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.