Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Budget News Good!  Minnesota's financial outlook remains solid with the state's projected bottom line moving up another $250 million with the February forecast.  It's difficult to know what this means.  Most majority legislators see it as an opportunity for more tax cuts.  A number of legislators are urging caution, especially given the uncertainty of what will happen at the Federal level.  Me?  More equalization please!

The Governor will likely release a revised budget proposal and the Legislature will set its budget targets in the next week.  Stay tuned.

Here's a link to the February forecast page at Minnesota Management and Budget:  February Forecast

Wall to Wall Committees.  All three education-related committees met today and it was a long day of testimony.  The day started in the House Education Innovation Policy Committee with "everyone to the LIFO boats!" with the discussion of HF 1478, Representative Jenifer Loon's bill that would provide school districts with greater flexibility in instructional staffing decisions.  This is at least the fourth time in the past decade when this bill has received serious discussion, but the Governor has always vetoed this provision or refused to have it in the final conference committee report (under the threat that he would veto the entire bill).  I would expect that this will once again be part of the House's omnibus bill, but there is no Senate companion as of this writing.  The committee also heard Representative Kelly Fenton's HF 547, a bill that would move administrative responsibility for the Federal Child and Adult Care Food Program from the Minnesota Department of Education to the Minnesota Department of Health.  Representative Randy Jessup's HF 1398 was also heard.  HF 1398 would change the terminology for the GED to "Commissioner-selected High School Equivalency."  Last but not least was Representative Dean Urdahl's HF 149; a bill that would create an education funding task force.  I testified in favor of Representative Urdahl's bill for several reasons.  First, it seems that every time there is an education funding task force (and there has certainly been a few of those), some progress is made toward greater adequacy and equity in funding.  Second, I think the bevy of overlapping and confusing education funding formulas we now have is too complex and it's time to clean the barnacles off the hull of the SS Education Funding.

The House Education Finance Committee heard HF 1476, Representative Bob Dettmer's bill to fund the MN Starbase program.  The MN Starbase program is a comprehensive and rigorous science and engineering program that is jointly funded by the state and the Department of Defense.  The committee then turned to HF 1289.  This bill is authored by Representative (and House Education Innovation Policy Chair) Sondra Erickson and encourages schools to make certain students know about the availability of AP and IB courses.  Lastly, the committee got to hear a real treat in the testimony of Alicia Robinson, a Minneapolis South and University of Minnesota graduate who now works for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration.  Robinson's testimony was inspiring and she provided a lot of input regarding how to get inner city students--both boys and girls--interested in math and science courses.

The Senate E-12 Policy Committee also heard Ms. Robinson's testimony leading of its hearing.  It then turned to SF 1061, Senator Steve Cwodzinski's bill that would require a one-half credit course in civics in order for a student to graduate.  Senator Cwodzinski is a retired civics teacher, and like Representative Dean Urdahl in the House, he has a passion for the teaching of civics and government and sees it as crucial for a truly educated citizenry.  It is difficult to say what will happen going forward, but it did not seem that the committee is willing to add another required course credit to the curriculum.  Senator Franzen's SF 264 was next up.  This bill would require school districts to implement certain STEM programs with grants they receive under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Senator Wiger's SF 333, a bill that would require all students take a nationally-normed college entrance examination in order to graduate was the next bill heard.  The final bill was Senator (and Senate E-12 Finance Chair) Carla Nelson's SF 953, the Senate companion to Representative Randy Jessup's 1398, which was also heard today.

SEE Days at the Capitol.  It's been great to see so many folks participating in our SEE Days at the Capitol.  Deb Griffiths does such a great job putting these days together and this year's excursions appear to be especially well-attended.  I've been able to sit in on a couple of the legislative visits and it's always great to see SEE members provide real-life examples of the challenges faced by low property wealth school districts.  So thanks to all for making these visits a success!

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