call me if you'd like to have me out to your district.  If I'm free, I'll be there.

School Finance 101 Blog.  Dr. Bruce Baker from Rutgers writes a blog about school funding and testing policy that is just about the best thing on the web when it comes to cutting through the excess verbiage and undue posturing that often accompanies discussions of education funding and policy.  Here is his latest entry (published today) on why money matters.  I haven't given it in an in-depth read, but at first blush, it just about says it all.  Here is a link to Dr. Baker's blog.  I strongly recommend subscribing to it and having his latest entries delivered directly to your e-mail inbox.

School Finance 101:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday Hearings.  There was a full slate of education-related hearings today at the Capitol.  The day began with dueling hearings with the House Education Innovation Policy meeting at 8:15 and the Senate Education Finance Committee beginning its hearing at 8:30.  The House Education Innovation Committee heard from the Minnesota Department of Education on a variety of topics, most notably special education, World's Best Workforce, and the regional centers of excellence.

The Senate Education Finance Committee spent its meeting on the subject of technology.  Four bills relating to technology (all authored by Senator Chuck Wiger, the committee chair) were discussed.  While all of the bills are interesting (and needed), the one that elicited the most interest was SF 18, the bill that would create an equalized discretionary levy to help districts acquire technology.  There is a similar provision in the School Facilities Finance Working Group report that will be discussed Thursday by the committee.  That report has a number of provisions that could stand alone if the entire set of recommendations is not adopted.  This is clearly one of them.  SF 45 would increase capital expenditure revenue and create a reserve within the that fund for technology and this route may be another way to help school districts pay for their increasing technology needs.  SF 20 proposes to take any future increases in the school endowment fund and place the revenue growth into a fund that would pay for school technology.  The revenue would be distributed equally to all schools (including charters) on a per pupil basis.  Senator Wiger's SF 78 would appropriate revenue to pay for telecommunications access equity revenue.

The House Education Finance Committee met in the early afternoon and spent its committee time talking about the School Endowment Fund and its management.  The School Endowment Fund is comprised of the revenue generated from the leasing of state-owned lands.  The genesis of the program comes from the two sections in each township that were set aside for educational purposes as part of the Northwest Ordinance.  Most of these sections were used for actual school buildings (and you still see some of them standing as you drive through Minnesota) and as those buildings were closed, the land was sold.  The proceeds from those sales were placed in the Permanent School Fund (now known as the School Endowment Fund) and the interest from this revenue has been distributed to school districts.  A lot of this land is in areas where there is an abundance of natural resources (particularly lumber and minerals) and the state is now more aggressively marketing these lands in hope of leasing it to companies that will generate more revenue than it currently being earned through the existing leases.  It was a very informative presentation from a variety of perspectives.

Tuesday Bill Introductions.


SF 163 (Hoffman) -- Increases general education formula basic allowance by $300 per pupil --

SF 164 (Johnson) -- Establishes additional accountability measures for charter schools serving at-risk students --

SF 167 (Dibble) -- Allows Minneapolis school board to remove a member by a majority vote --

SF 195 (Hoffman) -- Provides a grant to the Minnesota Council on Economic Education --

SF 213 (Bonoff) -- Appropriates money for the parent-child home program --

SF 217 (Weber) -- Exempts Hendricks school district from the general reciprocity agreement between states for educating students from another state --

SF 221 (Thompson) -- Modifying certain provisions of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act --


HF 217 (Selcer) -- Allows 9th and 10th grade students to enroll in concurrent enrollment world language courses --

HF 224 (Gruenhagen) -- Allows school boards to elect to levy debt service against referendum market value tax base --

HF 225 (Winkler) -- Reserves future increases in school endowment fund apportionments for early learning programs --

HF 245 (Urdahl) -- Allows a tax credit for K-12 teachers who complete a master's degree in a content area directly related to their licensure field --

HF 247 (Urdahl) -- Provides for interstate reciprocity agreements for teacher licensure --

HF 250 (Newton) -- Adds school personnel notice and reporting requirements --

HF 251 (Newton) -- Clarifies that children under age seven who voluntarily enroll in school are subject to compulsory attendance law --

HF 263 (Peterson) -- Makes a sales tax exemption on school tickets and admissions permanent --

Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK Day.  The Legislature was off today in honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but things will be picking up again tomorrow.  I saw the movie "Selma" over the long weekend and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It's a truly moving piece of work.  For those of us in the Baby Boom Generation, it was a reminder of those times--authentic newsreel footage and all--and a realization of how far, in some respects, the nation has come.  There is still much to be done in terms of race relations and a lot of that work relates to education policy and making sure that all Americans have access to high quality educational opportunities.  Although SEE doesn't work directly with any districts that are solely urban and only a few members have high concentrations of poverty and/or racial diversity, our mission is to make sure that all students have access to a solid education regardless of where they live in Minnesota.  Seeing "Selma" today was a reminder of the importance of making certain those opportunities are there.

Facilities Update.  Below is an article from the StarTribune outlining the efforts to improve funding for school facilities that will be made during the coming session.  Senator Dahle's bills--SFs 75 and 76--will be heard in the Senate Education Finance Committee on Thursday morning.  There will be several folks from SEE testifying in favor of Senator Dahle's efforts.  The only thing from the recommendations of the Facilities Funding Working Group is the increased debt service equalization, but I am confident that will be discussed before the session is through.


MinnPost Article.  Beth Hawkins over at MinnPost does a really good job covering education policy and here is a link to her outlook for the 2015 session that was published in Monday's edition of the online newspaper.  If you don't already get your daily MinnPost e-news in your e-mail, I'd encourage you to sign up.


Federal Update.  Here's an article from EdWeek regarding the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  One of Minnesota's advantages in the renewal process is Representative John Kline hails from Minnesota and is very aware of the problems being faced by schools throughout the state. One of Representative Kline's goals has been to provide more Federal revenue for special education and that is something that would be welcomed by Minnesota's school districts and charter schools.

Ed Week Link:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up.  It was a quick week with the pace of the session already picking up speed.  The House Education Finance Committee met on all three of its possible meeting dates (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) with the time divided between non-partisan staff providing background and data for the committee members and testimony from education groups who will be appearing before the committee during the 2015 legislative session.  I had the opportunity to testify on Wednesday on behalf of SEE and gave a brief synopsis (we were limited to five minutes) of our 2015 platform.  The thing I always stress in this type of testimony is that much of SEE's primary mission lie in the intersection between education funding and property tax policy and how those two issue areas are closely interrelated.

The Senate spent its Thursday Education Finance/Policy Committee time going over the World's Best Workforce legislation that was passed in 2013 and is being implemented this year.  The testimony was generally supportive of the concept contained in the legislation, but most testifiers also pointed out that the program has required a significant investment of staff time to collate the various reports included in the World's Best Workforce requirements.  Senator Wiger, chair of the Senate Education Finance/Policy Committee has expressed his interest in the World's Best Workforce at several junctures thus far this session and it will be interesting to see how discussion of the topic differs between the House and the Senate and whether it plays a major role in deliberations between the two bodies as the session comes to a close.  Generally, I think most legislators and policy makers see the value of the legislation as it can serve as a common reporting platform that can give the public a better idea of how a school district is performing across a broad range of measures.  At the same time, there are provisions (particularly the penalties for not meeting certain achievement goals) that trouble both school districts and legislators.  Stay tuned.

Interesting Poligraph Story.  Minnesota Public Radio devoted part of this week's Poligraph segment to K-12 education by checking out Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk's statement regarding Minnesota's ranking of 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the ratio of school counselors per student.  As the story points out, Bakk is pretty much on the mark in his assertion.

Here is a link to the story (Pay no mind to the Kaler headline.  That's the second story in the segment.):

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday's Hearings.  The day started with the House Education Innovation Policy Committee holding its hearing, which featured testimony from several groups along that will have issues before the committee in 2015.  The Senate Education Finance/Policy Committee's hearing dealt with the World's Best Workforce initiative that was passed in 2013 and was implemented last year.  Several school districts along with the Minnesota School Boards Association and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts testified with their impressions on the bill.  There is no doubt that the law has required school districts to perform a number of tasks that they would not have performed in the absence of the legislation and much of the work is redundant (or at least the merging of previously performed studies and gathered measurements into one document), but I believe there is a consensus that if provided support and clarification, districts will glean some value from the work involved.  The House Education Finance Committee met in the afternoon and its meeting picked up where it left off on Wednesday with testimony from various educational organizations outlining their priorities for the 2015 legislative session.

Star Tribune on Teacher Evaluation Bill.  Here's a link to an article in the StarTribune on Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) and her introduction of a bill that would eliminate seniority as the basis for unrequested leave-of-absence decisions.  This is also known as the elimination of "last in/first out" in layoff decisions.  The bill referenced in the article was introduced on Thursday and will be among those listed in the link of today's bill introductions below.  Here is a link to the article:

Bernadeia Johnson Interview.  To say most everyone was shocked when Dr. Bernadeia Johnson resigned as superintendent of the Minneapolis School District last month would be an understatement.  Dr. Johnson gives us a synopsis of went into her decision in this interview published today in MinnPost.  Here is a link to the interview:

As Promised.  Bill Introductions for Thursday, January 15.  


SF 88 -- Skoe -- Requires Commissioner to reauthorize existing four-day school week plans --

SF 97 -- Bonoff -- Modifies requirements for placing teachers on unrequested leave of absence (bill referenced in news story above) --

SF 105 -- Bonoff -- Grants school construction funds to the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shing Native American school --

SF 115 -- Wiger -- Allows schools to start the school year before Labor Day --

SF 126 -- Housley -- Makes Forest Lake ISD #831 eligible for the Alternative Facilities Program --

SF 133 -- Dahle -- Provides teacher development and evaluation revenue to educational cooperatives and education districts --

SF 145 -- Schmit -- Directs the commissioner of education to provide guidance to school districts regarding certain technology initiatives --

SF 155 -- Wiger -- Increases school readiness aid --

SF 157 -- Saxhaug -- Provides full funding for K-12 pupil transportation --


SF 194 -- Slocum -- Establishes additional accountability measures for charter schools serving at-risk populations --

SF 197 -- Miller -- Authorizes school boards to implement flexible learning-year programs --

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Quick House Floor Session Today.  The House held a quick floor session today to process the Federal tax conformity bill so it can be passed as quickly as possible (perhaps as early as next week), but they did introduce several bills.  There was only one education-related bill introduced and that was newly-elected Representative Eric Lucero's (R-Dayton) HF 175, which would expand the definition of the metropolitan area to include Benton, Chisago, Sherburne, and Wright counties.  This would provide a revenue boost to 17 school districts, 15 of which are SEE member districts.  The bill has been referred to the House Education Finance Committee where it will be heard.  I have talked with several other legislators who will be introducing different approaches to help SEE districts and Representative Lucero's bill is a good start for the discussion.

 HF 175 (Lucero) -- Expands definition of metropolitan area for purposes of calculating equity revenue --

Article on New York City Teacher Reform Advocate.  Here's a link to an article from New York magazine on Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who has become a leading advocate for reform of the teacher tenure system in New York City.  According to the article, the lawsuit filed in New York City that is similar to the Vergara lawsuit making its way through the California courts is on the verge of being dismissed, but tenure changes will likely be discussed in New York City and elsewhere (including Minnesota) in the near future.  The article is focused as much on Brown as it is on the teacher tenure issue (and it gets a little snarky at certain junctures), but it gives a decent overview of efforts to change tenure.


I have also included a link from National Public Radio published in July that talks about litigation related to the teacher tenure issue.  You will note in the last paragraph that Minnesota is mentioned as a possible site for a Vergara-style lawsuit.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First House Hearings.  The House of Representatives' education-related committees kicked off their respective sessions today with the House Education Innovation Policy Committee meeting at 8:15 AM and the House Education Finance Committee meeting at 12:45 PM.  Both committees spent a good part of their time discussing the backgrounds of individual members and goals they have for the 2015 legislative session.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee is chaired by Representative Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), who is no stranger to the position, having chaired the committee in the past.  The House Education Finance Committee will be chaired by Representative Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), who is entering her fourth term.  She has served on education-related committees in the past and was chief author of the House File that eliminated the mandatory distribution formula for staff development revenue that tied the hands of school districts throughout the state.

The Education Innovation Policy spent some time discussing a document prepared by House Counsel Lisa Larson, outlining the history of standards and assessment in Minnesota, with special attention paid to the era of the 1990s and beyond, when Goals 2000 followed by No Child Left Behind were implemented at the Federal level.  I currently don't have a link to the document, but I will post a link to it as soon as it is available.  It was a very interesting presentation.

Quality Counts Issue from Education Week.  Education Week has released its annual Quality Counts issue, which features a variety of rankings of education funding and performance measures.  This year's issue zeroes in on early learning and the grades handed out by the Education Week staff are fairly critical.  The grades range from B+ (District of Columbia) to F (Idaho and Utah).  The national grade is a D+, the same grade given to Minnesota.  Only three states (Hawaii, Mississippi, and Louisiana) along with the District of Columbia score a B- or above.  24 states earn between a C+ and a C- with the remaining states netting D+'s or D's.  Not a pretty picture by any stretch of the imagination.

Minnesota is slightly above the national average--47.6% to 47.3%--in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-school programs.  Minnesota also fares well in the growth of pre-school enrollment.  Where Minnesota falls down is in the gap between poor and non-poor children (still too wide) and the rate at which the gap is closing (it's not in Minnesota for the 2012 program year upon which the grades were calculated).  Given the presence of the scholarship program established in 2013, the enactment of voluntary all-day, every day kindergarten, and the increases in school readiness funding in 2014, Minnesota's grade should improve.

In the overall grading category, Minnesota received a B-, which is a composite of a B+ grade for Chance at Success, a C in School Finance, and a C+ in Student Achievement.  The Chance at Success category grade is largely a function of Minnesota's comparatively strong economic performance with unemployment below the national average and a median income above the national average.  Minnesota's School Finance grade of C was a little surprising to me, but like its grade for early learning, the resources put into the system in 2013 may boost that grade going forward, especially in terms of narrowing the gap between high and low revenue districts.  That doesn't mean all the problems will go away because of progress made in 2013, as we still have not recovered the ground lost to inflation over the past two decades.  We'll be talking about a lot of these issues during the session ahead and regardless of the grade ladled out by Education Week, the Quality Counts measurements provide a good frame of reference for how Minnesota's finance and achievement records are stacking up compared to the rest of the country and where we can improve.

Here is a link to the Minnesota 2015 report:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Another Breezy Day.  Not so much outside, but inside the Capitol, both bodies breezed through their floor sessions, simply introducing bills and not much else.  There were some notable bill introductions.  Senator Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield) introduced SFs 75 and 76, which contain all of the recommendations of the Facilities Finance Working Group recommendations except for the increase in debt service equalization.  Here are today's bill introductions:


SF 76 (Dahle) -- Makes all districts eligible for alternative facilities and simplifies the system of deferred maintenance and health and safety programs --

SF 78 (Wiger) -- Appropriates money for equity in telecommunications access --


HF 72 (S. Anderson) -- Expands education tax credit and tax deduction to include certain prekindergarten expenditures --

HF 87 (Dettmer) -- Expands alternative facilities program to include Forest Lake ISD #831 --

HF 94 (Quam) -- Modifies teacher qualifications in terms of MTLE scores --

HF 99 (Scott) -- Establishes notice requirements for student surveys --

HF 102 (Garofalo) -- Modifies provisions of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act by exempting districts with a written plan in place under Minnesota Statutes 2012, 121A.0695, that protects all students in the school district --

HF 150 (Mullery) -- Creates 21st century skills development pilot project --

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up.  The first week of the 2015 legislative session is in the books.  With everyone getting acclimated to the new House majority (with all of the changes in office assignments and influx of new staff) and the massive Capitol renovation, things understandably moved a little more slowly than usual.  The committee schedule was very light with only one education-related committee--the Senate Education Finance/Education Policy Committee--holding a hearing.  That meeting featured testimony from about 30 education-related policy organizations with each one outlining its priorities for the 2015 legislative session.  On behalf of SEE, I distributed our platform and voiced our support for the comprehensive facilities funding reform recommendations that were developed by the Facilities Funding Working Group convened by the Minnesota Department of Education in 2013.  I also talked about how a vast majority of SEE districts find themselves on the lower end of the per pupil revenue rankings and even with the progress on equalization and local option revenue in 2013 and 2014, more needs to be done to narrow the gap between districts in terms of per pupil revenue.  Of course, SEE will always promote money on the general education basic formula and continued attention to property tax fairness in the development of education funding policy.

Things will start percolating next week, as the House Education Finance and House Education Innovation Policy committees will hold their first set of hearings.  A lot of attention will be devoted to background information with an intellectual and policy road map of how we got to where we currently are in terms of both education funding and education policy.  Non-partisan staff always does a bang-up job during these hearings and if you get the opportunity to watch these hearings from your home or office, they can be very informative.

The big news in education was the introduction of HF 2 (Loon-R-Eden Prairie).  This bill is a comprehensive review and reform of Minnesota's teacher licensing requirements.  Including in this massive reform are change to the Minnesota Teacher Licensing Examination, more flexibility in allowing community experts to teach in career and technical teaching courses, and the elimination of "last in/first out" as the basis for determining the issuance of unrequested leave-of-absence notices to teachers.  It's a smorgasbord of reform and I imagine it will cause some indigestion for various parties, but it is certainly a solid place to start the discussion.

The Senate introduced a couple of bills of interest.  SF 2 (Stumpf-DFL-Thief River Falls) keys off of similar policy in Tennessee, where President Obama visited late last week, touting free (or greatly reduced cost) education at the community and technical college level.  This could conceivably both lower the cost of higher education and help employers find prospective workers with the requisite skills--both hard and soft--to fill job openings.  It is always important to point out that for all the talking about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Manufacturing) jobs, the fact that nearly half of those jobs do not require a 4-year Baccalaureate Degree is rarely ever mentioned.  The other bill introduced that will generate a lot of is SF 6 (Hoffman-DFL-Champlin)/HF 46 (E. Murphy-DFL-St. Paul).  This is the universal pre-K legislation that would assign a pupil weight to 4-year-olds in an attempt to make quality pre-K programming available for families throughout the state.  The debate between this approach and the those who advocate increasing scholarships for low-income families will certainly be one of the more closely watched during the 2015 session.

The first political kerfuffle of the session surrounds the transportation funding issue.  It appears that Governor Dayton will be proposing measures that will increase revenue for road and bridge projects, while the House of Representatives will not.  Governor Dayton wasted no time in showing his skepticism about the House's plan.  Here's a link to a MinnPost article on this particular item:

Here's another MinnPost article providing a perspective on the first week of the legislative session.  Link:

I'll close with this story from Poligraph at Minnesota Public Radio.  There's always going to be a debate on the level of spending for education (and just about everything else in the state budget) in Minnesota and how that compares to other states.  Governor Dayton staked out his ground in his inaugural address pointing out how Minnesota's national ranking on per pupil spending has dropped over the past few decades.  Of course, those who believe the state's investment in education--both E-12 and higher education--leapt in with their contentions to that argument.  Here is the story that does shed some needed light on the debate:

Thursday, January 08, 2015

First Hearing.  The Senate Education Finance/Education Policy Committee held its first meeting of the 2015 session on Thursday morning.  The slash between the committees in the first sentence requires some explanation.  The Senate combined the separate finance-related and policy-related committees into one body with a slightly higher membership than each previous committee had.  This should make the development of policy and tying of policy to finance a more streamlined process, which is generally a good thing.  The challenge will be to make certain there is enough time to cover both the policy and finance questions that will come before the committee.  I'm guessing there will be a lot of long meetings at some juncture during the session.

Today's hearing featured brief testimony from approximately 30 education interests (mostly the usual suspects), including me representing SEE.  The instruction from the Chair Wiger was to summarize each organization's priorities within two minutes.  Some folks (not many) completed their testimony within the two-minute framework.  Some others made it in under three minutes.  And some others didn't pay much attention to the chair's directive.  The testimony was all relevant and points toward an interesting legislative session.  There were some common themes that emerged from the testifiers: (1) a healthy increase on the general education basic formula, (2) consideration of the the recommendations of the Facilities Finance Working Group, (3) on-going revenue for teacher evaluation, (4) revenue for universal early childhood education, and (5) no new mandates.

It will be interesting to see how the session unfolds in the Senate and today's hearing is evidence that a wide range of viewpoints will be heard.

Initial Set of Introductions in the House and Senate.  The House won the first day tally, beating the Senate by a score of 60-55 on the total number of bills introduced, but the Senate edged the House 7-5 in the number of E-12-related bills.  Here are the introductions from the first day with a link to the bills.


SF 6 (Hoffman) -- Providing funding for universal all-da preschool for four-year-old students --

SF 17 (Wiger) -- Appropriating additional revenue for telecommunications access --

SF 18 (Wiger) -- Establishing special technology revenue category for school districts, charter schools, intermediate districts, and other cooperative units --

SF 20 (Wiger) -- Reserving future increases in the school endowment fund apportionments for school technology --

SF 21 (Wiger) -- Reserving future increases in the school endowment fund apportionments for early childhood education --

SF 30 (Petersen) -- Changes in teacher licensure and unrequested leave of absence procedure (elimination of last in/first out) --

The Senate also has a couple of other interesting bills that have some relation to E-12 education but won't be starting in the Education Finance/Education Policy Committee.  The first is SF 2, a bill authored by Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls) that would provide free tuition for students attending technical or community college run by MnSCU.  The other bill is SF 5, a bill authored by Senator Terry Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), that seeks to help employers match their needs with the training provided to prospective employees.  Below are the links:

SF 2 (Stumpf) -- Providing tuition assistance for Minnesota high school graduates to attend MnSCU colleges --

SF 5 (Bonoff) -- Requiring a the commissioner of labor and industry to identify competency standards for dual training and creating a dual training competency grant program --


HF 2 (Loon) -- Clarifying conditions for teacher licensure, amending alternative teacher licensure, elimination of last in/first out --

HF 15 (Mariani) -- Increasing the compulsory attendance age to 18 --  Companion to SF 19.

HF 34 (Anzelc) -- Appropriating money to renovate a building in the Deer River ISD #317 --

HF 40 (Persell) -- Providing full funding for K-12 pupil transportation -- 

HF 46 (E. Murphy) -- Providing funding for universal all-da preschool for four-year-old students --  Companion to SF 6.