Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Super Busy Tuesday.  There was a full slate of education hearings today.  The Senate Education Finance Committee spent its time on three bills.  In addition to Senator Weber's bill dealing with tuition agreement between the Hendricks school district and the state of South Dakota, the committee heard SF 96 (Senator Kiffmeyer's bill to expand the metro equity region) and SF 133 (Senator Dahle's bill that would provide Teacher Development and Evaluation Revenue to education districts and special education cooperatives).

SF 96 elicited quite a bit of conversation.  A group of SEE districts that are located just outside the metropolitan area have been striving for the past few years to have their particular circumstances recognized in the equity revenue formula.  For all practical purposes--except a very strict definition of geography--these districts are metropolitan districts.  A considerable number of the residents in these districts work in the metropolitan area.  These school districts compete against metropolitan districts for staff and their contract negotiations are complicated by the fact that their employee groups use metropolitan districts' salary schedules in their demands.  The debate around the bill was spirited, with several legislators questioning why the boundaries of the metropolitan area should be altered for this formula.  There is no question that these districts need revenue and that the current formula is unfair as it relates to this set of districts.

Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek, Elk River Business Manager Greg Hein, St. Michael-Albertville Superintendent Jim Behle, and St. Michael-Albertville parent Steve Hinckemeyer all provided outstanding testimony explaining why a bill like this is justified.  27 districts--all but one below the state average in general education revenue per pupil--would receive additional revenue under this approach and 19 of these districts are SEE members.  The bottom line is that these districts need--and deserve--more revenue and this little formula change is a relatively unobtrusive way to garner that revenue.  The fiscal note for the bill outlines a total state net cost of $481,000 for FY 16 and $457,000 for FY 17.

SF 133 would fill a hole that was experienced by education districts and special education cooperatives due to their being excluded from the one-time teacher development and evaluation revenue passed last session.  That decision wasn't an intentional slight on those education providers.  It was just another oversight likely due to the speed with which the mega-budget bill of last session was constructed.  The cost to this bill--which would take effect immediately to pay for costs associated with the current school year--is about $200,000 over what was originally appropriated for the rest of the state.  The estimated cost when the bill was constructed was a little higher than what has actually been expended, making the cost of incorporating the education districts and special education cooperatives lower than originally thought.  This is something that should happen and it will be interesting to see if this is sent through the process as an individual bill or if it is folded into the omnibus education funding bill.

The House Education Innovation Policy Committee heard three bills related to the school start date for the 2015-2016 school year.  Given Minnesota's prohibition on school districts starting school before Labor Day (except in a few instances), school in Minnesota will start extremely late this coming fall because Labor Day is as late as it can possibly be.  All three bills heard today--HF 466 (Kresha), HF 100 (Norton), and HF 197 (Miller)--were held over by the committee with votes expected on Thursday.

The House Education Finance Committee heard testimony from Jennifer Dugan, the Director of Assessment for the Minnesota Department of Education.  There will be reforms suggested coming from a task force on assessment practices that the Minnesota Department of Education convened last fall and the committee likely wanted a complete description of what Minnesota is currently doing (and why) in the assessment area as a frame of reference for when those recommendations are heard.

First SEE Day on the Hill.  SEE had its first set of visitors at the Capitol today.  SEE members from the Southwest metro area visited with their legislators and made the case for reform of facilities funding programs in Minnesota.  These visits are very effective and SEE staffer Deb Griffiths does an excellent job organizing these visits.  Make sure you check with Deb to see when your region's visit is scheduled and make plans to participate.

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