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: http://www.minnpost.com/political-agenda/2015/01/dayton-gets-feisty-calls-republican-transportation-plan-pure-fantasy
Here's another MinnPost article providing a perspective on the first week of the legislative session. Link: http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2015/01/what-parties-first-bills-tell-us-about-2015-legislative-session
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: http://blogs.mprnews.org/capitol-view/2015/01/poligraph-is-education-spending-going-up-or-down/