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--

No comments: