Thursday, March 16, 2017

Early Childhood Discussion Goes Late.  Well, not that late, but the discussion of a number of bills related to early childhood comprised the first real night education-related committee meeting of the session.  At the risk of making light of the discussion, I'll say that in history there has been the War of the Roses, the American Civil War, and the Peloponnesian War, but what has been brewing at the Minnesota Legislature over the past decade is the War over Early Childhood Paradigms.  One side is largely on the side of school-based or school-administered programs and programs administered through the Department of Human Services while the other side is skeptical of that approach and would like to go toward a parent-choice scholarship program.  I have oversimplified the case, but support and opposition on the bills discussed tonight seem to break along those lines.  Two of the bills--HF 1491 and HF 2259--presented tonight are authored by House Education Finance Chair Jenifer Loon so it is obvious they will have traction.  HF 1491 would expand eligibility and eliminate the individual scholarship dollar cap for Pathway 1 scholarships down to birth and would eliminate Pathway 2 scholarships entirely.  That would certainly put a lot of school-based programs that use the Pathway 2 scholarships at risk.  HF 2259 would create a new agency that would handle all early childhood programs.  Proponents believe that putting all of the early childhood programs under one roof would promote efficiency and allow analysts to determine which programs are working best.  They also believe that providing more parent choice will help narrow the programs to those with the highest level of need.  Opponents believe that the current framework of programs--patchwork though it may appear--provides flexibility to school districts and other service providers and that combining the programs may lead to a system that won't meet the needs of a broad range of students.  Representative Ron Kresha's HF 1997 contains elements of HF 1491 and the home-visiting program contained in Representative Loon's HF 1801.  Representative Julie Sandstede's HF 1684, which increases funding for the school readiness program was also heard.

The rest of the committee time was dedicated to bills relating to alternative teacher licensure (HF 1663-Chief Author Representative Sondra Erickson), increasing the use of third-party billing for special education evaluation services (HF 1338-Chief Author Representative Paul Thissen), increasing the reimbursement for school lunches (HF 1217-Chief Author Representative Deb Kiel), and a bill modifying the regional public library funding formula (HF 1382-Chief Author Representative Bud Nornes).

Representative Steve Drazkowski's HF 654 was also heard.  Representative Drazkowski has tried to limit the dates on which school districts can hold bond and capital project elections and HF 654 states that districts can only go to the voters on election day in the even- or odd-numbered years.  In previous years, Representative Drazkowski's proposals attempted to limit it further to election years in even-numbered years only.  The bill also provides for a reverse referendum where voters could vote to reduce levies implemented by the school board.

Legislative Auditor's Report on Standardized Student Testing Released.  The House Education Innovation Policy Committee heard a presentation by the Office of the Legislative Auditor on their recent report on standardized testing.  In sum, the report gives the Minnesota Department of Education high marks in the administration of the program, but the report questions the value of standardized testing.  Here is a link to the report's page with links to the report's executive summary and text of the full report.

Office of the Legislative Auditor Report on Standardized Student Testing

LIFO Bill Passes House.  On a vote of 71-59, the House of Representatives passed HF 1478, the bill that would change how layoffs would be implemented at the district level.  Basically, seniority would no longer be the determinant in making staffing decisions when cuts are made.  Because the bill went to the floor on its own, it's difficult to discern the next step.  The bill has not been heard in the Senate, so it's dead on that side of University Avenue, but the House could put it in its version of the omnibus education bill.  Even if it is included in the final omnibus bill, it would likely be greeted with a veto by the Governor.

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