Monday, March 27, 2017

The Bills are Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' Out.  No Clint Eastwood herding the bill ala "Rawhide," but the Senate E-12 Funding Division rolled out its version of the omnibus education funding and policy bill this afternoon.  Like the House bill, the target falls well short of the Governor's, but unlike the House bill, it's a very straightforward bill that doesn't seek to repeal current programs, de-link a lot of formulas, or implement broad new initiatives.  Instead, the bill puts money on the formula at 1.5%, directs an estimated $10 million to helping districts absorb the correction in the Teacher Retirement Association shortfall, increases funding for the Minnesota Reading and Math Corps, and a modest funding increase for the Early Childhood Scholarship program.  Along with funding for a set of isolated grant programs, it all adds up to the Senate Republican budget target of $300 million plus another $10 million that is expected to be generated from the sale of the Crosswinds Arts and Science Magnet School.

That's not to say this bill is bereft of any reform or new initiatives.  It's just that education funding and policy bills of recent vintage have been chock full of all kinds of programs and policy changes that inflate the bill to the size where one needs a figurative forklift to haul it around.  The bill expands on the reading at grade level by the end of third grade initiative that has been discussed over the past few years and contains the entirety of SF 4, Senator Eric Pratt's bill that establishes the Professional Educator Standards and Licensing Board.  The teacher licensure article also contains language that would eliminate the requirement that teachers holding an Academic and Behavioral Strategist (ABS) license take additional credits to maintain their license and instructs the newly-minted board to study Minnesota's current array of special education licenses to gauge for overlap.  The shortage of special education teachers has reached epic proportions and any measures undertaken to alleviate that shortage are needed.

Unlike the House bill that repeals the Governor's voluntary pre-kindergarten program, the Senate bill leaves it alone.  It does not embrace the $175 million the Governor has provided for the program in his budget recommendations, but that provision is left untouched in the Senate bill.  In her testimony, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius pointed out her disappointment that several items of importance to the Governor were missing from the bill, but there's no question that the Senate bill is less confrontational to the Governor than the House bill is.

The bill is slated for mark-up tomorrow morning, but it's difficult to envision many earth-shattering amendments being offered.  The House bill rankled a number of DFL members of the House Education Funding Committee with the de-linking of the compensatory formula from the basic formula and the deep-sixing of the voluntary pre-kindergarten program, but with policies like that absent from the Senate bill, it's difficult to see what amendments would promote and where they would take money from to fund the proposals would come from.  After that, the bill needs to head to the Senate Tax Committee (probably Thursday) and the Senate Finance Committee (probably Friday).  Both the House and Senate bills will be on the floor early next week.

Stay tuned.

Federal Rumblings.  President Trump signed the Congressional Review Act today and when it takes effect, two provisions relating to teacher preparation and teacher performance will be repealed.  There hasn't been a lot of talk about how the new administration will pursue some of its stated educational goals, most notably school choice and charter school promotion (which is understandable given the attention given to health care policy with tax policy on deck), but today's action marks the return to state jurisdiction a handful of policies.

Here is an article from US News and World Report on the policy changes:  Trump Signs Legislation Rolling Back Obama-era Regulations.

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