Policy. Policy. Policy. The Senate Education Committee tackled 10 bills this morning, all dealing with education policy. There was great discussion on a number of bills, but the most spirited discussion took place over SF 1407, Senator Eric Pratt's bill to tighten up the requirement that all learners know how to read at grade level by the end of third grade. The primary concern with the bill is that it would place a new mandate (it could be argued a set of mandates) on school districts that will require a significant investment of money and staff resources to achieve the goal. One thing the amended bill calls for is a personal learning plan for students who are at risk of not reaching reading proficiency by the end of third grade. Questions arose over whether that document would constitute a non-special education IEP that, if approved, would have the force of law like an IEP for a special education student. Concerns aside, the point that so many students are reaching reading proficiency by the end of third grade is very troublesome and dramatic action may be in order. My guess is this proposal will have some legs as the Senate puts together its omnibus education policy bill.
Bills proposing two task forces--one on unfunded mandates and another on school discipline policy--were also discussed. Senator Greg Clausen is the author of both of these bills. Senator Clausen has a bill on concurrent enrollment and trying to ensure that college in the schools programs will continue at school districts throughout the state that also received attention today.
Here is today's agenda with links to the bills. The amendment to SF 1407 is now the complete bill, so that link is the one to access if you want to read Senator Pratt's bill.
Wednesday, March 23, Senate Education Committee Agenda
House Education Finance Committee. The House Education Finance Committee had a truncated schedule today. The primary bill of interest to SEE was Representative Howe's bill mandating that school districts with approved QComp plans receive all of the money due to them rather than be subject to proration. The bill actually deals with two SEE districts--ROCORI and Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose--who had their QComp plans approved only to not receive the entire aid amount due to them and what they were under the impression they would receive. The Governor has $240,000 in his budget to give these two districts the revenue due to them, but, of course, there is no guarantee that either the House or the Senate will have a supplemental budget and if they do, it would include this particular expenditure. Representative Howe's bill would take money from the MDE budget to meet these costs in the event these two districts are not fully funded this session.
Judge Overturns MDE Proposed Desegregation Rule. Judge Ann C. O'Reilly overturned MDE's proposed desegregation rule that it approved last fall. The highest profile issue in the discussion revolves around the decision to put charter schools under the auspices of the desegregation rule, but there was another issue that was of more importance to several SEE member districts that are participating in voluntary desegregation programs. The new rule would have moved revenue away from these districts and put in jeopardy a number of magnet schools and voluntary programs which brought minority students into these districts. Because of their relatively low levels of per pupil funding, these districts have been using desegregation revenue to to create opportunities for minority students in other districts along with their own students. These opportunities wouldn't be there without the desegregation revenue. But what is particularly maddening is that these districts followed the letter of the law to a tee only to have an administrative decision threaten these student opportunities.
To me, the heart of the matter is that this is a decision that should be handled at the legislative level and not through administrative rule-making. I have worked on this issue a fair amount over the years and I've always believed that laws deal with "what" while rules deal with "how." Given the scope of this proposed rule change and the fact that it changed definitions and moved around significant amounts of revenue, it clearly falls on the "what" side of the ledger.
I am trying to find a copy of the decision to post, but in the meantime, I will post these two stories in the local media regarding the decision.