Thursday, February 05, 2015

Hearings and Press Conferences.  It was a very busy day in the legislatoeducation (my made-up word) world in St. Paul today with three education-related hearings and two education-related press conferences.  The day started with a hearing in the House Education Innovation Committee that featured testimony from a number of career and technical programs throughout the state.  It was an interesting hearing that showed how school districts are trying to reach a segment of the student population that is interested in pursuing technical training.

While the House committee was having that discussion, the Senate Education Finance/Policy Committee was debating Senator LeRoy Stumpf's SF 298.  SF 298 allows the Minnesota Board of Teaching to grant full licenses to teaching candidates who have not achieved the requisite score on the ACTPlus Writing or SAT test under certain circumstances.  The hearing featured some very compelling testimony from several teachers and administrators who are hamstrung by the current teacher licensure requirements that they believe treat qualified teaching candidates unfairly.  The theme put forward by Senator Stumpf's witnesses was that of allowing school districts to make decisions on individuals they believe are qualified to teach students in their districts.  There is this unspoken belief put forward by some that school districts don't have the ability to figure out who is and who is not a good teaching candidate.  Several witnesses took that mindset on directly, also pointing out that the teacher development and evaluation program that takes effect this year will give school districts another tool in raising the performance of teachers.  Stay tuned on this one.

The House Education Finance Committee heard a presentation by two participants from the Teacher Development and Evaluation-Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System Alignment Work Group convened last summer by the Minnesota Department of Education along with Rose Hermodson, the MDE staff person who has worked with a broad range of advisory groups, task forces, and working groups over the past few years.  The primary recommendations of the working group call for:  (1) a merging of the alternative compensation and teacher development and evaluation programs, and (2) all districts should receive the same level of state funding to accomplish the purposes set out by the combining of those programs.  Obviously, there is a funding challenge given that any funding for this purpose was not contained in the Governor's initial budget and no bills have been introduced to this point that would provide funding to supply resources to non-alternative compensation districts.  I have greatly condensed the recommendations, but the full report can be viewed at his link:  It is the second link from the top.

Now to the press conferences.  Room 181 was busy.  Proponents of Early Learning Scholarships held a press conference at 11:30 announcing their intention to seek increased funding of Early Learning Scholarships in the coming session.  It is certainly a broad-based bipartisan coalition that is coming forward.  Bills containing this budget request were introduced in both houses today--SF 606 (Cohen) and HF 603 (Kresha)--and it's my guess those bills will be heard relatively soon.  House Education Finance Committee chair Jenifer Loon stated her support of Early Learning Scholarships over universal pre-kindergarten funding in comments she made to Minnesota Public Radio.  While one approach does not preclude the other, given the fiscal constraints that the Legislature will likely face as it attempts to put together its omnibus education funding packages, it may be difficult to invest heavily in both programs.  Again, stay tuned.

Here is the link to a MinnPost article that does a pretty good job summing up the differences in the two approaches and the challenge facing the legislature:

And here is the aforementioned MPR story:

The Early Learning Scholarship press conference was followed shortly thereafter by a press conference on the treatment of agricultural property in school debt service referendum.  Representative Steve Drazkowski and Senator Lyle Coenen are introducing a bill that would base all future debt service questions on referendum market value (from which all agricultural land is excluded) instead of adjusted net tax capacity (which includes agricultural property).  Agricultural land values have been skyrocketing over the past decade and with the erosion of the debt service equalization program, the property tax burden on agricultural property has likewise skyrocketed.  Agricultural land is a very special case, as unlike other revenue-generating property, farmers are forced to take the price the market offers as opposed to being able to hike the price of what they sell in order to accommodate higher property taxes.  Taking agricultural land off the tax base for debt service questions would obviously move the burden onto homes and businesses, but there may be ways to mitigate the effects of that shift, albeit probably not totally.  SEE has worked tirelessly since its inception to tackle issues in the property tax world that create disparities in opportunity or cause taxpayers to assume too great a burden in attempting to pass operating or debt service levies.  This issue may be a bit more complex than straightforward equalization policy, but it's a discussion that needs to take place.

Here is a story from KTTC television on the press conference:

Bill Introductions.


SF 541 -- Clausen -- Increases general education basic formula by 4% for 2015-2016 with on-going inflationary adjustments in subsequent years --

SF 550 -- Weber -- Allows Red Rock Central school district to start school before Labor Day in 2015-2016 --

SF 553 -- Torres Ray -- Requires school districts to adopt a policy on recess for elementary school students --

SF 557 -- Clausen -- Appropriates money for schools to develop Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) programs --

SF 559 -- Clausen -- Amends alternative teacher licensure and teacher license reciprocity policy --

SF 560 -- Coenen -- Increases equity revenue for all districts --

SF 564 -- Hoffman -- Modifies school lunch aid --

SF 593 -- Lourey -- Allows fund transfer for Barnum school district --

SF 597 -- Marty -- Service learning provisions including integration of service learning into the curriculum and grant program for evidence-based service learning programs --

SF 604 -- Kiffmeyer -- Establishes funding mechanism by which districts with low levels of per pupil funding can move closer to state average per pupil funding (in SEE platform) --

SF 606 -- Cohen -- Increases funding for Early Learning Scholarships --

SF 607 -- Kent -- Appropriates money for the Minnesota Reading Corps --

SF 608 -- Miller -- Authorizes school boards to implement flexible learning year programs without approval from Minnesota Commissioner of Education --


HF 567 -- Wills -- Increases school board flexibility for allocation of compensatory revenue --

HF 568 -- Wills -- Appropriates money for the Minnesota Reading Corps --

HF 569 -- Nornes -- Appropriates money for the regional library system --

HF 583 -- Kresha -- Appropriates money for  regional library telecommunications and equity in telecommunications access --

HF 589 -- Fenton -- Amends provisions relating to teacher licensure reciprocity --

HF 597 -- Slocum -- Modifies Minnesota State High School League policy relating to charter school students --

HF 598 -- Mariani -- Amends a requirement for generating state English learner aid --

HF 603 -- Kresha -- Increases funding for Early Learning Scholarships --

HF 605 -- Newton -- Promotes adequate levels of school counseling services --

HF 638 -- Whelan -- Postpones statutory review of state mathematics standards --

HF 642 -- Erickson -- Requires reports on principal and teacher evaluations --

HF 645 -- Kiel -- Clarifies requirements to issue a Minnesota teaching license to an out-of-state applicant --

HF 648 -- Quam -- Modifies career and technical revenue funding provisions --

HF 663 -- Baker -- Additional equity revenue for all school districts --

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