Thursday, April 28, 2016

Budget Bill Clears Senate.  It wasn't a day full of momentous amendments or clever parliamentary maneuvering, but after around six hours, the Senate passed its 600-plus-page omnibus supplemental funding bill.  The initial portion of the debate centered on the appropriateness of having a single bill that addresses the breadth of state appropriations.  The Republicans brought up the Constitution's limitation of bills to one subject and a variety of court cases that upheld that position.  The DFL majority countered with case law of its own and, as the majority, they held the day.  There was a motion to return the bill to the Finance Committee, but that failed on a party-line vote of 27-36.

After the debate over constitutionality, an amendment was offered by Republican Senator Scott Newman that would have taken all of the funding out of the bill and replaced it with the contents of the House Transportation bill.  After considerable debate on the amendment and an amendment to the amendment that would have made the initial amendment out of order, Senator Newman withdrew the amendment and the debate on the bill proceeded.

There were 25 other amendments offered, 18 of which passed, 6 that failed, and one that was withdrawn.  Most of the amendments were very limited in scope, either clarifying the language accompanying a provision of the bill or adding a small appropriation to the bill.

Only four amendments relating to the E-12 portion of the bill were offered and two of those dealt with the Permanent School Fund and the assessment of properties on state land that contribute to the fund.  Senator Gary Dahms offered an amendment that was approved that would add school security upgrades to eligible uses under the Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue program.  Senator Sean Nienow offered an amendment that would have limited testing flexibility in the section of the bill dealing with Testing Innovation Zones (a bill sponsored by Senator Melissa Wiklund) and that amendment was rejected.

The final vote on the bill was 39-24.

It's anyone guess when the bill will go into conference committee.  The House continues to put together its last few articles to go into its version of the supplemental appropriations bill.  After that is completed, the side-by-side comparisons will be put together and a conference committee will likely commence sooner rather than later.  Come next Monday, there will only be three weeks left before the constitutionally-mandated adjournment date.  There are four big items of business remaining before the Legislature:  (1)  the tax bill, (2) the transportation bill, (3) the bonding bill, and (4) the supplemental appropriations bill.  The tax conference committee and the transportation conference committee may convene again next week and it will be interesting to see if everything can be made to mesh.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Full Day.  The education-related events of the day began with Senator Matt Schmit's press conference on broadband.  Senator Schmit has been working on increasing broadband penetration throughout the state and through his work has gotten $85 million in the Senate bill for broadband expansion.  While this is $15 million less than what is in the Governor's supplemental budget recommendations, it does indicate strong support coming from the Senate on the issue.  The House currently has $35 million in a couple of different bills for broadband, but their efforts largely center on increasing access for schools, while the Senate bill is more comprehensive and aims to increase access for community-wide.

SEE was well represented at the press conference, with Litchfield superintendent Dan Frazier providing support for the bill from the perspective of a rural superintendent.  Dan gave a solid depiction of the challenges faced by students in rural Minnesota when it comes to broadband access and how improved access is an important equity issue.  Milaca superintendent Tim Truebenbach was also there and spoke with a reporter after the press conference regarding the need for broadband access for students when they are at home.  Both Dan and Tim stressed that schools often have solid broadband access for downloading and uploading data, but in the era of 1-to-1 devices, students need the same level of access when they are at home.  There is a considerable difference between rural Minnesota and the metropolitan area when it comes to this crucial angle in the broadband debate.  Kirk Schneidewind from the Minnesota School Board Association also provided comments at the press conference.

To me, broadband access (and access to basic technology in general) is a lot like investments in roads or the electrical grid.  While there is a need for cooperation between the government and the private sector, there must be an assurance on the part of government that there will be a measure of equity to which all citizens should have the opportunity to consume.  There has been a lot of work done on broadband to determine the minimum requirements and now the state should work to make that level of service available to everyone in the state.  I always believed that one of the missteps of the stimulus package passed at the federal level in 2009 is that it didn't do enough on this issue.  That has left it to us now to make certain the situation is improved.

SEE and MREA are both supporting this legislation and I want to thank Joe Gould for reaching out to Dan Frazier and lining him up to present at the press conference.

Here are the three amigos (left to right) Milaca Superintendent Tim Truebenbach, Litchfield Superintendent Dan Frazier, and MREA Legislative Liaison Joe Gould.

Senate Passes Education Policy Bill.  The debate got bogged down at times, but the Senate powered through and passed their omnibus education policy bill--SF 2744--by a vote of 51-9.  Eight  amendments were added during the proceedings and here is a brief listing of all the amendments and whether they passed or failed:

  • Kiffmeyer--Civics Test Requirement--Pass
  • Hoffman--Bumping Rights for Early Childhood Teachers Provided District and Bargaining Unit Agree on Procedure--Pass
  • Clausen--Removal of Student from Classroom if Exhibiting Violent Behavior--Pass
  • Kent--Student Privacy Protection--Pass
  • Bonoff--Clarification of Montessori Licensure--Pass
  • Dahms--Reduction in Mandated Reports--Fail
  • Kiffmeyer--No Academic Penalty to Student for not Participating in Standardized Testing or Survey--Pass
  • Nienow--Automatic Expulsion of Student for Assaulting a Teacher--Fail
  • Rosen--Five-Year License Automatically Granted to Teacher Licensed in Another State upon Completion of Exams Required by the Board of Teaching--Pass
  • Nienow--Change in Student Participation in State Student Survey from Opt-out by Parents to Opt-in by Parents--Fail
  • Hann--Mandatory Reporting of the Number of Inexperienced, Ineffective, and Out-of-Field Teachers on District's Website--Fail

The Senate will be taking up its omnibus supplemental appropriations bill tomorrow and it could be a long day.  The proceedings will start in the morning and because all of the appropriations sections are being incorporated into this bill, there may be a lot of amendments offered throughout the day.  It is my guess that the amendments will be offered on an article-by-article basis in order to keep things somewhat organized.  It is going to be hectic enough and difficult to keep track of things as it is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

House Passes Education Articles.  The E-12 and Higher Education articles of HF 2749 passed off the House floor on a vote of 84-46 last night after about three-and-a-half hours of debate.  Because the articles were presented together, the debate jumped back and forth between E-12 and higher education subjects.  There wasn't a lot of change to either bill.  In an era when the budget resolution basically takes any chance for additional funding off the table through amendments, there's very little the minority party can do to substantively change the bill.  Representative Frank Hornstein did offer an amendment on testing that was largely accepted after being tweaked a bit by Education Innovation Policy Chair Sondra Erickson in an amendment to the Hornstein offering.  Representative Hausman's amendment that would have put the student support services grant program into the bill was also altered by an amendment to the amendment offered by Education Funding Division Chair Jenifer Loon that removed additional funding from the original amendment and authorized a study of the need for student support services.  8 DFLers joined the Republicans in approving the bill while no Republican voted against the bill.

The action moves to the Senate tomorrow, where the full Senate will take up SF 2744, the omnibus education policy bill.  The full Senate will take up its omnibus supplemental funding bill on Thursday.  About the only question remaining is how the policy provisions will be handled as the session wears on.  The House has incorporated all of its policy provisions into their budget bills.  The Senate has decided to pass all policy bills separately.  This could cause some confusion as the final bills are put together and any complications could endanger provisions that aren't tracked carefully.

I will keep you posted as things continue to take shape.

Hooray for the Mighty Bombers!  Congrats to my alma mater Cannon Falls High School for winning the Class A speech contest a couple of weeks ago.  The team had two individual state champions:  Matt Breuer in the Great Speeches Category and Grant Schlichting in Extemporaneous Speaking.  I don't imagine anyone on the team used the two pieces I performed--"The Flea Gang's First Cigars" and "Pyramus and Thisby" in the Humorous Interpretation Category in 1970 and 1971--which is all the better for them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

No Education Today.  With all but one of the education bills attached to the omnibus supplemental budget bill, it was a day for the other budget areas to be reviewed and combined into the same vehicle.  That made it a quiet day on the education front.  Things will pick up again early next week when the supplemental budget bill hits the floor and most of the activity taking place among education interests is the analysis of the bills and the determination of what items to support and which ones to oppose.  Negotiations will be interesting this year because it won't be a five-on-five conference committee dealing solely with education.  Instead, a number of the conferees won't have the slightest familiarity with some of the major education initiatives contained in the bills.  Always makes it more interesting . . . and more hair-raising.

Interesting Articles.  It seems everyone is writing about education these days and the folks at the left-leaning American Prospect are no exception.  Here are two articles, one on how forced school closures disrupt communities and often hurt education and the other on how charter schools divert revenue from other public schools.  Both stories highlight some very interesting issues, even though they aren't applicable to Minnesota's experience.

School Closures: A Blunt Instrument

Charter School Article

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bills Moving Today.  The Senate's education funding article passed the Tax Committee today and now will be re-referred back to the Senate Finance Committee where it will be folded into an omnibus supplemental funding bill that will contain all the spending the Senate will be proposing this year.  It was unclear if the House was planning to follow suit with a single supplemental funding bill, but in tonight's House Ways and Means Committee--where the House's education funding/policy bill was heard and approved--it was announced that the House will also be rolling all of its proposed spending into one bill.  That bill will be HF 2749/SF 2356.  The only question that remains is whether or not the Senate will fold its division policy bills into the supplemental budget bill.  The House committees have been folding their policy division bills into their funding bills, replicating a pattern followed in most years, but the Senate has moved its policy provisions separately, at least in the area of education.  Just another thing to be ironed out as the session continues to move forward.  We're closing in on having a mere four weeks to finish things up and we'll have to see how things turn out.

National Public Radio Series on Education.  I'll admit I almost drove off the road yesterday (no, I wasn't texting on my cell phone).  I was listening to NPR's Morning Edition when I heard the phrase "educational equity" come from the person being interviewed, which of course sent my heart all aflutter.  NPR will be doing a series of stories on the education funding and how it is handled by various states.  Below is a link to the first story.  If you look at the map that shows how districts throughout the country fare when compared to the national average, you will see that the color assigned to 10% to 33% below the national average of per pupil funding looks like it could be the official color for Schools for Equity in Education.  Gee, too bad.  I've always loved our blue logo.

Anyway, here is the story:  Why America's Schools Have a Funding Problem  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Something I Forgot to Mention.  When providing my summary of the Senate Education Finance bill last week, I did mention the $9-plus million put into the QComp program for the coming fiscal year.  What I neglected to mention--which is much bigger news--is that the Senate bill proposes that the cap on the QComp program be totally eliminated.  That would provide a pathway for all school districts currently not participating in QComp with the opportunity to move in that direction without the fear of running into the funding cap on the program.  As I've said (and written) many times, the largest remaining inequity in the funding system is the disparity resulting from districts receiving $260 per pupil unit in QComp funding and those who do not receive this revenue.  While the budget tails in the next biennium for this proposal run in the neighborhood of $41 million in the next biennium, making progress in this area would be a welcome development and would certainly provide a lot of help to a lot of Minnesota school districts.

Senator Bonoff Running for Congress.  Our SEE meeting was probably the last speech to an education group State Senator Terri Bonoff made before her announcement on Saturday morning that she will be running against Congressman Eric Paulsen in Minnesota's Third Congressional District.  This is going to be a very interesting year in Minnesota politics.  There is no statewide race other than the Presidential race, meaning there will likely be a lot of ad spots open.  With Senator Bonoff's decision to run against Congressman Paulsen, along with the Congressman Nolan/Stuart Mills rematch in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District and the race between DFLer Angie Craig against the Republican opponent to be determined in the August primary, there is going to be a lot of money invested in these races for political advertising that will hit the airwaves this fall.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Education Funding Bills Clear Their Committees.  It was a day chock full of sitting, watching, and waiting as the education funding committees in the House and Senate processed their respective funding bills.  The Senate was first up this morning and they breezed through their bill with relative ease.  After adopting several technical amendments, an amendment offered by Senator Eric Pratt that would have taken the money in the bill currently dedicated to an expansion of the state's commitment to early childhood education--modeled on the Governor's proposal--and the grant program that aims to increase the number of student support staff personnel and re-directed it to the general education basic formula.  After that amendment failed, Senator Pratt offered a scaled-down version of his initial amendment that would have only moved the money pegged for the pre-kindergarten increase onto the general education formula.  Senator Pratt picked up a DFL vote on the second amendment, but the effort still came short of adoption.  The primary criticism of the bill coming from the minority is that they believe the formula is being sacrificed to programs that are of limited use--and perhaps limited interest--to school districts throughout the state.  

It's difficult to get a read on where the school community in its entirety is at on balancing money on the formula with the proposed pre-kindergarten expansion.  Generally, more groups would like to see the formula bolstered, especially given the erosion of the formula over the past dozen years, but there is more than a little support for increased pre-kindergarten spending.  I think the problem will arise if and when the whole supplemental budget bill is constructed.  The increase in pre-kindergarten spending appears to be a non-starter with the House Republican caucus and that could scuttle any progress on anything.  The reality this year is that nothing has to happen and given the nervousness surrounding national economic performance a number of legislators would probably just as soon see no new spending or tax cuts to keep the state's bottom line in good shape.

The House Education Finance Committee meaning did not go as smoothly as the Senate side as there were more amendments and the discussion of the amendments took a longer amount of time.  The most time was spent on an amendment to require some type of civics test that students would have to take (and hopefully pass) before they graduated.  The primary question surrounding the amendment in its initial form is whether or not it constituted a new graduation requirement and the implications for students if it indeed did.  The amendment was scaled down and it was made clear that not passing the civics test won't prevent a student from not graduating.  But then it was pointed out that if the test didn't have any stakes attached, why administer it.  Whether or not this survives the proceedings throughout the remainder of the session remains to be seen, but it did supply some interesting discussion.

The Senate bill goes to the full Senate Finance Committee tomorrow and will be in the Tax Committee next week.  The House bill goes to the Tax Committee early next week and then to Ways and Means.  Whether or not they clear the Senate and House floors next week remains to be seen, but we are closing in on the home stretch of the session and things will have to start happening fast in order to finish comfortably by the May 23 constitutionally-mandated adjournment date.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Senate Releases Education Budget Package.  The Senate Education Funding Division released its budget bill for the coming session this morning.  The bill spends about $48 million in additional revenue, but when combined with the approximately $50 million generated from allowing a set of districts to pay off their maximum effort loans earlier, the total revenue the Senate proposes to send out to school districts is in the neighborhood of $100 million.  The centerpiece of the bill is an early childhood program similar to the one proposed by the Governor this year.  It would be a voluntary program that weights a pre-kindergarten student at 0.6 pupil units.  Priority would be given to areas with high levels of poverty and/or do not have access to highly-rated private childcare providers.  The additional state financial commitment would be $24 million for the 2016-2017 school year and another $72 million in tails in the next biennium.

Other proposed spending includes:
  • $9.1 million to the QComp program to accommodate more applicants
  • $13.1 million for Senator Kent's grant program for student support staff
  • $10 million to pay for teacher development and evaluation costs for non-Qcomp districts
  • $3 million for the Reading Corps
  • $2.5 million for Concurrent Enrollment
  • $2.25 million for a Paraprofessional Pathway to a Teaching License
  • $2.0 million for Student Teachers in Shortage Areas
  • $2.2 million for Full Service Community Schools
  • $10.1 million for STEM improvements through Generation Connect
There is some increased equalization in the bill.  $4.2 million comes by increasing the equalizing factor for the Total Operating Capital program.  The bill also indexes the equalizing factors for both tiers of the debt service equalization program.  The indexing will not take place until Pay 2018, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

As is the case with the House bill, there is a raft of grants ranging from $85,000 to $1 million.  Here are the grants and their amounts:
  • $1 million for Way to Grow
  • $750,000 for the Parent/Child Grant Program
  • $1.1 million for Indian Teacher Preparation Grants
  • $310,000 for Collaborative Urban Educator Program
  • $350,000 for Museum and Education Centers
  • $500,000 for Teacher Governed Schools
  • $500,000 for the Education Innovation Partners Cooperative Center
  • $200,000 for Race 2 Reduce Water Conservation Grants
  • $300,000 for a Singing Based Literacy Program (Rock 'n' Read)
  • $250,000 for the Minnesota Council on Economic Education
In the spirit of yesterday's post and my on-going efforts to make sure no grant is left behind, let's make sure these Grants somehow get included:

The basketball-playing Grant brothers Harvey and Horace

The late ultra-suave British actor Cary Grant

The not-as-suave British actor Hugh Grant

The extremely talented vocalist Amy Grant

Mr. Electric Avenue Eddy Grant

Fictional newsroom tough guy Lou Grant

Enough with the nonsense, the bill will is scheduled for mark-up tomorrow (as is the House bill).  The Senate funding bill and policy bill will then be merged into one bill and sent onto the Finance Committee where it will become part of a supplemental budget bill that will address all aspects of state government funding.  It will then to to the Tax Committee and the floor.  

After the House finishes marking up its bill tomorrow, the bill will go to the Tax Committee and then the Ways and Means Committee.  It appears that the House is planning on employing the same procedure and will put all of its funding divisions under one umbrella bill to be negotiated with the Senate's comprehensive spending bill.

As has been pointed out in the media, there is a wide difference between the approaches taken by the House and Senate this year and with just over five weeks remaining until the constitutionally-mandated adjournment date, the chasm may be too wide for the legislative equivalents of  Evel Knieval to clear.

Here are the links to the text and supporting documents for the Senate education funding bill:

There are some discrepancies in the numbers between the tracking sheet that was handed out in committee and the one online and I will try to get to the bottom of those differences.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

House Releases Education Budget Article.  The House Education Finance Committee released its budget article this afternoon and it contains a number of interesting provisions.  The bill proposes to spend approximately $50 million, all but a handful in it in one-time money.  The House generates the $50 million by allowing a half dozen school districts currently in the maximum effort loan program to pay off their loans early.  Because these loans are paid off early, the state is the beneficiary of revenue that it would dedicate to the program.

With the $50 million, the House proposes to spend $7 million in FY 17 (the 2016-2017 school year) to create one equity region for the distribution of revenue under the equity revenue formula.  Currently, districts whose offices are located in the metropolitan area get a 25% "bump" over districts outside the metropolitan area.  The largest per pupil increase $27, with most adjustments falling in the low-$20's.  Because the Pay 16 levy has already been set, the new equity revenue will come totally in the form of aid for next year and will revert to the same aid/levy mix as the current program dictates.

Other than that, here are some of the other major spending programs contained in the bill:

  • $1.5 million for the Reading Corps Grants
  • $2.0 million for Collaborative Urban Educator Grants
  • $3.0 million for the Northwest Regional Partnership Program
  • $4.5 million for Minnesota Future Teacher Grants
  • $1.5 million for a Grow Your Own Teacher Pilot Program
  • $1.5 million for a Statewide Educator Job Board
  • $1.5 million for Mentoring Partnerships through the Sanneh Foundation
  • $1.5 million for Girls in Action Grants
  • $2.75 million for Increased PBIS Training
  • $6.0 million for staff development grants to education cooperatives and intermediate districts
  • $5.0 million for School-linked Mental Health Grants
  • $1.0 million for special education paraprofessional training
  • $1.0 million for loan forgiveness for teacher in shortage areas
  • $750,000 for concurrent enrollment teacher training
  • $240,000 to make districts approved for QComp "whole"
  • $7.0 million in broadband innovation grants.

As you can see, there are a lot of grants.  About the only Grants missing are:

Bud Grant

U.S. Grant

Former Twins' Pitcher Jim Grant

"Shampoo" Actress Lee Grant

British Actor Richard E. Grant (remember him in the Spice Girls movie?)

Back to the serious side of things, the House Education Finance Committee will be taking testimony from education groups tomorrow.  The committee will then mark up the bill on Thursday.

Here are links to information on the House bill:

The Senate Education Finance Division will unveil its education funding package tomorrow morning and then do a walk-through of the bill.  It is likely they will take testimony either tomorrow evening or at some point on Thursday.  The bills have to be out of committee by Friday.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

House Budget Targets Released.  Anyone in K-12 seeking new money anywhere in the system this session was dealt a considerable setback today when the House majority caucus released its budget targets.  The target calls for no new money to be spent this session on K-12 purposes.  That might be a bit misleading and I will have to get clarification, but the House is saving $50 million by allowing some districts with maximum effort loans to pay those loans off early.  $7 million on those savings will go toward increased broadband access for school districts in areas with substandard connectivity, leaving $43 million heading to the state's bottom line.  Where that $43 million goes is anyone's guess, but there is no indication that it will be spent on other education programs.  What it does do is give the House some leeway if indeed they develop spending packages.

K-12 wasn't alone.  The House budget targets provide no increase for either Health and Human Services or Higher Education.  State government is to be reduced by $9.5 million, public safety by $1.0 million, agriculture by $1.9 million, and capital investment by $3.1 million.  Areas of spending increase include $11.6 million for broadband access for cities and counties and $3.0 million for natural resources.

Here is a link to the press release outlining the House's spending plan:  House Republican Budget Targets

The next step will be for the Senate majority to announce its budget targets, which will likely be released by the middle of next week.

Where things head after that is anyone's guess.  A lot of bills have been heard this session and the lot of the bills that have been heard have price tags attached to them.  It is expected that the Senate will spend some money--probably one-time money--on education initiatives.  Rumor has it that money for non-Qcomp districts to perform the duties associated with the teacher development and evaluation program is one of the programs receiving the most attention on the Senate side, but there will likely be other programs that receive attention.  I doubt very much that the Senate's proposed spending will come anywhere near what the Governor has proposed.

As a refresher, here is the Governor's education spending proposal:  Governor's Supplemental Budget Recommendations  The education portion of the recommendations are on pages seven through ten.

The House Education Finance Committee will likely put together a bill containing the policy provisions that came out of the House Education Innovation Policy committee along with portions of the Governor's education funding bill that are technical in nature.  The Senate will likely have a more full-blown education bill that contains both policy and funding initiatives.  The question then becomes whether bills from all of the funding divisions will be combined into one large supplemental budget bill to be negotiated in conference committee by the funding division chairs.  That appears to be the strategy, but the problem with that approach is that if the haggling over spending gets too intense, a number of relatively innocuous, but helpful, policy initiatives may fall be the wayside if an agreement cannot be reached.  There are a number of parliamentary options that could help make certain that policy is not sacrificed and we are a long ways off from having to face questions of gridlock, but the possibility remains that little, if anything, could get done in the education realm in 2016.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

More Great Testimony.  As I previewed yesterday, superintendents Mark Matuska and Tammy Berg-Beniak provided testimony on Senator Kevin Dahle's SF 2231 in the Senate Education Finance Committee.  SF 2231 would index the equalizing factors for both tiers of the debt service equalization program.  Both superintendents gave compelling stories about the challenges they have faced in their districts--both have extremely low levels of property wealth--in trying to get building projects passed.  The fact that both districts have a considerable amount of agricultural property also complicates matters.  While Senator Dahle's bill does not raise the equalizing factors, indexing the equalizing factors to reflect a percentage of the state average ANTC would prevent the erosion of the tax relief delivered through the program due to the static equalizing factor.  For those of you not following, because the equalizing factor is currently a constant, whenever a local school district's property wealth grows, it's levy percentage goes up and its aid percentage goes down.  Senator Dahle's bill would prevent the automatic erosion of the program's value to local school districts and would help districts give local taxpayers somewhat of a guarantee--but not a full guarantee--that the state will continue to pick up a certain portion of the district's debt service bill.  There is a bug in Senator Dahle's bill.  Because he is setting the equalizing factor as a percentage of the projected statewide average, some districts may actually see a bit of a decrease in aid as the bill is currently written.  Hopefully, the percentage will be raised enough to prevent any loss in aid as the bill moves forward.  Ideally, the Legislature and Governor would come up with enough revenue to enact the recommendations of the School Facilities Finance Working Group (10% threshold and 125% of the state average ANTC equalizing factor in Senator Dahle's SF 490 heard last session) or Senator Kent's SF 2712 (10% threshold and 100% of the state average ANTC equalizing factor).

Tom Melcher also provided some brief testimony on the debt service equalization program this morning and his presence is always compelling.  There is no question that the debt service program has to be upgraded and Tom's graphics always show that.  When initiated, the program picked up about 11% of the state's total debt service load.  Now, it hovers in the 3% range.  All in all, it was a valuable hearing and one in which I was able to stress how this would be the perfect year to deal with the union of the property tax and education funding systems in my testimony.  We'll just have to see how things turn out.

The bulk of the time in the Senate Education Finance was devoted to Senator Sieben's SF 3095, a bill that would implement a scaled-back version of the pre-kindergarten proposal proposed by Governor Dayton last year.  The usual proponents and opponents to school-based programs all testified and it will be interesting to see how the issue unfolds over the remainder of the 2016 legislative session.  My hunch at this point is that the price tag will be too high for some members of the Senate and that there is still strong opposition in the majority caucus in the House.  In a year when nothing has to happen, this is probably too big a chunk to bite off.

Here is a link to the amended version of SF 3095:

SF 3095

I also got to testify in the House in support of Representative Roz Peterson's HF 3387.  Representative Peterson's bill adds a couple of allowable uses to compensatory revenue and gives the school board the authority to direct compensatory revenue district-wide instead of requiring it to remain in the building in which it is generated.  Under current law, districts can transfer up to 50% of the revenue attributable to a building to other sites district-wide, but a strong argument can be made that school boards should be able to have even greater discretion over where the compensatory revenue is expended.  This is especially true for a number of SEE districts that do not generate much in the way of compensatory revenue.  Instead of having a couple of very small piles of revenue, districts should be able to combine this money in a way that targets the lowest achieving environments in the district.  It is difficult to know how this issue will be received as the session winds on.  Testimony from the Minnesota Department of Education stated the Commissioner's objection to taking compensatory revenue out of the buildings in which it is earned, likely making it a tough sell.  At any rate, I want to thank Representative Peterson for introducing the bill and giving this important issue an airing at the committee level.

SF 3387

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Great Testimony Provided by SEE Members.  It was a cavalcade of SEE members testifying in the Senate Education Finance Committee this morning on a number of different bills.  Three SEE members testified in favor of Senator Wiger's SF 2394, a bill that would increase the amount of referendum equalized and also increase the rate of equalization.  Superintendents Mark Bezek and Dave Webb of Elk River and South St. Paul respectively and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Director of Finance Jeff Solomon all gave insightful testimony outlining how low property wealth puts their taxpayers at a disadvantage when it comes to raising revenue through voter-approved referenda.  While these superintendents--along with North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale superintendent Christine Osorio who also testified--all work in metropolitan area districts, it should be pointed out that there is as much property wealth disparity in the metropolitan area as in the state as a whole.  The distribution of the benefit under the bill mostly falls in the metropolitan area and that is largely because referendum levels are higher in the metropolitan area.  A number of outstate regional centers and small school districts that have extremely high referenda would also benefit from the proposed increase.  I pointed this out in my testimony (of course, I testified).  Throughout the session, I have pointed out to legislators that a combination of SF 2394 and SF 2712 could deliver a balanced property tax relief package that would address both the metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas of the state and have the double bonus of making the education system more fair in the long run.  I remain optimistic that something can be done on this issue.

Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent David Law and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Superintendent Jane Berenz testified along with South Washington County Superintendent Keith Jacobus in favor of Senator Hoffman's SF 2329 to make the compensatory education revenue pilots permanent.  These pilots have provided the participating districts with resources they need to help meet the challenge of being in a large district where the buildings don't reach the concentration levels necessary to generate significant per pupil amounts of compensatory revenue.  The whole compensatory formula probably deserves a fresh look and the whole array of categorical revenue formulas could stand some scrutiny as well, but that discussion needs to start somewhere, so it may as well start with bills like SF 2329.

Faribault Superintendent Todd Sesker also testified today.  The bill he promoted was SF 2861, Senator Jensen's bill that would fund a teacher on special assignment and graduate teaching fellowship program.  The proposed appropriation is $300,000.

More testifying tomorrow, as Senator Kevin Dahle's SF 2231 will be heard.  That bill indexes the debt service equalization program to inflation, which would protect the property tax relief delivered through the program from being eroded through property wealth growth.  This is another bill that SEE supports with vigor and I will be lending the organization's support to the effort along with Kasson-Mantorville Superintendent Mark Matuska and Pine Island Superintendent Tammy Berg-Beniak.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Interesting Alliance for Student Achievement Meeting.  The Alliance for Student Achievement--an eleven-member consortium of education interests--got together for its mid-session meeting today to discuss what has happened thus far during the legislative session and what can be expected the rest of the way.  The most interesting part of the meeting was the discussion of the teacher shortage and what the education community can do to alleviate this crucial challenge.

While it appears the legislature will attempt to do something pertaining to the teacher shortage this session, it is difficult to know how much can be done without an infusion of revenue beyond what is contained in the Governor's bill and likely above what the legislative spending targets will be.

There have been three excellent synopses of the teacher shortage put together by education groups in Minnesota this past year and I will link them here (I will link MSBA's as soon as I can find it).

EPIC (Research Arm of Education Minnesota)

Minnesota Rural Education Association

Equalization Bills up in the Senate the Next Two Days.  The Senate Education Finance Committee will be discussing Senator Chuck Wiger's SF 2394 tomorrow.  Senator Wiger's bill would increase both the size of the second tier (from $760/PU to $1,000/PU) and the equalizing factor (from $540,000 RMV/PU to $650,000 RMV/PU).  The cost of the bill is about $42 million.

SF 2394

On Wednesday, the committee will hear Senator Kevin Dahle's SF 2231.  This bill would express the equalizing factor for the debt service equalization program as a percentage of the statewide average ANTC instead of setting as a constant.  Although this bill won't infuse a lot of new tax relief into the system, it is nonetheless a helpful bill as it will preserve debt service equalization aid and prevent it from dwindling as property wealth in a school district grows.  Currently, with the equalizing factors for both tiers in the form of a constant, the aid percentage for a district goes down as its property wealth increases.  SF 2231 will help school districts make the commitment to voters more consistent as the percentage of state support for building projects won't steadily decline (and usually end up at zero) as property wealth grows.  I don't know how many times I have heard school district administrators, school board members, and voters complain that "when we passed our bond issue, the state was picking up 30% of the tab and now just a few years later, it's down to nothing."  While there may be still be some variance in the percentage year-to-year, it will no longer take a header off the high board and cannonball the taxpayers.

SF 2231