Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Senate Committee Chairs Named.  Given the plethora of analysis in the wake of the election, I resisted putting in my own one-and-a-half cents, but needless to say things changed dramatically in Minnesota with the Republicans taking control of the State Senate.  Just yesterday, the new Senate leadership headed up by Majority Leader-designate Paul Gazelka of Nisswa announced its committee structure and the chair-designates for each of those committees and subcommittees.

The good news for SEE members is that all of the key players on education and tax policy are familiar with SEE's positions on tax fairness and education funding issues.  That certainly doesn't ensure a complete adoption of SEE's platform (a lad can dream), but the learning curve will not be as steep on the finer points of the organization's mission

Here is a story from Minnesota Public Radio outlining the Senate Republicans' new committee structure and the chair-designees.

Republican Committee Chairs

National Education Policy.  Education did not receive a lot of attention during the Presidential campaign and with the election of Donald Trump, things are foggier than they would have been had Hillary Clinton won.  A Clinton administration's policies toward education would have likely been an extension of what was established under President Obama, which for the most part are variations on the same theme first embarked upon during the administration of former President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41 for those of you keep score at home).  The only inkling of where President-elect Trump's education policy will go comes in the area of charter schools and school choice.  Early indications are that policy may tilt that way.  To what extent is anyone's guess.

All I know is Diane Ravitch is a bit worried, as reflected in this article from The New York Review of Books.

When the Public Goes Private, as Trump Wants: What Happens?

Whether or not Ravitch's concerns are premature remains to be seen.  

Here is an article from The New York Times that provides some light on President-elect Trump's statements on education from the campaign trail, but there's a lot of open policy space left on issues that have yet to be touched upon.

Where Donald Trump Stands on School Choice, Student Debt and the Common Core

And, as I am writing this, President-elect Trump has chosen Betty DeVos to be his Secretary of Education.

Trump Chooses Betty DeVos for Secretary of Education

Here is a link to Betty DeVos' biography on Wikapedia:

Betty DeVos Biography

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Two Days in a Row!  There were so many ideas rolling around in my head last night, I didn't get them all down in cyberspace, so here are a couple of additional items.

Ted Kolderie Charter School Piece.  Minnesota education reformer Ted Kolderie had a really insightful piece in the Sunday Minneapolis StarTribune.  In the piece, Kolderie attempts to steer a middle-ground between the anti-charter school lobby and those who believe that charter schools are the answer to all of Minnesota's (and the nation's) educational woes.  He also urges getting back to the original focus of charter schools, which was to launch innovative instructional practices in hopes of finding methods that can be exported to the school population at large.  

Kolderie also touches on the Innovation Zone program promoted by Education/Evolving and MASA and adopted by the Legislature several years ago.  This legislation has allowed a select number of districts to be relieved of some state mandates and think outside the box on the delivery of instruction and assessment.  The article also looks at the teacher-led school movement and how that might contribute to innovation as well. 

It's  a very good piece and certainly worth the read.

How to Improve Public Education? All of the Above.

Presidential Education Platforms.  There hasn't been much discussion of education policy in the Presidential race, but ABC news published this short item two days ago outlining the differences that exist between the candidates.  The major difference emanates from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's greatly expanded set of school choice options, especially for students in failing schools.  While the details are murky (seeing that Federal contribution to public education hovers at less than 10% of total revenue nationally).  Would the portability proposed by Trump only apply to Federal funds or would states be required to have state (and perhaps local) revenue follow students who choose an option other than their local school district?

Here is a link to the article.

Clinton's and Trump's Plans to Help Education Differ Sharply

Monday, September 12, 2016

Election Update.  Election year means election coverage and MinnPost has put together a list of the 25 most-watched legislative races this go-round.  Given the uncertain nature of this year's presidential race, there could be more than 25 seats that will be in play.  We've seen this before in Minnesota when a non-traditional candidate (and I think it's safe to call Donald Trump a non-traditional candidate without having it seem like an insult) threw a wrench into standard voting patterns.  We have eight weeks until election day and we will certainly see a plethora of activity between now and then.

Here is the MinnPost article on their legislative races to watch.

The 25 legislative races to watch in Minnesota in 2016

One really solid Twitter user to follow for election news is former Republican party communications director Michael Brodkorb.  Michael does a really great job at finding below-the-radar items and he's balanced in the items he posts.

Here's a link to his Twitter feed.

Michael Brodkorb Twitter Feed

Litigation Update.  SEE Past-President Scott Hansen asked me at our Executive Board meeting last week if I had been following the school adequacy lawsuit in Connecticut.  I hadn't and I was happy that Scott clued me in.  For those of you who weren't aware, Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled last week that Connecticut was "defaulting on its duty" to provide a quality education to all of the state's students.  If his comments would have stopped there, it would have been one thing, but Judge Moukawsher's ripped into Connecticut's funding system and a variety of other quality-assurance measures which he deemed totally inadequate, especially for students in racially- and economically-diverse school districts that are typically among the lowest funded school districts in the state.

While differentials in available revenue was the impetus for the lawsuit, many observers believe that the comprehensive ruling has more to do with tepid reform efforts that purportedly aim to close academic achievement gaps.  What is odd here is that Education Week gave Connecticut a B- grade for its overall system with a B+ in funding adequacy measures and a B in funding equity measures in its 2016 Quality Counts ranking.  Like Connecticut, Minnesota was accorded a B- grade in the annual rankings, but its funding grades were a D for adequacy and a B+ for equity (Frankly, I don't think Education Week understands our equity issues in Minnesota very well, at least when it comes to property wealth differentials).

So, would a legal challenge have a chance in Minnesota?  Difficult to tell and I always remind people that litigation is an iffy proposition even with a glaring case of inadequate or inequitable funding.  That said, I have been sitting in MDE's Assessment Advisory Committee that is charged with reviewing the state's plan to comply with the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The task ahead of that Committee is daunting, but as I have listened and participated it has gotten me wondering about how we concentrate almost exclusively on the achievement gap (which is extremely important) while ignoring the opportunity gap (which is also important).  

At the last meeting, the inclusion of science in the battery of state-measured tests was included.  Proponents believe that only when something is tested does it become important to students.  My response then (and my opinion has only strengthened since) is that we only measure about 40% of the curriculum now and it's all important to students, especially for those non-college bound students.  Adding another test for a hard academic subject while continuing to overlook the importance of career and technical education and other subject matter that falls under the "applied knowledge" category will only educationally pauperize a large number of students further.  But to maintain costly career and technical education programs and higher technology requires an investment of revenue in these programs that has been sorely lacking over the last two decades.  

One barrier to successful litigation in Minnesota is that the Legislature and successive gubernatorial administrations have created an array of categorical programs that attempt to address demographic differences that exist in Minnesota and geographic challenges that a number of small rural districts face.  To be successful, it appears any litigation would have to be an effort that would encompass all Minnesota districts contending that the basic revenue provided to all districts is well below what it needs to be in order to provide all children with quality educational opportunities.  Given our D grade in funding adequacy and the clear need to provide a broader array of student learning opportunities, maybe litigation is in order.

Here are links related to the Connecticut case:

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

School is Back!  Alice Cooper sang "school's out for summer," but I always expected a follow-up like "school's back for fall, winter, and spring" but none was coming.  He's still recording, so maybe it's in the works. 

For some folks, it's been more than a week, but most school years commenced yesterday.  I imagine phones were ringing steadily in a lot of districts as parents were trying to get their kids to the right bus stop at the right time and schools were virtual beehive with kids trying to find their way to class on time.

So welcome back everyone.  I hope to be posting more as the legislative scene will be heating up now that we are past Labor Day.  There's a lot going on and the SEE program year has started.  Don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments about what's happening on the campaign front and I'm always happy to come out to member districts to participate in legislative forums or meet with school boards and district administrations.

Plug for Early Childhood.  I'm certain Governor Dayton will be pursuing more money for his pre-kindergarten program during the 2017 session and this article from The New York Times from a couple weeks back may be cited as the Governor tries to make a case for greater investment in the project. 

The Good News about Educational Inequality (Oddly worded title).

Charter School Scrutiny.  There's been a considerable amount of national attention aimed at charter schools this summer.  I'm not going to post a link to the profanity-laced story on John Oliver's HBO Last Week Tonight (this is a G-rated site after all) that aired last month, but I will post this story from The American Prospect.

The Great Diverson

The article concentrates on the city of Boston, but what portions of the article are applicable to issues relating to charters nationally. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Primary Dust Has Settled.  We now have the formal match-ups in the legislative races after Tuesday's primaries eliminated challengers in a number of legislative districts.  The highest profile primary saw Minneapolis neighborhood activist Ihlan Omar defeat 44-year legislative veteran Phyllis Kahn and former Minneapolis School Board member Mohamud Noor by slightly over 10 percentage points in the three-person race (41% for Omar and just under 30% for both Kahn and Noor).  While this race garnered the most attention in statewide pre-primary discussions, just to the west of this district, another refugee--Fue Lee--defeated 10-term incumbent Joe Mullery by a 56%-44% margin.  The biographies of both Omar and Lee are very inspiring and history buff that I am, I see these events in the same light as breakthroughs by other immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.  While both of these candidates face general election opposition, it is expected both will win in November and the perspectives they will bring to the Legislature will certainly be new and interesting.

Two other incumbent legislators--these from SEE country--were also unseated in the primary, as Senator Sean Nienow and Representative Tom Hackbarth were defeated by Mark Koran and Cal Bahr respectively.  Both Nienow and Hackbarth were denied the endorsement of their local Republican party activists, which made for an uphill battle in the primary.  Nienow was defeated by a 64%-36% margin, while Hackbarth came out on the short end of a 57%-43% vote spread.

There were several other primary battles in the heart of SEE country, as House Speaker Kurt Daudt staved off a challenge from Alan Duff, winning his race by a 72%-28% margin.  In House District 15A, House Education Reform Committee Chair Sondra Erickson defeated challenger Tom Heinks by 74% to 26%.  There was also a primary in the Senate District 15 to replace the retiring Senator Dave Brown, with GOP-endorsed Andrew Mathews defeating former Princeton School Board member (and SEE rep) Dan Whitcomb by a 64% to 36% margin.

Here is a of story on the primary results:


All results available here:

Secretary of State Unofficial Primary Results

So now it is on to November.  One of the interesting things about Minnesota this election season is that it appears three of our Congressional Races--the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th--will be receiving national attention.  Get ready for lots of ads (and I am sure most of them will be of one candidate extolling the virtues of their opposition).

I plan to be busy during the election season and hope to get out and visit with as many candidates as I can.  Obviously, I will clear that with local SEE members before I do that and I welcome any invitation by SEE member districts as they stage legislative fora or schedule visits with candidates.  My goal is to elevate discussion of our tax equity message and the need for funding adequacy during the campaign season.

ESSA Panel Begins Its Work.  MDE has convened the ESSA Accountability Advisory Committee with a seven-meeting schedule taking place between early August (first meeting was August 2) and November.  The goal of the meetings is to develop a broad-based set of accountability measures that will fit with the requirements of the new federal law.  I am serving on the committee and I will be polling many of you to garner ideas of what our organization would like to see included (or not included as the case may be) in Minnesota's network of accountability measures.

Reading List Suggestions.  Avid reader that I am (and it's so much fun not to be reading spreadsheets and bills so far this summer), I've been catching up on some interesting books over the summer.  One thing I've been trying to do is make sense of the current political climate, so I've delved into some off-the-beaten-track tomes to try to get a better handle on things.  Here are a few suggestions:

This is a book from the late-1990s that was updated to include the results from the 2000 Presidential Election, but it documents the movement of the white working class away from the Democratic Party.  Teixeira leans left in his sensibilities, but what he outlines in this book eerily portends what we are seeing in 2016.  Four stars!

Here's a link to the book:  America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters

This is a very interesting book that outlines the causes of the economic meltdown of the late-aughts and provides some insight about what might have been done to alleviate the effects of the collapse in housing prices instead of what was done.  If you have econophobia, mathophobia, or are allergic to academic jargon, the book can be a bit of a slog, but it is interesting.  As those of you in SEE districts recall, the collapse of the housing market was especially keen in your districts and this provides some insight as to why.  I'll go 3 1/2 stars on this one.

Link:  House of Debt

Conservative Professor of Political Science at Hillsdale College D.G. Hart provides a very interesting history of the involvement of evangelicals of both the left and right in his From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.  Like Teixeira's book on the white working class, this book provides solid history.  While Teixeira's book looks at elections since the 1970s, Hart's work goes back much further in American political and social history to map the effects that evangelicals have had on our political process.  4 stars all the way.

Link:  From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin

How About Reading Something More Fun?  I am now living with a published author, as my wife Randi has had a short story published in the recently-released collection Cooked to Death.  Color me proud!  Without sounding biased, I just want to say this is a really great collection of works by local mystery writers.  Having been to a reading and perusing some of the other stories on my own, this is a great set of little mysteries all revolving around the theme of food (and murder!).  Like all great works, it's available at Amazon.

Here's the review from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:  Cooked to Death Review  (Note that my wife's story is mentioned).

Link:  Cooked to Death

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Busy Month of July.  July has been hot in Minnesota, but there's been plenty of action on the education front since I last wrote in late June.  The two working groups--one on teacher licensure the other on school discipline--have begun their work in earnest and will be moving along throughout the interim. 

The teacher licensure group met once in mid-June and once again in mid-July.  At the July meeting, testimony was taken from the Board of Teaching, the Minnesota Department of Education, the Board of School Administrators, and Board of Architectural, Engineering, Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, Geoscience, and Interior Design (AELSLAGID) (Now that's an acronym).  The testimony was very straightforward by all of the groups as they each outlined their duties and where they fit in the scheme of educator licensing.  The notable exception (playing the Sesame Street "which of these things is not like the other game") was the AELSLAGID.  That group--headed up by Executive Director Doreen Frost--was brought in to describe how a single licensing board could work with a variety of different vocational groups.  I believe this plays to the possibility of having one educator licensing board (or agency) that would subsume all of the duties currently spread between MDE, the Board of Teaching, and the Board of School Administrators.  One group that has yet to be called upon in the licensure discussion is higher education and bringing them into the discussion will be crucial if this effort is to meet with success.

Here is a link to the Legislative Study Group on Educator Licensure.  It is the July 21, 2016, meeting:Legislative Study Group on Educator Licensure

The Student Discipline Working Group met in mid-July.  After sorting out several housekeeping measures, the group heard reports on the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act and statistics relating to the number and types of students who have been removed from school setting under the purview of the act.

Here is a link to the Student Discipline Working Group on the MDE web page:  Student Discipline Working Group

Grant Possibilities.  The guidelines for applying for a number of the grant programs that were approved in 2016 are making their way to the MDE open grants page.  Here is the latest:

Support Our Students Grant Program

The link for that grant is at the bottom of the open grants page.  This grant program requires a local match (50% for the first four years and 75% for the last two) in an attempt to bring more school social workers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, school nurses, and chemical dependency counselor into school settings.  The bill that created the grant program was authored by Senator Susan Kent and Representative Alice Hausman.  The grants, as explained somewhat above, would run for six years.  This is a competitive grant program and school districts and cooperative units are eligible to apply.

The expansion of the pre-kindergarten program will not be run on a competitive grant basis, but will instead be awarded on the ranking of free or reduced price lunch percentage in a school district along with the availability of three- or four-star childcare programs in the district.  Here is a list showing which districts and charter schools applied.  Who gets funded and for how much will be announced on August 1, 2016.

Status Report on Pre-Kindergarten Funding

Kansas Still in a Tizzy.  Kansas has been the site of a lot of school funding litigation over the past two decades.  In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state's education funding system was unconstitutional and required an infusion of additional revenue distributed more fairly to meet constitutional muster.  The court's dictate was met over the next two years, with over $750 million in new revenue being approved for public schools.

But things began to fall apart--in large part due to the financial crisis--and a group filed to re-open the Montoy lawsuit (what got the ball rolling earlier in the decade) to remedy the reneging on the Supreme Court's decision of 2005.  That motion was dismissed.

In absence of a decision to re-open Montoy, a new lawsuit (Gannon v. the State of Kansas) was filed in late 2010.  After four years in the courts, the Kansas Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and found the education funding system to be unconstitutional.  As in the case of Montoy, the Kansas Legislature tried to remedy the situation, but as late as May, the Supreme Court has refused to sign off on the Legislature's work, leaving the system unconstitutional.  

I found this article from The New York Times to be interesting, as it pointed out a somewhat new angle in the underlying opposition to public education funding.

NYT article on Kansas Education Funding

Special Session Rumblings.  After a number of fits and starts, it appears that a special session to clean up unfinished business from the 2016 Legislative Session may take place in mid- to late-August.  I think the one item everyone agrees on is the need to re-pass a tax bill.  As you recall, that was vetoed in May due to a one-word mistake (albeit a very costly one-word mistake).  What makes the tax bill extremely important to a number of SEE members is the Agricultural Bond Credit that would provide a direct-to-taxpayer credit to owners of agricultural property worth 40% of the property tax burden attributable to school debt service.  That would be a big plus to both farmers and the districts with high concentrations of agricultural property.

Summertime Means Road Time.  Just a reminder that I'm always available to come out to board meetings and the like during the summer months.  I'm especially interested in getting out to meet legislative candidates, so if you are having events including these candidates where my presence might be helpful (or at least tolerated), don't hesitate to contact me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Regional Meetings Complete.  Our round of regional meetings ended on Monday so we are now in full preparation mode for the 2016 election season and the 2017 legislative session.  At this point in time, the chances of a special session are dwindling by the day and the Brexit vote last week has probably injected just enough uncertainty into the budget forecast to make legislators increasingly wary of moving forward.  In the absence of a session, the opposing viewpoints will be played out writ large during the campaign season.  One of the ironic things of the session is that the bill that was probably deemed least likely to pass this year--the omnibus supplemental budget bill--passed while the three bills that on the top of the pre-session priority list--the tax bill, the transportation bill, and the bonding bill--did not.  It will be interesting to see how that is framed moving forward.

The primary points brought up by regional meeting participants dealt with both funding and tax fairness.  School districts throughout the state are in cut mode once again and the main reasons for that are the failure of the general education basic formula to keep pace with inflation over the past decade and the continuing cross-subsidy of state-mandated special education costs from school district general funds.  Those will be two items we will be concentrating on in the year ahead along with our traditional commitment to tax fairness.  We did have the opportunity to promote referendum and debt service equalization during the 2016 session along with the agricultural school bond credit that was part of the vetoed tax bill.  All of those property tax-related items will also be part of our 2017 platform.

Thanks to all who participated in the regional meetings.  It's great to hear from the many voices that comprise the organization.

Teacher Licensure Task Force Begins Its Work.  The legislative task force that will take the recommendations contained in the Legislative Auditor's 2016 report on Minnesota's teacher licensure system.  Today's meeting centered on the main recommendations in the report and provided a broad outline of how it will proceed.  The task force members are as follows:


Representative Sondra Erickson, co-chair
Representative Jenifer Loon
Representative Drew Christensen
Representative Jim Davnie
Representative Carlos Mariani
Representative Barb Yarusso


Senator Chuck Wiger, co-chair
Senator Kevin Dahle
Senator Greg Clausen
Senator Gary Dahms
Senator Eric Pratt
Senator Karen Housley

One item that was mentioned today in Ms. Randall's testimony that hasn't gotten a lot of attention to this point is the incorporation of the duties of the Board of School Administrators into a single board that will also deal with teacher licensure.  While that suggestion was contained in the Legislative Auditor's report, the focus on the teacher licensure part of the equation kept further discussion in the background.

Here is a link to the Legislative Auditor's Report:  Minnesota Teacher Licensure

Book Recommendation.  One great thing about the legislative interim is there is less reading of bills and spreadsheets and more reading of books.  Here is a title--The End of Power by Moises Naim--I came across and found particularly interesting and insightful.  It outlines how institutions have eroded over the past few decades and how that changes the way the world works in terms of politics, education, and business.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon:  The End of Power

As an added bonus, here is an interview with Moises Naim from the Agenda with Steve Palkin.

Congrats to Rockford!  This MinnPost article is almost a month old and I should have gotten it up sooner, but MinnPost reporter Erin Hinrichs featured the STRIVE program at Rockford high school that has helped students get back on track academically and prepare for their next step.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Latest from the Front.  Not a lot of progress toward the calling of a special session last week.  The parties will be meeting again this week, but things seem to have come to loggerheads.  The Governor and the Senate want a bigger bonding bill, but getting a bonding bill larger than the $800 million package passed by the House the last night of session may be difficult.  Without a bonding bill, there will be no tax bill and everything goes onto the bottom line for next session.  

It's difficult to know the mindset of the Governor and legislative leadership at this juncture.  Because the biennial budget has already been set, nothing had to happen this year and it is a little surprising that the only major piece of legislation to pass and be signed into law was the omnibus supplemental budget bill, which seemed to be rank below the tax bill, bonding bill, and transportation bill in terms of the priorities laid out prior to the legislative session.  In a letter to legislative leadership in early June, the Governor outlined his concerns and listed items he wished to see (probably to be read as "required to be in bills in order for him to call the session").  Included on this list were bonding projects for the medical school at the University of Minnesota, reinstatement of the tax exemption for the Minnesota State High School League, requirement that private insurance companies cover services provided related to autism, and a variety of other items.  

One surprise on the list is the reinstatement of the $1.7 million appropriation given to the Minnesota Department of Education in 2013 to develop an online reporting system for special education-related paperwork.  The Minnesota Department of Education directed this appropriation to the Odyssey Fund at MNIT instead of having it cancel back to the general fund after it remained unexpended after the 2013-2015 biennium.  The Governor's budget requested additional revenue to augment the initial appropriation in developing the online reporting system.  Not only did the Legislature not provide the additional funding this past session, they removed the $1.7 million from the Odyssey Fund and added it to the bottom line for the use in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  This was done in HF 2902, introduced by Representative Jenifer Loon and added to HF 3813, the omnibus education funding and policy bill.  I have followed the online reporting system debate since its inception and I don't think it really addresses the special education paperwork problem, but I find it a bit surprising that the Governor has it on his to-do list as a requirement to be met before he will call a special session.

One item I would like the Governor to consider adding to his list would be funding for the University of Minnesota's agricultural school to develop a Creeping Charlie that rabbits will eat.  I have a plethora of both in my backyard and it would be nice if I could create a synergy there.

I will continue to monitor developments surrounding the special session debate.  If I were to put odds on it, I would guess it is less than 50/50 that a session will be called, but that could change tomorrow.

Article on Teacher Preparation from The Economist.  If you are looking for a valuable magazine subscription, let me suggest The Economist.  A little pricey at slightly over $100 per year, but always a set of interesting articles.  It is a British magazine, but it covers American politics and policy quite thoroughly and last week's issue contained this article relating to teacher preparation.  It doesn't contain anything earth-shattering (most educators have heard a lot of these solutions before), but it was good to see them reported in one place in concise terms.

Teaching the Teachers

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Special Session Update.  Don't worry.  No special session yet, but negotiations appear to be taking place that would facilitate a session once a compromise has been reached.  With that in mind, I guess an appropriate song would be The Youngbloods' "Get Together" from the late-1960s.  Love beads optional.

School Finance 101 on International Spending/Achievement Comparisons.  One thing I really enjoy when reading Dr. Bruce Baker's School Finance 101 blog is that he never pulls any punches.  Baker writes passionately and today's entry on how the comparisons on spending and achievement are misleading when discussing the academic progress of schools in the United States.  The entry is based on a study published by the Shanker Institute and there is a link in the entry to the entire text of the report.

Here you go: School Finance 101 for June 8, 2016

I strongly recommend that you sign up to follow Dr. Baker's blog.  Whether or not you agree with his findings, you can't help but respect his enthusiasm and everything he writes will make you think.

Around the Web and Around the World.  I came across this item from about an educational experiment taking place in Poland that would allow for "open" textbooks.  Interesting in that an era when discussion tends to push toward greater uniformity, the Poles are heading in a different direction.

Link:  Polish Educational Changes

Kudos to my Hometown!  It's graduation time and I wanted to congratulate my hometown for raising $56,000 for scholarships awarded to a number of graduating seniors.  It's also important to note that a local manufacturer--Gemini Corporation--funded two $100,000 (that's not a typo--it's $100,000) scholarships for seniors Bjorn Pearson and Matt Moskal as they enroll in engineering studies at the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota respectively.  It's great to see a business step up in this and contribute in a very concrete manner to the education of promising students.

Here is an article from the Cannon Falls Beacon about Gemini's connection with the Cannon Falls school district:  Gemini Industries/Cannon Falls School District article

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Wait Turns into the Weight.  The suspense is over and the Governor has vetoed the tax bill, ostensibly over one word (an "or" instead of an "and" that would have cost the state $101 million in receipts from charitable gambling), but I think everyone knows the drama goes deeper than that.  The messy end to the Legislative Session left a few loose strings--particularly bonding and transportation funding--that the Governor believes need to be tied up.  Some contend the Governor is using the veto to leverage some of his priorities to be included in a special session bonding and spending bill while others contend he is simply vetoing the bill because of the costly one-word error.  Whatever the reason or reasoning--and this will be undoubtedly hashed to death by political analysts for the next few weeks (and perhaps months)--if there's no special session, the election season has become a much spicier stew.

One very troublesome aspect of the veto for SEE is that the provision that would provide a considerable property tax break on agricultural property will not take effect.  That provision would have provided a property tax credit attributable to 40% of the burden on agricultural property for school district bonded indebtedness and was a priority of the organization.

Republicans will contend this is a petulant ploy by a Governor who wants to spend more money and Democrats will counter that the Republican House were primarily responsible for the clumsiness at the end of the regular session and the tax bill mishap could have been avoided and other bills could have been constructed more smoothly if there hadn't been a logjam of activity in the last 48 hours of the session.  Kris Kristofferson sang "Who's to Bless and Who's to Blame" and the voters will decide that.  In the meantime, the "wait" that pervaded the end of session now has turned into a "weight" for both sides as they try to generate arguments that will turn the balance to their side.  I guess that's why I have chosen--in the spirit of keeping the music going on the blog--to feature one of the great songs from the 1960s by The Band.  You've got it and here it is, The Weight, live from the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969 (I wanted to go, but my mom needed the '62 Fairlaine that weekend).

Here is a story on the tax impasses from MinnPost:  Tax Bill Veto

Speaking of the Election.  Filings have closed and the initial slates of Republican and DFL legislative candidates are complete.  There will be a number of high-profile primary elections on August 9 that will decide the November match-ups.  Here are the links from the Secretary of State's Office for the Senate and House candidates at this point in the process:



Education Wrap-Up.  MinnPost has a new education reporter--Erin Hinrichs--and she does a really got job summing up the major education provisions in this year's omnibus supplemental budget bill.  Find it here:  MinnPost Education Story

Last, but not Least (and not the Last Time We'll Hear about this):  There's no question Donald Trump--now the presumptive Republican nominee for President--has stirred up a lot of dust this year and has left a lot of prognosticators, veteran and otherwise, scratching their heads this year.  Here is an interesting story from the recent issue of The New York Review of Books where a group of political analysts contend that early indications from the campaign showed Trump had staying power and that around January, his nomination had become, if not a fait accompli, expected.  Here it is, complete with charts and graphs:  Why Trump Was Inevitable

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dust is Settled (For Now).  I've taken a couple of days off to scour through the education articles (Articles 24 through 34) of the 599-page omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  I outlined the appropriations a couple of days ago, but there is some policy in the bill as well, including changes to testing policy, the addition of a civics test, changes to teacher licensure (and hopes that more will be if the offing), and several provisions dealing with student discipline.  There will be a couple of important working groups meeting over the interim that hopefully will bring reform to teacher licensure (and the creation of a single entity to deal with the issue) and student discipline.  Along with the election, it all adds up to a busy summer.

Process Breakdowns.  I don't know how many of you watched the last night of the legislative session live, but things disintegrated at the end.  It's important to remember this is a human process and when the stakes are high (or at least perceived as high), people are going to push things to the limit (and in this case beyond).  That doesn't mean the process shouldn't be cleaned up.  Given the complicated decision-making process that surrounded the omnibus supplemental budget bill, the Legislature may want to revisit how the budget is assembled in the non-budget year.  And given the time crunch at the end of the session, the Legislature may also want to look at somehow putting tighter deadlines into the joint rules to govern how the end of session unfolds.  Of course, rules can only do so much and given this is an election year with divided government (and a lot of political turmoil nationally) and a fair amount of difference between the parties philosophically, I just think this is how the stars lined up.

We will know in a few weeks whether or not there will be a special session.  Clearly, the Legislature was close on the bonding bill, but one has to ask if that closeness was due to the time constraints the Legislature faced when they crafted the final attempt.  Given the opportunity to step back and re-do both the transportation and bonding bills, things might take on a different hue.  Throw the election into this and it just might be too much to handle if things go on this long and all eyes are focused on one or two bills.

Thanks to All.  I just wanted to close this entry with a hearty thanks to legislators, legislative staff, my fellow lobbyists, SEE members, and all the readers of this blog for the help and support throughout the session.  In the spirit of the music I've been using to sum up things over the past couple of weeks, here we go once again with the great Sam and Dave with the appropriate sentiments.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Highlights of the E-12 Agreement.  The biggest single item both in terms of spending for next year and into the next biennium is the Governor's pre-K initiative.  The program costs $24 million for FY 17 (16-17 school year) and $24 million in each year of the next biennium.  The budget tails number for the next biennium is lower than it was in the Governor's budget and the Senate bill.  Other items in the bill include:
  • $12.1 million in one-time money for student support services grants.
  • $4.9 million in non-metro equity (adjustment in the equity formula so there is no differential between metro and non-metro equity).
  • $4.5 million for staff development for the intermediate districts.
  • $3.0 million for the NW Regional Partnership
  • $2.8 million for Grants for Teachers in Shortage Areas.
  • $2.8 million for Positive Behavior Intervention Supports
  • $2.2 million in Maximum Effort Grandfather Aid ($4.4 million in budget tails for next biennium)
  • $2.0 million for Parent Home Visiting Program
  • $2.0 million for Teacher Loan Forgiveness
  • $2.0 million for Parent Aware
  • $1.5 million for the Tony Sanneh Foundation (Mentorship Partnerships
  • $1.5 million for Girls in Action
  • $1.5 million for Grow Your Own and other Teacher Preparation Programs
  • $1.0 million for MDE IT Security
  • $1.0 million for Reading Corp
  • $1.0 million for Full Service Community Schools
  • $900,000 for the Western Minnesota Manufacturing Lab
  • $775,000 for MDE Operating Increase
  • $500,000 for Innovation Partners Center
  • $500,000 for Education Partnership Grants
  • $500,000 for Teacher Governed Schools
  • $500,000 for Broadband Innovation Grants
  • $430,000 for St. Cloud Early Learning Program
  • $400,000 for ABE Pilot Grants for both the House and Senate ($800,000 total)
  • $385,000 for Southwest Minnesota State University Special Education Teacher Preparation Program
  • $310,000 for Collaborative Urban Educator Program
  • $294,000 for Grant to Glenville-Emmons
  • $270,000 for Indian Education Teacher Preparation Grants
  • $250,000 for Board of Teaching Base Funding Deficiency
  • $250,000 for Graduation Incentives for ELL Students Ages 21 and 22.
  • $250,000 for Agricultural Educators
  • $250,000 for Minnesota Council on Economic Education
  • $240,000 in Current Year to Make QComp Fund Whole
  • $200,000 for Vision Therapy Pilot
  • $150,000 for Race2Reduce (Water Conservation Project)
  • $120,000 for GED Testing
  • $100,000 for Rock and Read Pilot
  • $80,000 for Statewide Educator Job Board
  • $69,000 for Metro Deaf Charter School
  • $50,000 for Headwaters Science Center
  • $50,000 for Promise Neighborhood/Greater Partnerships
  • $1.5 million in FY 19 for Debt Service Equalization (I believe this is the indexing of the Debt Service Equalization Factors contained in Senator Kevin Dahle's SF 2231)
As you can see, lots of relatively small grants and other one-time expenditures.  As I wrote earlier in the session, more Grants than at Bud's family reunion.

Deals Are Coming Together.  Settlement is being reached on most of the components of the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  The conference committee has approved the broadband, agriculture, environment, and public safety portions of the bill.  An agreement on the E-12 budget has also been reached and it is now being put to paper for presentation at some point in the next few hours.  The only thing that we know is in the agreement for sure is the provision in the Senate bill that was promoted by the Governor relating to pre-kindergarten education.  So, we all sit on pins and needles (which will likely help me stay awake).  In the meantime, how about another waiting song, this one from the Lizard King and his bandmates also known as The Doors.  Here we go with "Waiting for the Sun," which many people will likely see as today's session ends sometime early in the AM of Sunday morning.

Things are Slooooooooooowly Coming Together.  Global budget targets have been set and were reported by Senator Bakk in a brief statement to the press.  The overall general fund spending target is $167 million.  Of this amount, $35 million goes to broadband and $24 million goes to the Governor's pre-K initiative.  It is unknown whether or not the $24 million for the Governor's pre-K initiative comes in addition to or as part of the E-12 target.  We have yet to see what the target for E-12 will be.

The Senate and Governor did come down considerably on broadband.  The Governor proposed $100 million and the Senate proposed $85 million.  From what I have heard, the Senate did prevail on the implementing language on broadband, which is viewed as a victory in the eyes of broadband proponents.

Elsewhere, the transportation conference committee has sprung back to life and is hoping to reach an agreement.  I'm curious to see what that might look like.

In the meantime, here's another "waiting" song, this one by that set of 1980s British chanteuses Bananarama, coming at you with "Robert DeNiro's Waiting (Talking Italian).

And in a Bananarama bonus, here's an appropriate title for the last couple of days of the legislative session:  "I Heard a Rumour."

Supplemental Budget Conference Committee Back at Work.  Higher Education Article Finished.  The conference committee on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill re-convened at 12:45 PM.  It was past high noon, so Gary Cooper didn't stick around.  The higher education article has been approved--both money and language--which would seem to indicate that the budget targets for each of the areas covered in the bill have been reached.  That means a lot of things coming together throughout the day.  I will provide details as they become available.  Meanwhile, speaking of High Noon, how about a listen to "Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'," the Oscar-winning song from the movie.  Don't worry, more "waiting" songs throughout the day.

Is It Soup Yet?  Where's the Lipton Cup o' Soup when you need it?  It's taking a little longer to bring it all to a simmer here. 

The conferees for the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill have been milling around, but we've now been told there won't be a formal meeting until high noon (no idea if Gary Cooper will be here).  So, we're still in wait mode, which means another waiting song.  How about "Waiting for a Star to Fall" by Boy Meets Girl?

Friday, May 20, 2016

We've Got the Slows.  Remember that old Nestle's Quik commercial?  Just about the same thing going on here today after the tax conference committee wrapped up its work for the day.  The agricultural land bond credit I referenced earlier in the day works as follows:  Owners of agricultural property will have 40% of their property tax bill that is attributable to school debt service bonds reduced by a property tax credit.

Other good news today came with the passage of the omnibus elections bill and the partial correction of changes made to election law as it pertains to school board vacancies.  As I understand the bill, school boards will be able to appoint a community member to fill a vacancy on the school board, but that appointment will only be good until the subsequent election day each November.  It was hoped that the law would allow the appointment to last until the next November general election date in an even-numbered year, but compromising at a year seems to split the difference between last year's usurpation of school boards' appointment authority and a longer appointment tenure.

The omnibus supplemental appropriations conference committee will not be meeting tonight, but will be here bright and early at 7 AM tomorrow morning.  I will need my Nestle's Quik.

Back to what you've all come back for.  It's another "waiting" song, this one from the Glimmer Twins (aka Jagger and Richard).  Here's "Waiting on a Friend" from 1981.  I felt as young this morning as Mick Jagger looked in this video.  Alas, I'm dragging a bit right now.

A Big Domino (Not Derek and the Dominos) Falls.  Sorry.  With all the musical allusions this week, I couldn't resist.

The tax conference committee has an agreement and that could be an indication that things will be coming together in the other conference committees shortly.  There is no guarantee of that, but it does create some sense of optimism and optimism has been sorely lacking throughout the session.

The agreement does contain the House provision that provides a credit to owners of agricultural property for the portion of their property tax bill attributable to school debt service.  I have yet to see the language, but according to the spreadsheet, the program would cost approximately $90 million over the next biennium.  This is a provision that SEE strongly supported both last year and this year and it is sorely needed to promote tax fairness in a number of SEE school districts.

No word on whether the omnibus supplemental appropriations conference committee will be meeting today.  Until global targets are set (and they may well be set given that the tax conference committee has its target), it will be difficult for the individual subject areas to know how much money they will be having to work with.  And even if the global target for the supplemental appropriations bill has been set, the target for each individual area will still have to be set.

And now I know you've been waiting for more "waiting" songs.  This comes in as a request from Rich in Medford and it's a long distance dedication to Theresa in Madison, Wisconsin.  The song is "Sitting, Wishing, Waiting" which I assure all of us are doing with glee over here at the Capitol complex.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Hint of Progress.  Call it the Iron Law of Conference Committees:  The more they are meeting publicly, the less that is getting done.  If that is any indication, things are starting to move.  Rumors are abounding (but then again they always are this time of year), but there is talk of targets being set soon, particularly for the tax conference committee.  If one believes that the transportation issue is not going to be resolved, that would leave only bonding and supplemental appropriations left to determine in addition to taxes.  All this points toward a very busy next few days.  Again, all bills have to be passed by 11:59:59 on Sunday, May 22, so the lawn won't get mowed this weekend.

Our next "waiting" song comes from 1986 (check out the hair!) with Nu Shooz' dance hit "I Can't Wait."

Thursday Halftime Report.  Things continue slowly at the Capitol.  The House, like the Senate earlier in the session, failed to pass its bonding bill on the first time through.  Two DFLers voted for the House bonding bill and four Republicans voted against it in an otherwise party-line vote on the final 69-64 tally.  "What?" you say.  "The bill got 69 votes.  Doesn't that mean it passed?"  On an ordinary bill, you would be correct, but the bonding bill requires 60% of the body to vote in favor of it, which translates to 41 votes in the Senate and 81 votes in the House.

There are rumors that leadership is closing in on a target for the tax conference committee, which would break the logjam somewhat, but it's always difficult to discern whether there will be quid pro quos when targets are discussed.  One side may not pass a tax bill unless there is a bonding bill (or something like that).  Stay tuned.

In the fun word department, the dictionary app on my phone provides me with a word of the day every morning, and today's word was "furphy," which is a word most commonly used in Australia whose definition is "rumor."  Kind of appropriate word for the last week of the session.

I'll do double duty with my "waiting" song for this afternoon.  Texas songwriter extraordinaire Guy Clark passed away earlier this week at the age of 74.  Seems like "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" describes the situation at the Capitol to a tee as we desperate lobbyists are waiting on the legislative train.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

No Budget Conference Committee Today.  The omnibus supplemental budget conference committee did not meet today, but that doesn't mean the Capitol was bereft of action.  Things are happening behind the scenes, but it is way too early to say whether or not true progress is being made.  The chances of an agreement on transportation funding looked better yesterday than today.  The chances for some measure of tax bill also look to have improved.  The question is going to be how much revenue will be dedicated to these purposes if and when an agreement on the overall budget targets is reached.

The House did release their $800 million bonding proposal, but the Senate has yet to pass a bonding bill, so there's a way to go on that package as well.

I don't know where the supplemental budget sits vis-a-vis the other major bills, but even with a deal on transportation looking iffier, there may be a chance to put together a deal on all the other major bills in the absence of an agreement on roads, bridges, and transit.  Transportation has been portrayed as the key to resolving everything, but it may not be the lynchpin that it was advertised to be.

So it's time for another "waiting" video, this one from '80's artist Richard Marx, with "Right Here Waiting (for You)."  I think this will be a lobbyist theme song for the rest of the week with the "you" being the Legislature.  Believe me, we will all be "right there."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Talks Continue and Budget Conference Committee Meets.  As I reported earlier, the transportation issue seems to be center stage and almost all other action hinges upon the successful negotiation of the funding mechanism and level of the transportation package.  Negotiations went on for most of the day between the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader as they try to bridge the differences that exist.  The House has flatly rejected any increase in the gas tax and believes that the license fees proposed by the Governor are too steep and cuts the amount raised by that mechanism from $200 million in the Governor's proposal to $100 million.  The House proposal raises the amount taken from the General Fund from $200 million in the Governor's proposal to $300 million.  The House proposal adds $200 million in bonding for roads and bridges as well to reach the $600 million proposed by the Governor.  It is unclear where the Senate is in all of this except to say they are very concerned--as is the Governor--with the amount of money coming out of the General Fund to fund road and bridge projects and transit.

The conference committee on the supplemental budget reconvened this evening and tackled a number of non-budget provisions.  The most controversial item discussed and passed deals with the maximum effort loan program (also known as the capital loan program).  As many of you know, both the House and Senate generated approximately $50 million in spending by anticipating that a small group of districts in the program would choose to repay their loans early, but it is uncertain how many of these districts would actually choose that route.  The conference committee decided to limit one of the advantages of being in the program this evening (perhaps in hopes of persuading these districts to repay their loans), which will certainly be met with resistance from these districts, several of which are members of SEE.  It's certainly something to stay tuned to.

The conference committee will be reconvening tomorrow at some point, but there is some question as to what the final outline of the bill will be and whether or not an omnibus bill consisting solely of language would be pursued.  Just another thing to keep those of us in this business awake at night.

Let's have another "waiting" song.  This one comes from the Kinks with their 1965 hit "Tired of Waiting for You."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Some (But Not Much) Movement.  The omnibus supplemental funding bill conference committee met Sunday night and approved a number of provisions, mostly those that are either the same in each bill or quite similar.  There were a few provisions approved that were not in both bills, but they fall into the category of non-controversial.

The big news today was the Governor's presentation of two proposals to try to break the logjam on the transportation issue.  One with a gas tax increase of 5 cents per gallon and one with no gas tax increase.  The House has made it clear that they will not pass a transportation funding bill that contains a gas tax increase, which puts all eyes on the Governor's second proposal.  Both proposals raise license tab fees considerably (increases which the House has voiced concern over) and also use general fund revenue to fund highway projects.  Both proposals come at $600 million for roads and bridges and $280 million for transit on an annual basis for ten years.  The problem is that the hit to the general fund is $200 million per year and that revenue could be used for a variety of purposes that could rely on general fund revenue--including education.

Here is a link to the Governor's proposals:  Governor Dayton's Transportation Proposals

In other developments, a "shell" vehicle has been found that could accommodate a bonding bill.  A "shell" vehicle is a bill passed by one body, but sitting idle in the other.  That means a Senate file passed by the Senate and sitting in a House committee (or on the House floor) or vice-versa.  The bill is then amended with pre-agreed provisions and passed by the body.  Because the bill has been amended, the bill has to be re-passed by the house of origin before it can be sent to the Governor for signature.  I just bet none of you ever had this described in your high school civics class.  The bonding bill was one of the most oft-stated goals of the Legislature this year and so I would not be surprised if something got done.  Of course, it will have to get done quickly.

It's a little after 10 PM right now and I'm waiting to see if the conference committee will convene this evening.  House is taking up a number of bills on the floor and we may have to wait until tomorrow for the excitement to pick up again.

Supplemental Budget Conference Committee Scheduled for Today.  With less than 168 hours until the last bill can be passed, the supplemental budget conference committee is heading back into public deliberations in the next hour.  It is difficult to know what will be covered and how much progress will be made.  It appears that the lynchpin is the transportation issue.  At least that is what was reported in the StarTribune yesterday.   There is a lot of ground to cover, but as I waxed last week, with the technology available today, bills can be thrown together very quickly.  It doesn't leave a lot of time for floor debate or public input, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  There's no indication yet of what the various targets will be for any areas of the budget due to uncertainty surrounding the size of what a transportation package might cost.  If and when that decision is made, taxes and bonding would likely be next in line in the determination of targets with the supplemental bill number falling in after that.  Makes for an interesting process.

Here is a link to the StarTribune article on the transportation negotiations:  Budget Negotiations Article

So, as we continue down the path toward the end of the session, how about another song with "wait" in the title from Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Hall & Oates:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Discussions Continue.  The conference committee finally completed a review of both bills and discussed issues relating to the higher education and corrections budgets in question-and-answer sessions with the state agencies the oversee those particular operations of state government.  It's unclear if and when the conference committee will reconvene tomorrow and what subjects they will tackle in the event that they do.

In the meantime, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sum it up better than just about anyone when describing the life of a lobbyist at this juncture of the legislative session.

Yes, the waiting is the hardest part.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Walk-Through Is Complete.  At least the education portion of the conference committee's discussion of differences between the House and Senate versions has been completed.  The conference committee finished that discussion this afternoon before turning to an explanation of differences in other areas of the budget, particularly health and human services.  With targets for all aspects of the proceedings--taxes, spending, and bonding--yet to be determined.

One aspect that gets lost in a lot of the discussion is the role that technology plays in the legislative process these days.  I often feel like an old codger sitting around talking about the old days (but I AM an old codger who sits around talking about the old days), but in an earlier era, targets had to be given to conference committees with about two weeks left in the process because after the final decisions were made, it took several days for a bill to be put together.  With the advent of word processing, it doesn't take that long to put the finishing touches on a bill and get it produced in a much shorter time frame.  That simply lengthens the amount of time that goes into the negotiation process, both in terms of the budget targets provided to each conference committee and then to the negotiations between the House and Senate on individual spending initiatives.  Whether or not that has an effect on the final product this year remains to be seen, but I don't expect any big decisions to be made before early next week.

Story from The American Prospect.  The left-of-center periodical The American Prospect has been writing a lot about education recently and here is a story from today's on-line edition about school integration.

Learning from History: The Prospects for School Desegregation

Monday, May 09, 2016

Conference Committee Kicks Off Its Work.  The omnibus supplemental budget bill conference committee began its work today with a review of what is contained in each of the bills.  It doesn't appear that all of the provisions in each bill will be presented today simply because there is so much material in both bills.  The question of how the Senate omnibus education policy bill--which was traveling separately--will be handled has been answered.  The provisions of SF 2744 will be discussed in the negotiations of the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  In other words, we'll be lifting the final bill with a forklift.

The Legislature must finish its work by Sunday, May 22.  The Legislature must adjourn on Monday, May 23, but the Minnesota Constitution prohibits the passage of bills on the last day in which the Legislature can meet.  With the fishing opener this coming weekend, that means the weekdays from here on out will be dedicated to conference committee proceedings.  The Senate's failure to pass its bonding bill has thrown a bit of a wrench into the works, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Senate revisited the issue by scaling down their bonding bill and picking up the additional Republican vote they need to pass their bonding bill off the Senate floor.  The bonding bill requires 60% of the Senate's 67 members (or 41 votes) instead of a simple majority in order to pass and that requires some members of the minority caucus to support the bill this year.

So it's going to be a sprint to the end and I'll try to keep you posted as things become known.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Close But No Cigar on the Senate Conferees.  I was 3 out of 5 with my predictions this morning for the Senate conferees on the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  3 out of 5 will get you in the baseball Hall of Fame as a hitter, but it would make you a below average free throw shooter in the NBA.  At any rate, the Senate has named its conferees and they are as follows:

Senator Richard Cohen-Chair of Senate Finance Committee
Senator Chuck Wiger-Chair of Education Finance Division
Senator Tony Lourey-Chair of the House and Human Services Budget Division
Senator Tom Saxhaug-Chair of the State Departments Budget Divsion
Senator Michelle Fishbach-Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Finance Committee