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:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2015/state-highlights/2015/01/08/minnesota-education-ranking.html

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