Sunday, March 08, 2015

Another Week in the Books.  The first week of March featured a lot of committee hearing time and the passage of a piece of legislation that is of primary importance to the House majority.  First, Thursday's hearing in the House Education Innovation Policy Committee featured a number of bills related to special education.  There was a lot of discussion, some of it very spirited, on the bills before the committee.  The two bills that elicited the most discussion are both authored by Representative Drew Cristensen; HFs 804 and 1237.

I'll outline HF 1237 first.  HF 1237 would require that paraprofessionals working with disabled students receive disability-specific training in order to work with students.  As I read the bill, costs would be incurred locally for this training and the costs would obviously vary by the volume of training needed in each particular instance, both for the paraprofessional and the nature of the disability category.  This is clearly a worthy goal, but if estimated costs look to be prohibitive, it could conceivably derail the effort.  The questions that need to be answered are:  (1) is disability-specific training required for or simply need to be offered to prospective employees, and (2) how comprehensive must the training be?  As I said earlier, from my reading, the training would be required before a paraprofessional could work with a specific student, but that is not entirely clear.  The other question about the nature of the training is wide open.  Would training packets need to be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education?  Would there need to be a demonstration of skills?  Would a list of required readings to be completed on a prospective employee's (or current employee's) own time suffice?  Would the paraprofessional have access to the full IEP?  These and many other questions need answers and I'm sure we'll get them as the bill moves through the process (the companion--SF 1002--will be heard in the Senate this week).

Link:  HF 1237

HF 804 spurred the most discussion and it was spirited.  Many of you remember the provision passed last year that required the development of an online reporting system for special education paperwork.  In 2013, $1.8 million was appropriated for the project and language that directed the Minnesota Department of Education on the specifics of what that system should be able to accomplish passed last session.  In addition, last year's legislation made the system mandatory for all school districts beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.  HF 804 would repeal the language passed last session, including mandatory participation by school districts in the future.  The bill would require portability of due process information between school districts and in order to accomplish that goal vendors currently serving Minnesota school districts would have to make some changes to ensure compatibility.  Clearly, the language passed in 2014 causes a lot of havoc for school districts without ensuring any reduction in paperwork.  I've overworked my analogy capabilities discussing this angle in the past, but here comes another one.

Think of student reporting systems as vehicles and think of paperwork as miles.  Some districts drive trucks.  Some districts drive cars.  Some districts travel by motorcycle.  The state tells each district that they have to drive 500 miles.  Now it doesn't matter which vehicle is used to travel the 500 miles.  The pertinent fact is that each district has to drive 500 miles.  If the online reporting system were to become mandated, the state would simply choose the vehicle every district would have to use, which would not reduce the mileage districts would have to drive.  Until those 500 miles are reduced, districts will be be filling out the same number of forms and facing the same level of scrutiny.  In other words, no paperwork reduction.  Stay tuned.

HF 2.  The House passed the teacher tenure and training bill on Thursday evening after a considerable amount of debate, some of it contentious.  The seven-hour debate ran past 10 PM and featured a number of amendments offered by DFLers to an amendment offered by DFLer Carlos Mariani, the chair of the House Education Policy Committee prior the change in the majority brought about by the 2014 election.  The amendments ran the gamut of education policy and funding issues, but because almost all contained some measure of funding, the amendments were found to be out of order.  Of course, whenever the speaker rules an amendment to be out of order, the party seeking the amendment's approval questions the ruling of the Speaker of the House (or President of the Senate if the bill is before the Senate), which inevitably leads to more debate.  After the Republicans successfully added several amendments to Representative Mariani's proposed amendment, Representative Mariani withdrew his amendment.  Several other amendments were offered by DFLers, both as stand-alone amendments and as amendments to amendments offered by other DFLers, but only two relatively minor amendments--offered by Representatives Yarusso and Slocum--were accepted.  The bill then passed on a vote of 70-63 with no DFLers voting for the bill and no Republicans voting against it.

Here is a story of the Pioneer Press on the debate and vote:  HF 2 Debate and Passage

Bill Introductions from Thursday, March 5:


SF 1370--Westrom--Authorizes early education services for certain students from adjoining states--

SF 1385--Dahle--Directs Board of Teaching to adopt standards for a specialized licensed, endorsement, or credential for project-based learning--

SF 1407--Pratt--Allows a school to retain a student in grade three if they are not reading at grade level--

SF 1408--Pratt--Requires a minimum score on certain assessments to receive a high school diploma--


HF 1485--Erickson--Allows charter schools to give an enrollment preference to children who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch--

HF 1497--Urdahl--Amends state high school graduation requirements to include demonstration of knowledge of civics--

HF 1528--Bernardy--Clarifies advanced placement and international baccalaureate program requirements--

HF 1529--Fenton--Creates education savings accounts for students with special needs--

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