Thursday, February 26, 2015

Some days . . . Every now and then at the Legislature you have a day when you hear so much great testimony that it gets etched in your brain and today was just such a day.  The Senate Education Finance Committee featured several interesting and important bills, but the two that received the most attention were SF 541 (Clausen) and SF 163 (Hoffman), both of which increase the general education basic formula dramatically (and well beyond the 1% annual increase in the Governor's budget).  SF 163 provides a larger bump in the formula at 5% ($5,831 per pupil unit to $6,131 per pupil unit), but it does not increase the formula any further beyond next year.  Senator Clausen's puts an additional 4% on the basic formula in each of the next two years ($5,391 per pupil unit to $6,064 per pupil unit in 2015-2016 and $6,064 per pupil unit to $6,307 per pupil unit in 2016-2017) and ties future increases beyond this biennium to increases in the consumer price index.  Each bill would constitute a needed boost to the woefully underfunded general education basic amount that has lost over $600 per pupil unit in purchasing power over the past decade and it's hard to pick between the two as to which would be preferred.  SF 541 does have the on-going increase tied to inflation and that would go a long way toward promoting stability and predictability for school districts in their financial planning.

Now to the testimony.  In setting the stage for discussion of his bill, Senator Clausen outlined the unfortunate downward spiral that failure to keep pace with inflation on the basic formula sparks.  When districts don't receive inflationary increases on the basic formula, they are forced to go the referenda route.  The ability to pass referenda depends greatly on the income and property wealth of a school district and if you are behind the eight-ball on either (or both of those measures), you fall further behind.  That puts you in the lower tier of education funding, which causes the curriculum to narrow and class sizes to increase.  That lowers student opportunity and if not checked could cause a constitutional crisis.  I get tweaked every now and then when I talk about how adequacy and equity are inextricably linked, but Senator Clausen's comments were a crystal clear explanation of how the two concepts fit together.  In order to have true equity, you have to have true adequacy.  Once you move away from funding the system adequately, you're on the freeway to an inequitable system.

It was an all-star list of testifiers in favor of these two bills.  Outside the usual cast of lobbyists, a number of superintendents and school board members joined the discussion.  Included in these were delegations from SEE members North Branch (Superintendent Deb Henton and School Board Chair Kirby Ekstrom), Anoka-Hennepin (Superintendent David Law), and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan (Superintendent Jane Berenz, Director of Business Operations Jeff Solomon, and parent Charles McReady).  Other districts represented were Fairmont Area and Osseo.  All of the testimony was compelling and outlined clearly the serious challenges school districts face when they don't receive the funding they need or receive it in an inconsistent pattern.

So kudos to Senators Clausen and Hoffman for coming forward with these bills.  They certainly started a discussion that is going to have to take place this session.

The committee also heard Senator Melissa Wicklund's bill that would allow school districts to move their compensatory revenue to where it is needed within a district instead of being limited to only being able to move 5% of their compensatory between buildings.  So many SEE districts don't get significant amounts of compensatory revenue that it doesn't accomplish much if it cannot be pooled and moved to the buildings within the district that have the greatest needs.  Senator Wicklund's bill would be very helpful.

I also want to mention Senator Kari Dziedzic's SF 398, the collaborative urban educator appropriations bill.  As in the case of the other bills before the committee today, the testimony was very compelling.  This program is vital to increasing the number of racially and ethnically diverse teachers in our increasingly diverse state and it was inspiring to see so many young teachers (and prospective teachers) express their energy for meeting the needs of students in Minnesota's urban and inner-ring suburban districts.

The House Education Finance Committee spent its time on several bills dealing with career and technical education.  Again, the testimony was excellent.  I wanted to feature the testimony of Cody Whiting, a senior in the Cromwell-Wright school district.  Whiting has been concentrating on career and technical courses throughout his senior high school years and will be enlisting in the Army upon graduation to further his technical education (and the armed forces do an excellent job educating their charges), so he's got it all going on.

Which leads me to the next observation of the day.  It was FFA Day at the Capitol and I had the chance to talk with a lot of the students from school districts throughout the state about their programs.  To a person, they all found the value in applied education and it's not about kids being college-bound or not.  There used to be an image that if you took career and technical courses, you weren't thinking about higher education, but that simply isn't true (and I don't think it really ever has been).  Career and technical education courses do deal with identified subject matter that is often technical in nature, but it also delivers that subject matter in a way that has a spillover effect on the ability to learn other subjects, particularly mathematics and science.  When a student is in an agriculture class, the subject may seem to be agriculture, but scratch the surface and you could be studying chemistry (soil science), biology (agronomy), or business administration (running a farm operation).  It's just great to see these students excited about learning and planning for that next educational step, whatever that step may be.

HF 2 Gets Sent to Time-out.  The House of Representatives was set to take up HF 2, Representative Jenifer Loon's comprehensive teacher licensure and teacher tenure bill.  At the last minute, an unexpected fiscal note from Minnesota Management and Budget was delivered to House leadership, which threw a wrench into plans to bring the measure to a vote today.  Needless to say, charges and counter-charges flew (and will likely continue to fly) and the bill will now be taken up next week.

Here's an MPR story on the item:

Bill Introductions.


SF 1109--Pratt--Allows a tax credit for teachers who complete a master's degree in a content area related directly to their licensure field--

SF 1124--Stumpf--Provides for teacher development and evaluation revenue and an equalized levy in the same amount as the alternative compensation program--

SF 1129--Eken--Permits Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Barnesville, and Ada-Borup school districts to start school prior to Labor Day in the 2015-2016 school year--

SF 1138--Dahle--Resolution urging the President and Congress to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--

SF 1141--Johnson--Implements the school facilities work group recommendation number four--

SF 1157--Torres Ray--Makes information and resources for parents of young children more accessible--

SF 1173--Nienow--Senate Republican education funding proposal dealing with compensatory education--

SF 1179--Hoffman--Authorizes a grant for a fabrication lab for the Anoka-Hennepin school district--

SF 1185--B. Petersen--Provides for placement of a practice or student teacher--

SF 1188--Torres Ray--Provides training and technical assistance to school districts to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint--

SF 1210--Hoffman--Grants teaching license to public postsecondary faculty experienced teaching subjects for which secondary and postsecondary credits are available--


HF 1259--Backer--Authorizes early education services for certain students from adjoining states--

HF 1270--Lucero--Requires high school students to take the MCAs in order to graduate--

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Native American Education Discussed Today.  The Minnesota Department of Education's report developed by the Indian Education Working Group was discussed in both the Senate Education Finance Committee and the House Education Finance Committee.  It was a very inspiring presentation by members of Minnesota's Native American community that highlights many of the challenges facing Minnesota's Native American students and the gifts that these students bring to schools throughout the state.  I am trying to locate the report online and will post it as soon as I can find the link.  Clearly, this was a very valuable report that provides some guidance in dealing with the achievement and opportunity gaps that Native American students face.

Senate Republican Education Funding Plan.  The dust has settled a bit and the numbers are being reconciled (I'm still trying to see how it adds up exactly) and here are a couple of articles published this morning about the Senate Republican's plan to increase the general education basic formula by 3% in each of the next two years at a projected cost of $455 million.  From my own calculations, I'm guessing there is a de-linking of several categorical formulas from the basic formula, as a "clean" 3% under current law would cost closer the $500 million (perhaps a bit more).  But what's $50 million or so among friends.  I found Cyndy Brucato's article in MinnPost a bit on the pointed side, but given she worked for former Governor Arne Carlson, who was viewed as a reformer, it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise.  It's difficult to give a full review of the Senate Republican plan because the only details that have been released are:  (1) 3% on the formula in each year, and (2) no new mandates.  We didn't hear any specific suggestions on language that may be part of a bill crafted by the Senate Republicans although both Senator Sean Nienow--the Senate Republican education "lead" and Senator Dave Hann--the Senate minority leader--indicated that the reform part of the equation will be introduced and we will likely see a number of amendments reflecting these reforms offered throughout the process by which the Senate omnibus education bill will be constructed.

Brucato MinnPost article:

Here's an article from the StarTribune on the proposal:

The Libertarian View.  I don't spend a ton of times perusing libertarian websites, but I came across this article at that pretty much comes from the "money doesn't matter" school of education funding thought.  I always think it's instructive to put as many views as I can in front of readers and although I don't agree with what's written here, it does reflect a viewpoint that has picked up considerable steam over the past couple of decades. article:

Bill Introductions.

The House had a short floor session today to "push paper" (slang for:  process committee reports) and allow for bill introductions.  Below is a list of the education-related bills introduced in the House today.


HF 1209--Barrett--Requires suicide prevention training and requires training for law enforcement in techniques to de-escalate mental health crises--

HF 1219--Davnie--Requires reporting data on homeless and highly mobile students--

HF 1222--Hertaus--Authorizes school boards to reallocate compensatory revenue--

HF 1223--Newton--Authorizes a grant for a fabrication lab for the Anoka-Hennepin school district--

HF 1224--Daniels--Appropriates money for technology and operations at the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind--

HF 1231--Mariani--A resolution urging the President and Congress to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)--

HF 1237--Christensen--Modifies certain Individualized Education Program (IEP) provisions--

HF 1244--Runbeck--Requires the terms of school board members to run concurrently--

HF 1248--Freiburg--Creates process that would convey school buildings of the West Metro Education Program to member districts--

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hearings Report.  It was a busy Tuesday with all three education-related committees holding hearings.  The Senate Education Committee voted to confirm Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius on a voice vote.  Her confirmation now goes to the Senate floor where she will almost certainly be approved.  The committee vote was not unanimous and I doubt the floor vote will be unanimous either, but I don't think those votes are (or will be) a vote against the Commissioner as a person, but rather about differences in the approach to education overall that currently pervade the national debate.  The Senate then proceeded to discuss three bills that provide grants to the Minnesota Council on Economic Education, the Works Museum, and the Minnesota Children's Museum respectively along with Education Chair Wiger's bill that would increase funding for school readiness.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee tackled seven bills.  In a somewhat rare move (at least these days), the committee voted down Representative Erin Murphy's universal pre-kindergarten funding bill.  Most bills that are heard are laid over for further consideration until when the major funding and policy bills are put together.  I think this vote was a "statement" vote to some extent, as universal pre-kindergarten programming is a central component of the Governor's budget and the House wanted to signal early in the session where they plan on being different from the Governor.  Pure conjecture on my part, but my guess is that the House will move a considerable portion of the $102 million in the Governor's budget for pre-kindergarten programming toward the general education formula.  The other six bills dealt with teacher licensure, post-secondary enrollment options, the principals leadership academy, allowing a computer programming course to fulfill a math requirement, and a bill making sure that directory information collected by local school districts and the state conform to federal standards.  The volume of business before the House Education Innovation Committee required a night meeting to clear the agenda.

The House Education Finance Committee dealt with five bills that propose establishment or expansion of tax credits and deductions related to education.  Representative Jim Knoblach's HF 798 is the most prominent of these bills (not to say that the other bills are neither prominent nor important) in that it proposes to increase Minnesota's tuition tax deduction and education tax credit and also make tuition a eligible expense of the tax credit.  When the tax credit was proposed and passed in 1997, then-Governor Carlson worked hard to have tuition covered by the tax credit, but was unsuccessful as the Legislature refused to go along with his recommendation.  A partial government shutdown was averted as a special session was called for June 26 and the education, public safety, data practices, and several other bills.  Expanding the allowable expenses under the education tax credit to include private school tuition was a Rubicon the Legislature refused to cross then and although I expect a number of education-related tax credits and deductions to be approved by the House, it will be interesting to see how many of these the Senate and Governor will go along with.

Senate Republicans Announce Education Package.  The Senate Republican caucus released its education proposal for the 2015 and it is very straightforward.  The package calls for an increase of 3% on the general education basic amount in each year of the biennium.  The projected cost of the proposal is approximately $450 million.  Unlike the proposal coming from the Governor and the Senate DFL, the Senate Republican plan doesn't appear to add too much to the general fund formula increase.  The other angle is that the Republican plan pledges to add no new mandates and to give local school districts the maximum amount of flexibility in spending new revenue.

Here is a link to an MPR story on the Republican plan:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teacher Evaluation Articles.  There's already been a  lot of discussion of Minnesota's teacher evaluation system, especially as it relates to the unrequested leave of absence (last in/first out) issue, this session.  The news media has picked up on the discussion and two articles showed up recently that I've posted below.

StarTribune article from Sunday, February 22:

MinnPost article from Friday, February 20:

Bill Introductions:


SF 1018--Dahle--Establishes after-school community learning grant program--

SF 1048--Nienow--Requires release of teacher and principal evaluation results--

SF 1067--Wiger--Requires policy on grade promotion and retention to be part of districts' strategic plans--

SF 1084--Jensen--Provides loan forgiveness to agricultural education teaching candidates--

SF 1090--Nienow--Requires school districts to unseal expunged criminal records for prospective teachers--

SF 1093--Nienow--Establishes new revenue stream for low-funded school districts--


HF 1129--Lohmer--Makes public complaint or charge data on teacher who has resigned--

HF 1134--Newton--Grants teacher license to public post-secondary faculty for teaching concurrent enrollment courses--

HF 1153--Mullery--Includes brain development as required service for family home visiting program--

HF 1169--Schomaker--Permits Tracy, Pipestone, and Heron Lake-Okabena school districts to start school prior to Labor Day for the 2015-2016 school year--

HF 1170--Bennett--Establishes teacher loan forgiveness program for teaching candidates in subject areas where a shortage of candidates exists--

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend Update.  In honor of the 40th anniversary of SNL, I'll call this Weekend Update.  Unfortunately for you, you don't get Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Amy Poehler or Tina Fey to deliver the goods.  You just get me.

Thursday's House Education Finance Committee featured the discussion of two equity bills--HF 175 (Lucero) and HF 663 (Baker)--that would deliver a revenue bump to non-metropolitan area school districts through changes to the equity formula.  I've come to playfully calling the equity formula the "Joan Rivers of School Funding Formulas" because it has been altered so many times it's pretty much beyond the recognized problem it was intended to remedy.

When the equity formula was first introduced in 1999 as SF 445/HF 1160, it had no distinction between metropolitan and non-metropolitan school districts.  The original concept was based only on the level of referendum revenue per pupil a district had and revenue was to be provided to districts on the basis of where a district sat on that spectrum.  Districts with little referendum revenue would have gotten more revenue than districts with high levels of referendum revenue.  Almost immediately, that approach was altered and two revenue pools--metro and non-metro--were created for the calculation of equity revenue.  Things only got more complicated in the intervening years with several new elements being added to the formula, making it virtually unrecognizable from as it was originally conceived.

Sticking with the show biz theme (it is Oscar night after all--and we'll miss Joan's antics on the red carpet this evening), HF 175 and HF 663 take us "Back to the Future."  HF 175 does that by expanding the definition of the metropolitan area to include 27 additional school districts in counties that comprise what is called the "Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington Metropolitan Statistical Area delineated in 2009 by the United States Census Bureau."  This would add Chisago, Isanti, Sherburne and Wright counties to the current seven-county metropolitan area.  These counties have all experienced rapid growth over the past two decades and for all intents and purposes, they are metropolitan counties.  HF 663 simply provides all non-metropolitan districts the same multiplier as metropolitan districts in the calculation of the equity revenue benefit.  The price tag on HF 175 is just over $2 million and the price tag on HF 663 is approximately $8 million.  

There was a lot of SEE testimony in support of these bills.  Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek and St. Michael-Albertville Superintendent (and SEE Legislative Chair) Jim Behle testified in favor of HF 175.  I testified in favor of HF 663 along with Willmar Business Manager Pam Harrington and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City Businss Manager Dan Tait.  It's hard to say where (or if) this fits in the discussions regarding the omnibus education funding bill, but I think it will receive serious consideration.

Bill Introductions from Thursday, February 19.


SF 941--Koenen--Allows Willmar school district to start school before Labor Day for the 2015-2016 school year--

SF 942--Koenen--Allows New London-Spicer school district to start school before Labor Day for the 2015-2016 school year--

SF 959--Clausen--Makes year-long student teaching programs part of teacher preparation--

SF 960--Weber--Permits Tracy, Pipestone, and Heron Lake-Okabena to start school before Labor Day for the 2015-2016 school year--

SF 974--Dahms--Allows Wabasso, Milroy, Dawson-Boyd, and Canby school districts to start school before Labor Day for the 2015-2016 school year--

SF 991--Wiger--Authorizes grants for water conservation education programs--


HF 1052--Wills--Makes information and resources for parents of young children more accessible--

HF 1075--Erickson--Removes language excluding retired principals who serve as a substitute principal from continuing education requirements--

HF 1094--Mullery--Prioritizes early brain development in the early childhood family education home visiting program--

HF 1095--Mullery--Increases funding for the early learning scholarship program--

HF 1103--Swedzinski--Allows Wabasso, Milroy, Dawson-Boyd, and Canby school districts to start school before Labor Day for the 2015-2016 school year--

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

State General Levy Hearing.  The House Property Tax and Local Government Division held an extremely interesting hearing this morning on the state general levy that is applied against business and seasonal/recreational property.  This levy has been the bane of the state's business community since it was first applied for property taxes payable in 2002 as part of Governor Ventura's "Big Plan" that was passed in 2001.  The complaint from the business community is that the tax is arbitrary and makes Minnesota's business climate less competitive than neighboring states and, as such, hurts Minnesota's economic status.  Today's hearing didn't feature much of a history lesson, with only Representative Ann Lenczewski who served on the Tax Conference Committee during the 2001 session offering much of an explanation of how the state general levy came to be.  She got 99.99% of it right with her explanation, but she forgot one little item that if enacted would have made the state business levy unnecessary.  Governor Ventura's original proposal called for an expansion of the sales tax base and that revenue would have been used to back-fill the revenue loss resulting from the elimination of the state general education levy.  As many of you can remember, in the spring of 2001, the state budget was in great shape financially, but there was still a need to provide revenue to replace the revenue generated by the general education levy.  The House of Representatives eliminated the general education levy (the Senate did not), but did not provide anything in the form of replacement revenue.  As the two-against-one (House and Governor versus the Senate) took shape during the tax negotiations during the special session, the Senate insisted that some measure of revenue assurance be part of the final package and that assurance came in the form of the state general levy, which was originally dedicated to education.  That dedication that was extremely brief due to the fact that the state fell into deficit following the recession that was exacerbated by the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001.  It was believed that state government needed greater flexibility during that period and the state general levy dedication for education was sacrificed to that belief.

The problem with today's hearing is that no one really acknowledges those stubborn facts.  From SEE's standpoint, eliminating the general education levy was one of the biggest--if not the biggest--mistakes made by state government in recent decades.  It's difficult to believe that it was over seven biennia ago that this decision was made and only recently have many of the adverse effects of that decision been rectified.  I think it's important to recall that the Chair of the House tax conferees that promoted the decision to eliminate the general education levy stated as the agreement was finalized that (and I paraphrase) "there will be no more Minnesota Miracle."  Unfortunately, he was right.  The plight of low property wealth school districts in the wake of the decision to eliminate the general education levy worsened dramatically.  The value of the equalization formulas passed in the early 1990s was eroding due to property wealth growth and massive amounts of state aid were funneled to high property wealth districts to replace levy revenue that had previously been supplied through the general education levy.  On top of that, the referendum cap was increased twice during the first decade of the 21st century, which widened the gap between the districts at the 5th and 95th percentiles by approximately $800 per pupil unit.  Another adverse effect of the elimination of the general education levy is that the state lost an effective tool to balance property tax incidence on homestead and agricultural property.

While I don't totally agree with the business community's synopsis that the state general levy is arbitrary, I can see the problems that it has created for a number of individual businesses (and there are issues with the property tax classification system that pushes burden onto businesses).  But getting rid of it completely without some recognition of the effects it would have on the state budget and the residual effects it could have on education funding both in terms of adequacy and equity would be short-sighted.  When I hear witnesses talk about how property taxes are solely a local tax for local needs, I shiver a bit.  Not because of that mentality per se (everyone has a right to their opinion), but because Minnesota's tradition of fairness in education funding rests on a strong statewide commitment with state resources and not on a collection of disparate communities depending on their local property tax base to supply the bulk of the funding for education.  If the state general levy is to go away, it will need to be replaced with a revenue stream that will provide resources to meet the needs of Minnesota's students.  Ah, blogging.  The world's greatest blood pressure medication.

What the House of Representatives does in regard to the state general levy and other property tax measures will be interesting.  There are a variety of measures floating around in addition to the ones discussed in the House Property Tax and Local Government Division, including measures that would take agricultural property off the tax base for future debt service levies and eliminate the student achievement levy (a very limited version of the general education levy) that was passed as part of the 2013 omnibus education funding bill.  We will see where they go.  The problem in every case is that the state takes a considerable revenue hit and the only way to remedy that is through a tax increase or a budget cut.  Any movement here couldn't be an isolated movement; there would be ripple effects.

Great Program at Bloomington Schools.  I saw this news story on KSTP while eating my dinner this evening and thought it was a great example of how a little creativity can go a long ways in providing quality learning opportunities for students.  The Bloomington school district has teamed up Extreme Sandbox, a company located in Hastings, to give interested students the opportunity to work with heavy equipment and get the feel of what a career in construction would look like.  Great work Bloomington.  Way to think outside the (sand) box!

Here's a link to the story:

And here's a link to Extreme Sandbox:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday's Committee Action.  The education-related hearings featured some big-time action on Tuesday, as all three committees handled interesting issues.  I spent the morning in the Senate Education Finance Committee, where I testified on SF 489 and SF 490, Senator Dahle's bills focused on increasing debt service equalization that complete the set of recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Education's School Facilities Finance Working Group.  Senator Dahle's SF 75 and SF 76, which deal with the deferred maintenance and technology portions of those recommendations, were heard earlier in the legislative session.  I was joined at the witness table by Tri-City United Superintendent Teri Preisler and she did an excellent job representing both SEE and her district and pointing out why increased debt service equalization would promote both improved school facilities and tax fairness in improving those facilities.  Committees love to hear from people involved in the nuts-and-bolts of school decisions and Teri gave the committee members a solid and detailed synopsis of the decisions made in the Tri-City United District, which was formed through the consolidation of the LeCenter and Montgomery-Lonsdale school districts almost three years ago.  Consolidations can be a challenge and Tri-City United has come through with flying colors.  That said, the district--like most districts--has facility needs and addressing those needs will likely include a commitment to both new construction and increased deferred maintenance.  I want to thank Senator Dahle for introducing each of the School Facilities Finance Working Group recommendations.  He has done it in a way that makes a lot of sense, as it shows that the recommendations are separable with each addressing a different aspect of the facilities challenge facing school districts throughout Minnesota.  The Senate has made facilities upgrades one of their top education priorities, which is great to see.  The gap in districts' ability to address their facility needs in a fair and equitable manner is very real and is clearly an equity issue.  Hopefully, the Education Finance Committee can coordinate its work with the Tax Committee and a system can be devised that provides both needed revenue and an element of property tax fairness to solve the facility issue.

The House Education Innovation Policy Committee dealt with the Education Tax Credit that Minnesota families can employ to defray a number of supplemental expenses.  HF 798, a bill introduced by Representative Jim Knoblach, would increase both the Minnesota tax deduction for tuition payments and expand the tax credit to include tuition payments.  One of the great fights of the early Carlson administration era in the 1990s was the scuffle over whether or not tuition payments should be eligible for the tax credit.  Opponents of expanding the tax credit to include these expenditures won that bout and the issue has largely lay dormant since.  I wouldn't be surprised if all that changed this year with the House of Representatives pushing aggressively to expand the tax credit.  Other bills heard in the House this morning included:

  • HF 72--Representative Paul Anderson's bill that would make pre-kindergarten expenditures eligible for the education tax credit,
  • HF 245--Representative Dean Urdahl's bill that would allow a tax credit for teachers who work toward a Masters' Degree in their licensure field area,
  • HF 359--Representative Linda Runbeck's bill that would make the reading tax credit passed in 2014 permanent and revise some of the procedures surrounding the bill, and,
  • HF 667--Representative Paul Anderson's bill that would increase the amount of the education tax credit, but not expand the definition of allowable expenditures.
The House Education Finance Committee heard HF 2, Representative Jenifer Loon's comprehensive teacher licensure and evaluation bill.  Like the hearing last week in the House Education Innovation Policy Committee, the debate was spirited between the two schools of thought that surround the bill.  The primary complaint coming from opponents of the portion of the bill that would allow school districts to make lay-off decisions without considering seniority is that it will lead to long and involved lawsuits.  I don't doubt that will happen, but I don't necessarily think lawsuits are a bad thing when a new system is being established.  The parameters of any new law need to be defined and sometimes that takes a lawsuit to accomplish.  Whether or not there would be a raft of lawsuits affecting nearly every district is another matter entirely and the chances of a plethora of lawsuits would likely be determined as to how the Teacher Development and Evaluation matrices would be negotiated in each school district.  HF 2 passed the committee on a vote of 13-8 and will now head to the floor of the House.  That is a bit of a surprise to me.  I thought the bulk of HF 2 would be folded into the House Omnibus Education Bill (and it still may be), but the House appears intent on passing the bill and sending it to the Senate.  The Senate will be considering this issue, but the bill that will most likely be considered is SF 97, Senator Bonoff's bill on the subject matter.  SF 97 is not the direct companion to HF2 (SF 473 authored by Senator Eric Pratt is), which makes matching things up a bit of a challenge.  The script has yet to be written, but I think this issue will be there right until the very end of the 2015 session.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mondays are Quiet. . . At least at this point in the 2015 session.  There is a light committee schedule on Mondays and with floor sessions not heating up at this point, the day is largely devoted to looking over the bill introductions.  We're closing in on the first thousand bills of the session in the House as the tally reached 985 today.  The Senate is a little behind the House in total number, but they eclipsed the 900 introduction mark with today's session ending the day with 909 introductions.  One change I have witnessed during my career is the volume of bills that are introduced over a session (and biennium).  In an earlier era, it was rare that 2,000 bills would be introduced over the two-year biennium.  We will likely reach 2,000 bills in the first year alone in 2015 (which has been the pattern over the past decade as well).  I don't know what to attribute the plethora of introductions to, but it certainly keeps me reading.

Speaking of introductions, here are today's (light day for education):


SF 849 -- Stumpf -- Appropriates money for the Minnesota Resource Learning Center --


HF 887 -- O'Driscoll -- Dedicates unclaimed lottery prize money for acquisition of certain school trust lands --

HF 897 -- Davnie -- Requires school districts to adopt a policy on recess --

HF 928 -- Baker -- Allows New London-Spicer school district to start school before Labor Day in 2015-2016 school year --

HF 929 -- Baker -- Allows Willmar school district to start school before Labor Day in 2015-2016 school year --

HF 947 -- Kresha -- Establishes an after-school community grant program --

HF 964 -- Wills -- Implements portions of the 2013 legislative auditor's report on special education --

HF 982 -- Urdahl -- Directs eligible public postsecondary institutions to give full credit for completed PSEO courses --

HF 983 -- Lucero -- Creates a new revenue source for school districts with low levels of per pupil revenue --

HF 984 -- Drazkowski -- Phases out general education levy over six years and repeals the student achievement levy --

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Oops.  Got a little backed up and didn't blog yesterday, so here comes the wrap-up from Thursday's House Education Innovation Policy Committee hearing on HF 2--the comprehensive teacher licensing and evaluation legislation introduced by Representative Jenifer Loon--and bill introductions from Thursday's sessions in the House and Senate.

The first education-related night meeting of the year took place on Thursday evening with the House Education Innovation Committee discussing HF 2 and considering several amendments offered to the bill.  I don't think you are going to find too many education-related bills where well-meaning people have come to almost diametrically opposed views on the bill.  One side views it as a punitive bill that simply seeks to dismiss teachers deemed as underperforming and open up the field to unqualified community experts who are sadly lacking in teaching skills.  The other side views it as an effort to help relieve teacher shortages by making it easier for community experts to teach, clarifying requirements for teachers with licenses in other states, and raising student performance by ensuring that the most qualified teachers are in classrooms throughout the state.  I have grossly oversimplified the discussion by presenting the most extreme poles of the debate and ignoring the vast intellectual space between these poles, but the tug-and-pull over the bill seems to gravitate toward one of these two camps.  The DFL minority caucus offered three amendments to the bill on Thursday evening, but all were defeated on straight party-line votes, which leaves the bill's primary provisions untouched and as controversial--at least in the minds of some--as ever.  While the concentration on the elimination of "last in/first out" in determining sequence in  the unrequested leave-of-absence process, there is a lot more to this bill that has escaped the public's scrutiny.  It will be interesting to see if that remains the case as the bill moves forward.  For now, the bill has been recommended to pass by the House Education Innovation Policy Committee and is now being re-referred to the House Education Finance Committee.  That usually signals that the bill will be folded into the Omnibus Education Funding bill, which is increasingly likely this year as this particular bill is not moving at all in the Senate.  Putting it into the Omnibus Education Funding bill ensures that it will be discussed at part of the final negotiations at the end of the session.  So, buckle up and bone up on the provisions in this bill.  We're going to hear more about them.

Feud Emerging?  The big story to hit the airwaves on Friday is the tiff between Governor Dayton and his fellow DFLers in the Senate majority.  It's been awhile since we've had one of these because Governor Dayton is the first DFL Governor since 1990 (two terms of Republicans Arne Carlson and Tim Pawlenty forming a sandwich around Independent Jesse Ventura), but as someone who was around during former Governor Rudy Perpich's terms from 1982 until 1990, this is really nothing new.  I thought Blois Olson's "get your popcorn" comment kind of sums things up aptly.  Who knows whether this continues or how acrimonious it gets, but I got a close-up view of the tensions between the Perpich Administration and the DFL legislature over open enrollment, PSEO, and the art school back in the late-1980s, and it's part of the process.  The largest complication may come over how hard the Governor pushes for some of his budget and tax initiatives and seeing he has the bully pulpit and the veto pen and the Legislature doesn't have the votes to override any vetoes.  Just another thing to watch as the session continues.

Bill Introductions.


SF 720 -- Dahms -- Allows Lac Qui Parle School District to start school before Labor Day in 2015-2016 --

SF 740 -- Pratt -- Requires that special education student reporting systems must have a universal filing system and repeals legislation passed in 2014 calling for the development of a single online vendor for these purposes --

SF 759 -- Jensen -- Creates teacher loan forgiveness program for teaching candidates in areas of teacher shortage --

SF 767 -- Jensen -- Clarifies Minnesota teaching requirements for teaching candidates with licenses granted in another state --

SF 788 -- Torres Ray -- Increases general education basic revenue, extended day revenue, English language revenue, and revenue for universal pre-kindergarten programs --

SF 793 -- Newman -- Allows districts to use alternative tax base for debt service levies --

SF 822 -- Stumpf -- Provides alternative compensation revenue for all districts currently not participating in the program --


HF 768 -- Schomacker -- Exempts Hendricks from tuition reciprocity agreement --

HF 774 -- Kiel -- Enhances access to online college courses in high school settings --

HF 789 -- Bly -- Directs Board of Teaching to develop standards for project-based learning --

HF 796 -- Swedzinski -- Allows Lac Qui Parle school district to start 2015-2016 school year before Labor Day --

HF 798 -- Knoblach -- Expands education tax credit to include private school tuition --

HF 804 -- Christensen -- Requires that special education student reporting systems must have a universal filing system and repeals legislation passed in 2014 calling for the development of a single online vendor for these purposes --

HF 838 -- Christensen -- Increases revenue for equity in telecommunications access --

HF 857 -- Marquart -- Enhances capital projects referendum per the recommendations of the School Facilities Finance working group recommendations --

HF 858 -- Pierson -- Appropriates revenue for collaborative urban educator program --

HF 859 -- Kresha -- Provides grant to Minnesota Council on Economic Education --

HF 860 -- Marquart -- Expands deferred maintenance program per the recommendations of the School Facilities Finance working group recommendations --

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tremendous Testimony in the Senate.  Every now and then an issue pops up that isn't recognized as one of the major issues facing the state, but the individuals who come to testify are so compelling that it is really something to watch.  That's the way it was today when the Senate Education Finance Committee discussed Senator Lyle Koenen's SF 88.  SF 88 would allow those school districts that are currently using a 4-day school week to continue to do so.  There has been some concern expressed that the Minnesota Department of Education wants to put an end to districts' ability to have a four-day week.  While that sounds good on its face, the evidence presented by five school districts currently using the 4-day school week shows that the 4-day school week option is more than just a viable choice for districts that are under considerable financial stress; it is a solid choice that promotes learning, provides greater student opportunity, and effective staff development.  What was particularly impressive about today's testimony is that it came from all segments of the school community.  Students, teachers, administrators, school board members, and parents all came forward from these districts and explained how the 4-day school week is working well in their community and how they cannot see going back to a 5-day week without considerable disruption, cost, and--most importantly--loss of the increased opportunity and effectiveness that the 4-day week has provided.

To me, this is another "form over content" issue.  Whenever anyone mentions "4-day school week," you can almost hear the gasps of "How terrible!" or "How did that happen?"  And that's why it's extremely important for policymakers to listen to those who are employing the 4-day school week and understand how they got there and how they are making it work (and more importantly making it work effectively for their needs).  Each of these districts has re-arranged its schedule to get the maximum amount of value out of both student contact and professional development times.  There have been impediments--and I don't imagine the initial decision was a comfortable one--but each of these districts has worked with its community (or communities) to make the newly-adopted system work admirably and, in a number of instances, provide more student opportunity without sacrificing academic performance.  Sounds like a true win-win to me and I hope the Legislature and MDE see it the same way.

Contingents from five different school districts testified:  MACCRAY, Blackduck, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Lake Superior, and Ogilvie.  Each of these districts came to the decision to implement a 4-day school week from slightly different paths, but each one of them now swears by the framework and want to retain it.

The Senate also heard a raft of bills dealing with allowing school districts to start their 2015-2016 school year before Labor Day and allowing districts to establish a flexible learning year without MDE approval (SF 162).

House Hearing.  The House Education Finance Committee spent its time discussing two bills related to pre-kindergarten program--Representative Halverson's SF 226 that would increase funding for learning readiness and Representative Loon's HF 318 that would fund the parent-child home program--and Representative Wills' HF 568 and Representative Bernardy's HF 674 that would increase funding for the Minnesota Reading Corps.

Interesting Story from MPR.  There hasn't been a lot of discussion of the Common Core standards thus far during the legislative session (which is a bit of a surprise to me), but I heard this interesting story on Minnesota Public Radio's Marketplace Morning Report this morning (I guess that's why they call it a morning report).  The story focused on the costs of developing tests to measure the performance on the Common Core standards.

Here's the link:

Here's a different story on the same topic from Monday's Marketplace Morning:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Testy Tuesday.  Well, it wasn't actually testy, but things got a little fired up in both of the House education-related hearings today.  HF 2--Representative Loon's comprehensive teacher licensure reform bill--was the sole bill on the House Education Innovation Policy Committee agenda and it elicited a lot of discussion.  The bill provides for a number of teacher reforms, most notably the streamlining of requirements of teachers licensed in other states to teach in Minnesota. the allowance for community experts greater freedom to teach, and changes in the methods used to determine the unrequested leave-of-absence process in school districts.  Most of the testimony came from those concerned with proposed changes with the strongest statements coming from the Minnesota Board of Teaching and Education Minnesota.  I thought that the greatest concern would be in the proposed elimination of "last in/first out" process to determine layoffs, but the most salient concern seemed to be focused on the community expert provision, which both the Board of Teaching and  Education Minnesota contend cheapens the teaching profession and would put unqualified individuals in front of classrooms.  The Board of Teaching also expressed deep concerns over the bill's intent to make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to teach in Minnesota.  The Minnesota Association of Colleges of Teacher Education joined with the the Board of Teaching in contending that Minnesota's standards for teachers are higher than they are in other states and intentionally so.  Moving away from these high standards by allowing out-of-state teachers a streamlined path to gain a Minnesota license would be a mistake in the eyes of these groups.  The testimony coming from individual teachers who believe they would be adversely affected by the proposed changes was quite powerful and it will be interesting to see if the bill will be amended at some juncture to accommodate their concerns.  There was also powerful testimony supporting the bill, especially coming from charter schools.  Time expired before amendments could be offered and the Committee will take up this bill again at a hearing on Thursday night, beginning at 6 PM.

The House Education Finance Committee delved into the implementation of the Health Insurance Transparency Act (HITA) that was passed last session and directed bidding for employees health insurance beginning with this bargaining cycle.  Part of that law required all school districts to request a bid from the Public Employees Insurance Plan (PEIP).  There is some question as to whether or not this was accomplished and, if it wasn't, why not.  Education Minnesota has long sought a more comprehensive teacher health insurance plan for teachers throughout the state, but abandoned efforts to establish a single statewide plan and opted for the procedural changes in HITA instead.  There is some question as to what, if any, benefit other than requiring districts to seek additional bids for health insurance (if that can indeed be classified as a benefit).  Needless to say, the jury is still out on the changes brought about by HITA, but there was ample skepticism expressed today about the wisdom of those changes.

To me, the common theme in both these hearings is whether or not the state trusts school districts to make the right decisions, both in terms of hiring qualified teachers and purchasing health insurance.  I get that it's not always going to be sweetness and light between school districts and school district employees, but that's because one side is labor and the other side is management.  Disagreement on some matters is part of the territory.  The question is how much, if any, should the state interfere in the processes discussed today.

Things were more sedate in the Senate, where the expanded provision of school breakfast was the main item on the agenda.  The committee also discussed a grant for the Headwaters science center and the Northwestern online college in the high school program.