Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Session Ends . . . Or Did It?  We're having some fun now!  Anyway, the gavels went down in the House and Senate last Thursday morning at about 3 AM with all of the budget bills and the tax bill passed.  The Legislature also passed a preemption bill that would prevent any local unit of government from setting a minimum wage or other employee benefits in excess of what is prescribed in state law for private sector employees.  This legislation--vetoed by the Governor--was passed in reaction to ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul that set minimum wage and family leave laws above the state minimums.  The Legislature sweetened the preemption bill with several provisions that the Governor wanted to see passed--including family leave for state employees--in an attempt to get him to sign the bill, but it was to no avail.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until yesterday, when the Governor signed the bills he intended to sign, but then pulled out the line-item veto pen.  The line-item veto is not covered in most civics classes, so here's a short description.  The Governor has the power to zero out appropriations in funding bills.  He cannot simply reduce the amount.  He has to eliminate the entire appropriation.  We'll get to how that has complicated matters in a minute.

Needless to say, the Governor was not totally pleased with the way the session ended.  I think if you talked to a lot of legislators in both the majority and minority parties, they probably had similar sentiments.  But it appeared that in the spirit of compromise, everyone took what they could get, brushed up their talking points, and prepared to take things on the road to explain all the good things and assure their respective bases how things would be different next year.

Blois Olson--editor of Morning Take (to which everyone should subscribe)--posted all of the Governor's signature letters and his veto message on the preemption bill in a special edition of his blog last evening.  Here is a link to the Governor's letter that sums up his approach to the entire bill-signing process, outlining his concerns over a number of provisions that made it into the final budget bills and the tax bill.

Dayton Letter to Legislative Leaders

In it, the Governor zeroes in on a number of provisions in the tax bill that he finds troubling:  the tobacco tax break, the changes to the estate tax, and freezing the statewide commercial/industrial property tax that goes into the state general fund.  His language on these items is very straightforward.  I was hoping (against all hope as it turns out) that the Legislature would not do eliminate the automatic inflator on the tobacco tax and use that money for debt or referendum equalization.  Same goes with the estate tax changes.  If those tax decisions were reversed, there would be money available for equalization, so maybe we aren't done lobbying quite yet.

The Governor also voiced his displeasure with the changes in the tiered licensure system approved as part of the E-12 bill.  It is unclear from the letter what aspects of the licensure changes he objects to, but most of the criticism of the proposal zero in on the lowest tier, which is currently inhabited largely by community experts.  Education Minnesota had a very public posture in the Twitterverse over the weekend voicing objections to some of the changes in the bill, but like the Governor, I am unclear as to what exactly the organization wants to change in terms of specifics.

Given the special session has ended and the Governor wants changes, he came up with a novel approach to forcing another special session by line-item vetoing the appropriation for the legislative branch.  This raised the hackles of legislative leadership immediately and they are pledging to take the Governor to court over what they view as a violation of the separation of powers in the state constitution.

This is going to bring up some interesting angles.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto is currently suing the Legislature for allowing counties to seek auditing services outside her office.  She has lost at her first two court stops, but intends to take her suit to the state Supreme Court.  Now the Legislature will be suing the Governor over his decision to zero out their appropriation and, for lack of a better term, cease their operations effective July 1, 2017.  I have no idea how things will turn out, but it will be interesting to see if both sides research how the Legislature was funded in the early years of the state when there was little, if any, general state taxing authority and the appropriation for the Legislature was extremely small.  So dust off the history books and burnish your arguments on constitutional law and whether constitutions are "living" documents, because we are going to find out.

Musical Tribute to the End of Session.

As the session closed, some were feeling like the late James Brown.

Some were feeling like the late Johnny Maestro of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Most of us were feeling like the late Gerry Rafferty of Stealers Wheel.

And those of us who were hoping for something that didn't make it feel like the late Marcel King and are sad, sweet dreamers.

And right now, it's a ball of confusion.

I will keep you up-to-date as things develop.  Regional meetings start next week.

TRA Left Unaddressed.  There was optimism during the waning days of the legislative session that the TRA issue would be tackled and that school districts would receive money outside the basic formula to deal with an increased employer share suggested by the TRA staff.  Instead, nothing was done on the issue.  No increase in employer share.  No increase in employee share.  No change in cost-of-living adjustments.  No new funding for any of the above.  In other words, an all-pro punt.  Let's hope they didn't shank it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Off Until Tomorrow.  Instead of meeting to recess and recess and recess, the Legislature has decided to take the evening off and let staff get the remaining bills in order and convene again at noon tomorrow and pass the rest of the budget.  The House passed the transportation bill this afternoon and the Senate passed a bill that is centered around the preemption bill that was in conference when the regular session ended.  The preemption bill would prevent local units of government to go beyond state law on a number of basic employee/employer relationships, particularly the minimum wage, sick leave, and family leave.  Minneapolis and St. Paul have passed ordinances that require family leave and a minimum wage in excess of the state benchmark.  A number of provisions that the Governor supports have been attached to the preemption bill and it's difficult to know whether he will drop his opposition to the preemption provision and sign the bill or not.  

On the education front, after a couple of recesses and discussion of several amendments, the E-12 budget bill was given its third reading and then laid on the table.  It will come up for a final vote tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'll sign off with the Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"  I hope the Legislature loves us all tomorrow or I'll have to post "Please Release Me."

Gears are Grinding.  

It appears that the Legislature will be returning next week unless there is a rapid turn-of-events in the next couple of hours.  The Legislature passed a resolution today that would allow them to adjourn for more than three days (the Legislature must work every three days during a session without a joint resolution stating otherwise) in anticipation that work would not get done and that it may be best for everyone to take a break for a few days.

As I stated earlier, I inaccurately reported that the E-12 bill had passed both Houses and the Senate is embroiled on the discussion of several elements of the bill.  The minority members are offering amendments, but they have all been voted down to this point.  There was an amendment offered to remove the unrequested leave of absence changes in the bill (moving away from "last in/first out") and that failed on a party-line vote of 30-33.  The Senate is currently in recess and leadership is discussing several elements of the E-12 bill with the Governor.

Another issue that is currently hanging out there is the TRA correction.  There was language in a bill that would have put in the an increased contribution schedule for employers and employees (with no new funding to help employers with the increase), but I believe that language has been taken out and there may be negotiations on-going to try and solve the problem.  I will get that cleared up so I can share the information with you all tomorrow at the general membership meeting.

How about a little more music?  Hopefully things will be alright, but hopefully before the morning comes.

Duh!  I was guilty of fake news in my last blog entry.  The E-12 bill did not pass the Senate floor last evening.  The 47-17 vote I referenced was simply the vote to suspend the rules to consider the bill.  After that vote was successful, the bill was laid on the table.  It is now being discussed on the Senate floor.  The Senate did not pass any bills last evening, but have just passed the tax bill by a vote of 44-20.

Sorry about the mistake.  In that vein, he's Sheryl Crow with "My Favorite Mistake."

Education Bill Passes!  It was a night of intrigue and charges of mischief, but the omnibus E-12 bill passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the Governor for his anticipated signature.  I am sure the Governor will wait until all of the bills hit his desk before making any decision, but there's little doubt that he will sign the E-12 bill.  The vote in the House was 79-54 in the House and 47-17 in the Senate.

As I reported last night, the House DFLers offered several amendments to the tax bill and all were unsuccessful.  There were charges by the majority caucus that the offering of amendments violated the agreement that was signed prior to the special session, but the DFLers counter-charged that the agreement stated the session would be done by 7 AM on Wednesday and that wasn't going to happen.  There was an ample amount of frustration on both sides as legislators had been sitting around since three o'clock and the tax bill did not hit the House floor until around 11:00 PM.  Things fell together after they looked like they were going to fall apart and the tax bill passed on a vote of 102-31.

In that vein, I can only post this musical treat from the late J J Cale, which kind of sums up what happens after midnight.

Things Slooooowing Down.  The tax bill is on the House floor and there is a bit of a hubbub over whether the agreement signed by the Governor and legislative leadership precludes the members of the DFL caucus from offering amendments.  Whatever the text and intention of the agreement, members are offering amendments and while the amendments are all failing (and all will likely continue to fail), things are getting a little edgy.

All that said, it's a quarter-to-three and I couldn't resist posting a video of Gary "U.S." Bonds' hit from 1961, "Quarter to Three."

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

E-12 Bill Analysis.  The E-12 working group finished their walk-through of the bill and spreadsheet about an hour ago and now we are all wading through the 203 pages to get a better handle on the various elements of the bill.  There is only one surprise in the bill and that is the inclusion of a provision that will require school districts and their teacher bargaining units to negotiate an unrequested leave-of-absence policy that is not solely based on seniority (softening of LIFO). This provision was not in the vetoed conference committee report sent to the Governor last week and it's surfacing is a bit of a surprise.

Here are the highlights of the bill:

  • 2% increase in the basic formula in each of the next two years.
  • The current voluntary pre-kindergarten program is untouched and $50 million is appropriated for a program called School Readiness Plus (more on that later).
  • An additional $20 million in early childhood scholarships.  Pathway 2 scholarships capped at this year's level of participation.
  • Inclusion of the language from the vetoed bill relating to the creation of the Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board, including language that removes the requirement that teachers with an Academic and Behavioral Strategist (ABS) license acquire a license in a discrete disability category in five years in order to retain their license.
  • Perpich Center for Arts Education is not mothballed (couldn't think of a better term), but director is required to hold a Minnesota Superintendents License.
There are other items, of course, and MDE will be giving us a full rundown at our general membership meeting on Thursday (yes, Thursday), but these are the items that have elicited the most interest and discussion over the past few weeks.

It is nearly midnight and the House will be taking up the tax bill shortly while the Senate takes up the E-12 bill.  They will then take up the bill the other body has just finished before moving onto other business.  While the tax and E-12 bills are assured of passing and receiving the Governor's signature unless there's a political foodfight over other bills, there are a few things brewing that could rile things up, especially as it relates to the pre-emption bill that would limit municipalities from setting wage and benefit packages higher than the state minimums for private industry.  The bill containing the pre-emption provision is being loaded up with some items of great interest to the Governor and it will be interesting to see if the resulting stew will clear the Legislature and find its way to the Governor's desk.

In the meantime, enjoy this musical treat from the 1950s featuring a very young-looking Dick Clark (who managed to be young-looking until the day he checked out) on American Bandstand introducing Santo & Johnny and their big hit "Sleep Walk," which is what I feel like I am doing.

The Dam Has Burst!  

Just when I thought it was going to be water torture all night long, documents outlining the budget agreements are hitting the web.  The E-12 working group is meeting in ten minutes, so I don't have time to analyze the bill right now, but here are the documents:


Tax Bill and Spreadsheet Posted.  Things are coming out in dribs and drabs up here at the Capitol.  The State Departments Working Group (remember this is the special session so there are no committees or conference committees--at least yet) will be going through the State Departments bill sometime within the next hour or so.

The big news is that the tax bill and spreadsheet that goes with the bill have been posted on the House Tax Committee website.  As I conjectured earlier today, the Ag Bond Credit is in the bill at a 40% reimbursement rate for the school debt service levy on agricultural property and the proposed increase in debt service equalization did not survive.

Here is a link to the tax bill language:  Language  Ag Bond Credit language is Article 4, Sections 1 and 2, on pages 136 and 137 of the bill.

The spreadsheet:  Spreadsheet  The appropriation for the Ag Bond Credit is on line 54 of page 7.  The zeroed amount for debt service is on 47.

The bill summary:  Section by Section Summary

For this installment's musical treat, I will leave you with the late Glenn Frey's The Allnighter.  Sorry, I couldn't find a live performance and--pardon the pun--I don't have all night.  Wait a minute.  I'm sitting at the Capitol all night, so I guess I would have all night.

This Is It.  The Legislature will be convening at 3 PM in a special session to take up a set of budget bills that were left hanging as the midnight deadline for adjournment of the regular session.  Included in the bills will be the tax bill, the transportation bill, the health and human services bill, the bonding bill the state departments bill, and--of course--the E-12 funding bill.  Agreement was reached on all of these measures late last night and rather than have a rapid fire free-for-all, legislative leadership decided to take a more measured approach and pass the bills in a special session today when members are more rested.  Obviously, there will still be a lot of fireworks and making the self-imposed deadline of 7 AM on Wednesday morning will be a challenge.

It is reported that the E-12 budget target is $477 million--$10 million more than what the Legislature had called for in its revised targets released last week--and folks are wondering how the money will be divided.  Clearly, the formula was a high priority in both the House and Senate bills with targets around $300 million, so it's probably a safe guess--but a guess nonetheless--that more money will go toward the formula.  A 2% increase in each year costs approximately $380 million, so that would leave $90 million to move around into other priorities unless, of course, the Legislature wants to take the formula increase above 2%.  

One complicating factor is how the TRA issue will be handled.  Rumors are flying around on this.  There is talk of increasing the formula amount beyond 2% to help accommodate the costs related to an increased employer contribution, but when revenue goes on the formula, it can go for anything.  The preferred method of dealing with the issue would be--as proposed by the Governor--to set aside revenue and distribute through the pension subtraction.  This is the cleanest way to approach the problem, but there are distributional differences between using the pension subtraction and putting the revenue on the formula and my guess is the data runs outlining those differences have been studied.  

The other item that will be interesting to see is how the early childhood issue will be handled.  The Governor continued to push his voluntary pre-kindergarten program throughout the negotiations and rumor has it that there will be $50 million distributed for early education in some form.  Hard to say what that is, but some are saying it's a more targeted form of school readiness.  There are so many rumors flying around that they are flying in formation.

It will also be interesting to see what is in the tax bill.  What I have gathered is that the Ag Bond Credit is in the bill, but that the increase in the debt service equalization did not survive the negotiations.  If debt service equalization is not part of the final bill I--and a lot of SEE members--will be disappointed, but we'll be back and hammering (and yammering) again if that is the case.  I have also heard that all of the private school tax credit/tax deduction/scholarship fell by the wayside and if that is the case, like our debt service and referendum equalization initiatives, proponents of those items will be back in force in 2018.

Here is the MinnPost article regarding the budget agreement and today's legislative process:  Dayton signs deal calling Legislature into special session. What happens now?

And so, as I finish this missive, let's sign off with the Kenny Loggins' song that inspired this headline.  I've taken the YouTube version from Loggins' episode on Live from Daryl's House.  For those of you music aficionados, Live from Daryl's House is an absolute hoot, as he brings in artists and works up new versions of their hits.  With no further ado, here's Kenny and Daryl:

Monday, May 22, 2017

Regular Session Ends Quietly.  Special Session Commences Immediately.  Rather than frantically attempt--and fail given the time constraints--to pass a bevy of bills with the clock winding down, the Legislature decided to adjourn slightly before midnight.  The Governor has called a special session beginning tomorrow and the Legislature will start its work bright and early and try to work through the budget bills remaining from the regular session by Wednesday morning.  Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka informed the Senate that there is agreement on all of the bills and that work will go on during the night to have them ready to go when the House of Representatives and Senate convene tomorrow.  For those of you wondering what to look for, in a special session, everything is set back to zero.  Each of the conference committee reports from the regular session will be drafted as a bill and be numbered from HF 1/SF 1 upward.  I do not know what is in the education bill, but will likely find out when I get to the Capitol tomorrow morning and will post details when I get them.  I would guess that there will be a 2% increase on the basic formula in each of the next two years and some money for early childhood education in a yet-to-be-determined form.  Rumor has it the Governor was using all of his persuasive power to try to expand his voluntary pre-kindergarten program, but the legislative leaders were not receptive to his entreaties.

So tomorrow is shaping up to be a long day, so how about a little Marshall Tucker's "24 Hours at a Time" with special guest Charlie Daniels from 1975.  Could be a whole 24-hour shift tomorrow!

T Minus 10 Hours.  It's creeping up on 2 PM and it looks like it will be difficult for the Legislature and the Governor to come to an agreement in time for bills to be processed and passed before the midnight deadline.  A number of conference committee reports were passed yesterday, but they all pertained to smaller parts of the budget.  The top tier--Taxes, E-12, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and Bonding--all remain unsettled.  What most of us hear through the grapevine that winds through the Capitol hallways is that things are close.  Policy items that the Legislature would like to see enacted are clearly a stumbling block as the Governor pretty much wants to stick to numbers and not language.

So with that, I post this musical treat (probably your first in a series) to sum up what a lot of folks are feeling.  We return to Kris Kristofferson's oeuvre from which I plucked a song earlier this session for "Help Me Make It Through the Night."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Slow Ride.  But no one is subscribing to Foghat's advice and taking it easy, but things are moving slowly on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (street on which the Capitol is located) tonight.  Both the House and Senate have returned to the floor and they may take up several budget bills (but not E-12 which is still being worked on).   It appears that a number of policy initiatives seem to be gumming up the works and the Governor is laying most of the blame at the feet of the House of Representatives, saying that he believed the Senate wanted to finish on time, but the House wants to push some policies he simply won't accept.  As per usual, we'll see how this all plays out.  In the meantime, enjoy a video of the still-touring Foghat's biggest hit in footage from 30 years after the song was released.

Here's a link to a MinnPost article on the Governor's veto of the teacher licensure bill:  Teacher licensing overhaul sent back for negotiations after veto. But for teachers in limbo, changes can’t come soon enough 

Speaking of the teacher licensure bill, I inaccurately reported that the bill passed the House on a straight party-line vote and it did not.  3 DFLers--Representatives Mariani, Marquart, and Poppe--voted for the bill and one Republican--Representative Franke--voted against the bill.  At this point, it appears that the contents of HF 140 with some changes may be incorporated into the omnibus E-12 funding and policy bill.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Logjam Breaking?  When I was pondering what to photo to post as a description of today's legislative activity, I thought of this:

But then the afternoon came and indications are that there will be movement on the part of the Legislature and it will be coming soon.  At a 4:15 press conference, legislative leadership outlined the framework of their proposal to the Governor and provided a rough vision of how they will be proceeding from this point forward.  Legislative leadership made it clear that negotiations with the Governor are on-going in hopes that agreements can be reached in the next day that will be agreed to by all parties.  The biggest concession made by the Legislature is in their decision to shave their tax cut proposal by nearly half a billion dollars down to $660 million.  The E-12 target mentioned at the press conference was $467 million, $164 million more than what was in the bill vetoed by the Governor earlier in the session.  A target of $467 million would accommodate a 2% increase on the basic formula in each of the next two years with approximately $90 million left for other initiatives.  Hopefully, the Legislature and the Governor will come to an agreement on helping correct the projected problems with the Teacher Retirement Association outside of the education budget, but the Governor did include $69 million in his budget for that purpose.  There wouldn't be room for much more and it would probably mean a stalemate on early education initiatives.  Too early to tell however.

A point of contention--and it's a pretty big point--is how policy will be handled in the coming negotiations.  The Governor has made it clear he is not particularly interested in policy changes and wants to basically stick to numbers.  The Legislature has a number of initiatives--both inside and outside the education realm--they would like to pass before the session ends.  The biggest education policy initiative pushed by the Legislature has been the teacher licensing changes in HF 140, which was vetoed by the Governor on Thursday.  It will be interesting to see how that issue is handled.  It is doubtful that there would be enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto (takes 91 votes in the House and 45 in the Senate), which would mean the language would have to be incorporated into whatever omnibus education bill that the Legislature would fashion.  Word on the street is the Governor would agree to the teacher licensure changes with a couple changes to the bill, but the mechanics could of getting this all to fit in the next three days could be tricky.

For your musical enjoyment, here's an oldie but goody that will describe the next three days because it's going to be a long train runnin'.  Lots of cars and lots of miles to be covered in 72 hours.

Be prepared for updates!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Governor Vetoes Teacher Licensure Bill.  It's hard to say whether it was a surprise or not.  The debate on HF 140--the bill that would create the Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board and a new tiered-licensure framework for Minnesota teachers--seemed to indicate that there were concerns with the bill from the DFL side and it was never clear if the Commissioner of Education had endorsed the bill.  There will be charges and counter-charges about that, but the bottom line is the Governor vetoed the bill.  Needless to say, the bill's chief authors--Representative Sondra Erickson and Senator Eric Prattt--are not pleased with this outcome and see it as a needless injection of partisan flavor into a non-partisan bill.  The votes in the House have always been pretty much along party lines, but the bill passed the Senate with a number of DFL votes on its original passage prior to the conference committee proceedings.  That number was cut by 5 as the number of DFLers supporting the bill dropped from 7 to 2 on the vote that approved the conference committee report.

Here's the WCCO story on the veto:  Dayton Vetoes Teacher Licensing Overhaul Bill

StarTribune Story:    Education veto, spending disputes mark Legislature's fifth-to-last day

I was trying to a story with quotes from the bill's authors responding to the veto, but the video from the press conference on the House of Representatives media page won't download, so here is a piece from the Senate Republican Caucus homepage that contains quotes from Representative Erickson and Senator Pratt.

Link:  Governor vetoes bipartisan teacher licensure reform bill

Budget Negotiations on a Glacial Pace.  The last few days are looking pretty much like what everyone would have liked to avoid coming into the 2017 session.  With just under 100 hours left before the regular session is required to end, things seem to be at a standstill and it's difficult to know if anyone will blink and if someone blinks, who will blink first.  As in the case of most budget negotiations, the parameters of the discussion are taking up a lot of the discussion.  The Governor contends he is meeting folks halfway; the Legislature disagrees.  The Governor wants bills with little or no policy included; the Legislature disagrees.  One would think there would be a happy (or even an unhappy) medium, but it has yet to be found.  There has been some movement on the second-tier budget bills, but agreement on the big five--taxes, E-12, state departments, transportation, and bonding--likely won't take place until the weekend.

I always like to post a song that describes what's happening in an off-hand (but hopefully respectful) way and the only thing I would come up with today is the Stylistics "Make Up to Break Up," which portrays the yo-yo we are on.  In the morning, there's optimism, but as the day wears on, negotiations seem to break down.  So let's go old school tonight and relax to one of the great Slow Jams of the 1970s (and forget that the special session in 1971--two years before this song was released--last until October).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board Conference Committee Report Passes Legislature; On Way to the Governor.  Both the House and Senate passed HF 140 today on almost straight party-line votes.  I haven't seen the actual roll calls, but it appears that no DFLers voted for the conference committee report in the House and only 2 DFLers voted for the bill in the Senate.  The primary complaint of the DFLers centers around the Tier 1 License category in the proposed tiered licensure framework.  While someone with that license needs a bachelor's degree to teach an academic subject and an associate's degree or industry certification (and five years experience) to teach a career and technical education course, the concern expressed by those who oppose the bill believe that this waters down standards.  There is also some concern about the Tier 3 License as it relates to teachers coming from other states.  The final vote in the House was 76-54 and the vote in the Senate was 36-31.  It will now head to the Governor and it is unclear what he will do with the bill.  The administration has voiced concerns at several junctures in the negotiations, but most were under the impression that those concerns had been assuaged with changes made to the bill during the conference committee proceedings.  That assumption may be in error, however, as a number of DFLers pointed out in their comments today that the administration had not signed off on the bill.  I guess we will wait and see.  It could certainly be a bargaining chip of sorts as the big ticket items are discussed in the coming days.

Here is a link to the conference committee language that was passed today:  HF 140

Negotiations are On!  The Agriculture bill has been agreed to by all parties and that will probably be cleared off the floor tomorrow or Thursday, but that was the smallest of the budget bills and is not controversial.  We'll see how things go from here because until the big furniture comes out of the truck, it's anyone guess as to the timeline for finishing.

In the musical vein, let's hope that the negotiations go like this:

And not like this:

Until tomorrow's update, I'll be watching things unfold.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board Conference Committee Completed.  The conference committee on HF 140--the bill that would create the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board and implement a tiered-licensure framework for Minnesota teacher licenses--completed its work this morning and will now head to the House floor tomorrow.  There weren't a lot of changes made to the bill.  The House's recommendation of an 11-member board prevailed instead of the Senate's nine-member board, but the board's majority will be composed of teachers.  In addition to the six teachers, there will be one superintendent, one principal, one human resources director, one intermediate district or cooperative director, and one member of the general public.  There was late agreement reached on the definition of the Tier 1 license; the new license category that caused the most consternation.  That amendment was added today, so it is not reflected in the document that I have linked below.

One item that hasn't received a lot of attention but is absolutely crucial is the decision by the conference committee to include language that would eliminate the requirement that teachers holding the Academic and Behavioral Specialist (ABS) special education license return to school to receive an "anchor" license in a specific disability category in order to retain their ABS license.  This unnecessary requirement threatened to chase a lot of young teachers out of the profession as the cost of obtaining an additional license could prove to be prohibitive.  The conference committee report also calls for a study of Minnesota's special education licensure framework in hopes of finding ways to provide districts with greater flexibility while maintaining high quality services to children with disabilities.

Here is a link to the bill's language before four amendments were added today.  The amendment that was most substantive pertains to the Tier 1 license.  I will post the final report when it becomes available.

In the meantime, here is the language for the remainder of the legislation:  HF 140 Base Language

The Big Picture.  The Governor stated today that he wants little, if any, policy in the final budget agreement.  There is not a lot of policy in the E-12 bill, but several other omnibus funding bills have a number of policy changes that the Governor opposes.  Negotiations will be resuming tomorrow as Tim Pugmire has reported on the MPR website.  Here is a link to that article:  Dayton, GOP set to resume budget talks

Here's a story from Brian Bakst on what to look for in the last week of the session:  Big bills, little time: what to watch for in the session's last week

More '80's Music!  There is the dancing of politics, and then there's "The Politics of Dancing" by the band Re-Flex (not to be confused with the song "The Reflex" by Duran Duran) from 1984.  Classic dance groove by a band with some big-time mullets.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

196 Hours Left to Go (As I Write This).  We are heading into the home stretch of the 2017 regular legislative session and it's difficult to tell whether a deal will be struck to put the session to bed on schedule.  I think the prospects are actually pretty good that an agreement can be reached on the money side of things.  Most observers believe the tax bill will come down in size and that spending will go up in a number of the budget bills.  Transportation looks to be the biggest hurdle in that department as bridging the funding gap is as much about methods of funding as amount of funding.  Bonding will also present a considerable challenge.  I don't want to make this sound like this is going to be the proverbial walk in the park with everything tied up with a neat bow by next Monday evening, but wider chasms have been closed over the years.  I think the big advantage is that the Legislature did pass its funding bills early this year and even with the expected veto of all of them, there's still a fair amount of time to get things done.  Will everyone be satisfied with the results?  I can't believe I just asked that question.  This could be a session when everyone goes home a bit on the dissatisfied side of things.

TRA Update.  The TRA fix was pulled out of the pension bill on Thursday, but that doesn't mean it is dead by any stretch of the imagination.  Chief author Senator Julie Rosen moved to take the provision out of the omnibus pension bill in the Senate Finance Committee with the intent of working on a solution with Senator Sandy Pappas and attaching that solution to the omnibus pension bill on the Senate floor early in the week.  The provision in the Senate bill called for an increased employee contribution in addition to an increased employer contribution and a permanent downward adjustment in the COLA for TRA pensions.  The recommendation brought forward by TRA had no increase in the employee contribution and a five-year reduction in the COLA after which it would go up again.  One thing to watch on this issue is where the money will come from.  There is concern that the employer share would come from the E-12 target and could possibly impinge on the ability to increase the basic formula any further than it is in the current legislative package (1.5% per year).  The Governor did have $69 million over the biennium to cover a portion of the increased employer share along with a 2% increase in the basic formula over the next two years, but it's important to remember he made those recommendations within a $700 million-plus budget target and we likely won't reach that level of spending for E-12 in the final budget negotiations.  So, 

There Will Be Rumors!  The next week with be a rumor-o-rama and in that spirit, let's go back to the 1980s and listen to that awesome hit by Banarama "I Heard a Rumor."  What a song!  Rest assured, I will keep you in my circle of trust as the rumors began to bounce around.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Teacher Licensure Conference Committee Meets.  The conference committee on HF 140--the bill that would create the new Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board--met briefly this morning, largely to take testimony from stakeholders on elements in each bill that they either liked or found concerning.  Action on the bill is not imminent and there is concern both from Education Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Education about the proposed Tier 1 license that would open up eligibility to teach for a number of candidates without a teaching license (and in some cases without a baccalaureate degree).  For my part, I voiced support for the provision in the Senate bill that would eliminate the requirement that teachers holding an Academic and Behavioral Strategist (ABS) license obtain an anchor license in a disability category by the five-year mark in their teaching career in order to retain the ABS license.  I also mentioned the Senate provision that would study the Minnesota's current array of special education licenses and find ways to create greater flexibility while ensuring teachers are receiving the training they need to effectively meet the needs of students with barriers to learning.

Not much else happened today.  A member of the Senate majority had a family emergency and with their one-vote margin eliminated, passing any major budget or tax legislation would have been impossible without getting a vote from the minority.  Put bluntly, impossible.  Bills will be moving off the Senate floor shortly and to the Governor for his promised veto.  When the dust settles, we'll have a week to put everything to bed, but there's no assurance that we'll get things to bed or that they won't wake up after they are put there.

Some finger-pointing and invective have made their way into the fray, so I urge everyone to relax and listen to this golden oldie from Kris Kristofferson and his drawling baritone on "Who's to Bless and Who's to Blame."  It kind of sums up the feeling around the Capitol these days and who one blesses or blames will likely depend on the color of your jersey, but just lie back and enjoy.  Anyway, did you know Kristofferson was a Rhodes Scholar, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and an Army helicopter pilot who successfully completed Ranger training?  Well, now you do.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

We Are At Loggerheads.  Any trace of optimism that was present last week has evaporated over the past 24 hours with the Legislature's decision to pass its conference committee reports and send them to the Governor for what is expected to be a rapid-fire series of vetoes.  

I don't know how many of you follow baseball that closely, but one element of hitting that is now measured is exit velocity, which clocks the speed of the ball off of the bat when a hitter successfully makes contact. In a tortured analogy, the Legislature will be tossing some pitches at the Governor and those pitches will come flying back through the box at record speed when the Governor swings his veto bat.  While that doesn't put us back at square one, it certainly does absorb time (and perhaps good feelings) and with less than two weeks left in the regular session, this development is unfortunate.

So now we enter into the next phase of what was expected all session:  a funding and policy tug-of-war.  It is difficult to know exactly how budget negotiations will ensue.  Some discussions took place over the weekend, but the process obviously didn't go that well, which influenced the Legislature's actions.  If one is dispassionate, it is easy to see where the compromises will be struck.  The size of the Legislature's proposed tax cut will likely come down and the spending for a variety of the budget areas will likely go up.  The pertinent question is to what degree both of those gears will turn as the Legislature and Governor try to come to final agreements prior to the May 22 regular session adjournment date.

As the tax bill was woken up (and quickly put back to bed) this morning, there was a change to the debt service provision that is part of the Legislature's tax proposal.  When the report was first adopted last week, the debt service equalization was a one-year provision that lowered the eligibility threshold for the program to 10% of tax effort and hiked the state participation rate on the first tier of equalization to 87% of the state average ANTC.  The change made to the bill would expand it to a two-year program, with the eligibility threshold staying at 10% of tax effort and the state participation rate set at 75% of the state average ANTC.  The framework in the conference committee report reflects the framework in the Senate bill with an extra year added.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that I hope the provision is made permanent as discussions on the tax bill continue in negotiations with the Governor.  While the legislative approach concentrates on delivering the relief through the first tier of equalization and the Governor targets his relief on the second tier, there is room for an agreement.  What the heck, I say add the two approaches together.  I'll even print the money needed in my basement if it comes to that.  Seriously, we're on the cusp of getting a considerable increase in debt service equalization for the first time in over two decades, so it's up to us to help push it through and make it permanent.

As I am writing this entry, the Senate has passed the E-12 conference committee report on a party-line vote of 34-32.  Earlier in the evening, the House passed the report on a vote of 75-54, which also followed party lines.

I will keep you posted as to what is happening as things unfold.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

What is Up at the Legislature Today?  Try to figure this one out.

Stumped?  The Capital Investments (Bonding) conference committee is slated to be approve its "Bond" "ING" "Bill" agreement this afternoon.  Here is the link to the bill for those of you who are interested.  Capital Investment Committee Page.  Documents are in the right-hand column under the upcoming meetings header.

No news on the education front.  I am expecting that the conference committee on the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board will meet later this week to iron out differences that exist between the bills and assuage concerns expressed by the Commissioner of Education.  

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Soup's On!

In the spirit of my earlier post today, we have been served our soup.  Some will say it's a delicious potage with an alluring aroma.  Others will say it's pretty thin broth.  What folks think right at this moment doesn't matter a whole lot, because this is what the Legislature has constructed and we now wait upon the Governor's response.

It is unclear what the Legislature's approach will be at this point.  Earlier in the week, it appeared that the Legislature would come together with agreements on the tax and budget bills by today (and for the most part, they have), pass them to the Governor, and await his likely veto.  I don't know how many of you follow the growing deep stats movement in baseball, but there is now a measurement labelled exit velocity, which measures the speed of the ball off the bat.  From all indications, if the Legislature pitched these bills to the Governor, the exit velocity on the veto would approach the speed of light.  Today, it appears the Legislature is trying to engage the Governor in serious budget talks before they pass the bills in hopes of striking a grand bargain that will bring the 2017 regular session to a close by its constitutionally-mandated adjournment date of 11:59:59.99 PM on Monday, March 22, and eliminate the need for a special session.

Here are the highlights (or lowlights depending on your vantage point) of the bill:

  • $303 million overall budget target, which is slightly above the Senate's $300 million budget target and the House's target in the $280 million range.
  • 1.5% increase in the basic formula in each year of the biennium.  Amounts are $6,158 per pupil unit for 2017-18 and $6,249 per pupil unit for 2018-19.
  • Repeal of Governor's voluntary pre-kindergarten program.  Current participants are held harmless permanently with an increase in the school readiness formula attributable to their district to replace loss of revenue due to drop in pupil unit numbers.
  • $19 million increase in early childhood scholarship program.
  • Closing of Perpich Center for Arts Education.
  • $4.9 million biennial cut to the Minnesota Department of Education.
  • $3 million cut in ACT reimbursement program.
  • Grants, grants, grants, including:

  1. $250,000 for summer agricultural education programs.
  2. $500,000 for Rock 'n' Read.
  3. $500,000 ($250,000 per year) for AP/IB STEM programs.
  4. $750,000 for Alternative Teacher Preparation.
  5. $3 million for Rural Career and Technical Education Pilot.
  6. $1 million for the Sanneh Foundation.
  7. $4.9 million for mental health grants to the intermediate districts.
  8. $1.1 million for the parent-child home visiting program.
  9. $500,000 for teacher shortage loan forgiveness.
  10. $960,000 for the expansion of education partnerships.
And more.

More important than what is in the bill is what is missing from the Governor's budget recommendations.  I've already talked about the repeal of the voluntary pre-kindergarten program, but the Governor was asking for an increase of nearly $160 million in the program.

Other Governor's initiatives not pursued include:

  • A one-half percentage point difference in the Governor's recommendation for the basic formula increase and what the Legislature is proposing.
  • $69 million to school districts to help rectify the shortfall in the Teachers Retirement Association pension fund.
  • The $40 million the Governor had added to special education formula.

Here is the link to the House committee page that contains the conference committee report and the spreadsheets associated with the bill.  House Education Funding Committee Page.  The links to the documents are found on the Upcoming Meetings section on the far right column of the page.

Where things go from here is anyone's guess.  Much will depend on if and when the Governor becomes directly involved in the budget negotiations.  That could happen as early as tomorrow.  I will let everyone know as soon as I do.

Still Waiting.

I took this selfie in the committee room waiting for the conference committee to return.  I was clean-shaven this morning.  Man, I'm starting to look like Henrik Ibsen!

Seriously, conference committee is reportedly wrapped up and bill is being constructed.  Having been involved in the construction of a bill of this size earlier in my career, it requires pain-staking attention to detail so it's no surprise that it is taking a bit longer than expected.  Conference committee is slated to convene at 5 PM.  I will report on the contents of the bill as soon as they become available.

Stay tuned.
We're in Line, but . . .

With apologies in advance to the education conference committee members and everyone laboring devotedly on the E-12 funding and policy bill, I couldn't resist putting up this little video.  It won't be a year (as in the video), but it looks like another hour or so before the conference committee will convene and we anxious types get our soup.  Until then, uh, all you Seinfeld fans know the line.

Thanks to the legislators and staff who are working diligently on this bill.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Feats of Daring and Agility.  It's that time of the legislative session when one wonders whether the apt analogy would be:

Balancing Plates


Juggling Chainsaws

There is a lot going on and with three weeks to go in the 2017 regular legislative session there needs to be a lot going on.  The legislature is doing a good job of getting its initial entrees to the Governor ready, but all indications are that the Governor is going to veto almost all, if not all, of the budget-related bills and the tax bill.

Monday began with a discussion of the Senate and House versions of HF 140, the bill that would create the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board and the tiered licensure framework that would clarify the requirements to be a classroom teacher in Minnesota and the training necessary for those who hold a license in one of the tiers to retain a Minnesota teaching license.  Testimony was taken from Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius, current Board of Teaching Executive Director Erin Doan, and Nels Onsted and Debbie O'Dell from the Minnesota Department of Education Licensing Division.

There is bipartisan support for this bill, but questions remain about tier one licenses, which would not require a bachelor's degree under the bill and the timeline for transferring the current duties split between the Board of Teaching and the Minnesota Department of Education to the new board.

The E-12 budget and policy conference committee was slated to meet this afternoon, but did not meet.  Instead, the conference committee will meet tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 10 AM.

The tax conference committee did meet and they have released the framework of their bill.  The documents can be found here.  Go to the right hand column under attachments to view the spreadsheet and the bill language:  HF 4 Documents

There is good news in the tax bill for low property wealth school districts and districts with high concentrations of agricultural property.  The Ag Bond Credit that has been part of the last two tax bills (both vetoed) is in the bill once again.  Under this provision, 40% of the property taxes on agricultural property attributable to local school district debt service is reduced through a direct-to-taxpayer tax credit.  The other provision that is helpful is an increase in the debt service equalization program.  There is good news and bad news here.  The good news is it provides approximately $30 million in property tax relief to low property wealth school districts.  The bad news is that it is a one-year provision. 

There is a difference between the Governor's approach on debt service and the Legislature's.  The Governor works from the top down by reducing the second tier eligibility level, making more of the debt service levy in districts with high levels of debt service effort subject to the higher second tier equalizing factor and delivering tax relief to those districts.  The legislative approach drops the first tier eligibility threshold and hikes the equalizing factor on the first tier.  This makes more districts eligible to receive assistance through the program while still delivering considerable relief to districts with high levels of tax effort.

I'll be back tomorrow with another update.  Things should be moving fast on the budget bills.  It is still unclear whether the Legislature will send the Governor bills and have them vetoed or if the Governor will enter into direct negotiations this week in hopes of striking a broad agreement on tax and budget issues.  Stay tuned. 

Error!  When I was a mere lad on the baseball field, if I committed a fielding miscue, I would always stare at my glove as if to blame it for my meager abilities on the diamond.  I would blame my calculator for not getting the conference committee E-12 target correct, but I'm afraid it was the operator who was going too fast and not checking his work.  It appears that the E-12 target for the conference committee is the $300 million proposed by the Senate and not the $256 million I stated yesterday.  That target still doesn't get us to 2% and 2% increases on the basic formula and it will be interesting to see how the money shakes out.  We will know later this afternoon when the conference committee meets and it may be that the entire bill is rolled out at that point.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, here's a video that encapsulates my feelings about my miscue.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Let the Games Begin!  Well, hardly games, but let's say gamesmanship.  The Legislature announced its budget targets on Friday and they are vastly different in terms of amounts and priorities than what the Governor proposed.  The big sticking point will be the amount of revenue the Legislature has earmarked for tax cuts, which is their top priority with a price tag of $1.15 billion.  The E-12 budget target comes in at $1.14 billion, but remember that includes the $884 million that is part of the biennium-to-biennium base increases which are automatic and stem from pupil growth, an increase in the special education base due to the inflator in the formula, and the full phase-in of the Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue Program.  From this calculation, it would appear that the "above base" budget target for the E-12 conference committee is $256 million, which is closer to the House target than the Senate's.  What this will mean in actual program changes is anyone's guess, but one cannot get to the 1.5% increase in each year of the coming biennium proposed in the Senate bill with this target without greatly reducing revenue from some other program.

The E-12 conference committee will be meeting tomorrow (Monday) at 3 PM and I would guess that the conference committee will conclude its work in the next day or so.  It is hoped that all of the budget and tax bills will reach the Governor by the end of the week for their likely veto.  If that is indeed the course of events, negotiations with the Governor will begin in earnest by the end of the week and if there is a stare-down, we may be at this beyond the May 22 constitutionally-mandated adjournment date for the regular session.

Here is a story from the House information web site regarding the legislative budget targets.  The article contains links to the press conferences by the majority and minority caucuses:

House, Senate agree to budget targets — now seek common ground with governor

Here is an MPR story that outlines the Governor's concerns over the size of the tax cut:

Politics Friday: Dayton says GOP plan cuts too much in taxes

The conference committee on the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board will begin its proceedings tomorrow (Monday) morning.  There is not a great deal of difference in the versions of the bill and that conference committee may wrap up its work with great dispatch.  One of the reasons (and this is conjecture, but a lot is conjecture at this point so I'm just joining the party) this bill is having a separate conference committee instead of being folded into the E-12 conference committee is that if there is a break down in the budget negotiations, this bill will still be able to pass and (hopefully) become law.

So, in the spirit of the upcoming chain of events, here's some inspiring music for some Olympic-sized negotiations.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Shifting Gears.  No meeting of the E-12 conference committee today, but there has been a bit of a change in how things will unfold from this point forward in the education realm.  HF 140/SF 4--the bill that would establish the Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board--will now travel separately and will not be a part of the negotiations over the remainder of E-12 funding and policy.  The Senate had folded this legislation into its version of the omnibus E-12 funding and policy bill while the House did not.  Last week, the decision was made for the Senate to pass its version of the bill separately (the House had passed it last month).  There are enough differences in the bills so that there will be a conference committee that will likely begin its work next week.

The E-12 conference committee is slated to meet tomorrow at 1 PM in Room 200 of the State Office Building.

In other news, Representative Jenifer Loon, chair of the House Education Funding Committee, held a press conference today to tout the House's position on early childhood scholarships.

Here is the video of that press conference.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Race is On.  Conference committee season kicked off today and there was a lot of presentation of side-by-side comparisons between the House and Senate bills across a broad range of tax and budget areas.  The E-12 budget and conference committee included testimony from Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.  Her main messages were:  (1) the legislative budget target is way too low to provide Minnesota families and school districts what they need, and (2) the decision by the House to repeal the Governor's voluntary all-day pre-kindergarten program is unwise and would unfairly penalize those districts currently participating in the program.  It should make for a spirited discussion as the conference committee puts together its bill to send to the Governor.  It will be interesting to see if the Legislature sends bills to the Governor and have them meet a likely veto or begin their negotiations in earnest with the Governor prior to the bills reaching the legislative floor.

The tax committee did not take testimony, but made it through most of the side-by-side comparison.  The sheer size and scope of the tax bill requires a lot of time to present.

Both conference committees are slated to meet again tomorrow.  The E-12 conference committee will be discussing the teacher licensing changes that emanate from the legislative task force that met last summer while the tax conferees will continue working through their side-by-side comparison.

In keeping with today's title, here's the late great George Jones singing one of his biggest hits:

We Have Lift-Off.  The conference committees for the E-12 and Tax bills have been named and I'm relatively certain that the e-mail inboxes of the members named to these bodies are going to be chock full of messages for the next couple of weeks (including a few from me so I'm hoping their spam filter has been suitably relaxed).  It will likely be a hectic couple of weeks because I'm guessing that the Legislature would like to get all the spending bills to the Governor with at least two weeks left before the regular session's Constitutionally-mandated adjournment date of May 22.

Here are the members of each of the conference committees.  I have made their name into a hyperlink that connects to their legislative page, which includes contact information.

HF 890--Omnibus E-12 Funding and Policy Bill

House Members

Senate Members

HF 4--Omnibus Tax Bill

House Members

Senate Members

And so, we have lift-off.  I'll be in my orbiter circling both of these conference committees.  I urge all SEE members to contact the members of these conference committees with polite messages supporting education funding adequacy and taxpayer fairness.