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 ozy.com 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