Friday, August 17, 2018

Great Meeting in Lindstrom (can't find the umlaut) Last Night.  The Chisago County Board has taken an increasing interest in education and last night they hosted a meeting of local school districts (Chisago Lakes, Forest Lake, North Branch, Rush City, and the St. Croix River Education District) to discuss some possibilities for improved funding for districts in the area.  Each of the districts in attendance falls below the state average in terms of per pupil revenue and the fact that Chisago County is a low property wealth county complicates matters as it is difficult for these districts to pass voter-approved referenda to make up the difference where state revenue falls short.

Deb Griffiths gave her school finance presentation and I urge all SEE members to take advantage of the opportunity to have Deb out to provide your community with this information.  It is clear and concise and shows how school districts throughout the state with few exceptions constantly find themselves behind the funding eight-ball.  It works in multiple venues and Deb's experience in giving the presentation to audiences beyond the school board setting makes it an ideal way for districts to give communities as a whole a better understanding of the funding challenges faced by school districts.

It is truly great to see the Chisago County Board joining the education funding debate and pledging its support to remedying funding and property tax inequities that plague so many members of SEE.  For my part, I want to encourage SEE members to explore the possibility of working with your city councils and county boards and see if synergies like the one happening in Chisago County are possible in your area.

Another Loss to the America's Cultural Mosaic.  Most of you know I'm quite the music fan, having grown up in the 1960's with my transistor radio next to my ear.  Like many of you, I was saddened by the news yesterday of the death of Aretha Franklin.  In honor of The Queen of Soul, here's a great video clip of her in high-powered action.  

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Belated Tribute to Barbara Baker.  

There are very few people still involved with SEE whose service dates back to the era when Barbara Baker was leading the organization.  Back in 1979, Barbara's management company--Baker Research & Consulting--ran the organization and run it she did.  I first met Barbara when I was on Senate Education Committee staff in the late-1980s and I had the pleasure working for her in my first years as a lobbyist in the early-1990s.  To say Barbara was a tenacious advocate for the cause of funding equity understates the case.  She never raised her voice, but she always got her point across firmly and politely.  Barbara was at the helm when the members of SEE (then known as the Association for Stable or Growing School Districts--ASGSD) comprised the plaintiffs in the Skeen v. Minnesota lawsuit and that was an extremely arduous task and one she performed with her usual aplomb.  That effort was an organizational challenge, but Barbara saw the organization through the successful district court decision (in which the plaintiffs won) and the subsequent reversal by the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The day the Supreme Court decision came down, Barbara was disappointed, but refused to sulk.  The same day we had a press statement ready to go and managed somehow to maintain control over discussion of the issue.  No small task, but there was no task that Barbara found too daunting.

On a personal note, I know I wouldn't be where I am today without Barbara and ASGSD taking a chance on me.  Barbara provided me with a lot of guidance on the how-to's of lobbying.  I had an extensive background in the legislative process and a pretty good handle of education finance when I was brought on board, but I lacked the finesse that a good lobbyist needs to succeed and Barbara served as a mentor in helping me acquire those skills.  I will never forget when Barbara and I were meeting with a high-ranking official in Governor Carlson's office to discuss his line-item veto of the first debt service equalization appropriation.  I attempted to explain what we were trying to accomplish when the official stopped me and said something to the effect "Well, that's socialism."  In my younger days, I could go from zero-to-sixty in the spirited debate department and, after the initial shock of the statement, I was about to blow up.  Barbara could see the steam coming out of my ears and before I could say anything, she took control of the conversation and, as was her style, calmly disagreed with the official.  We left the meeting in good shape and afterwards had a good laugh about how I had avoided an embarrassing, and perhaps damaging, situation.  It was one of the many lessons I learned from working with Barbara.

It's not just me that benefited from Barbara's expertise and ability.  People are surprised to learn that the MSBA Delegate Assembly would almost break out in riots--rhetorical and otherwise--when the Skeen lawsuit was in court.  The lawsuit divided school districts in a lot of ways and there were tons of hotly-contested resolutions that were specific and which had winners and losers in terms of the proposed policy effects.  Barbara worked the floor of those sessions and was a magnificent vote-counter.  Those efforts helped keep the equity issue front-and-center in the education funding debate and whatever progress we have made over the almost 40 years that SEE has been in existence are built on the foundation that Barbara and the early SEE pioneers carefully and firmly laid in place.

Here is a link to Barbara's obituary from the StarTribune:  Barbara Anne (Brooke) Baker Obituary

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Enough Goofin' Around!  I haven't blogged since the end of the legislative session and yesterday's primary election provides a great opportunity to start it up again.

The surprise in from yesterday's results came in the Republican gubernatorial race.  Most pundits thought the former Governor Tim Pawlenty would win his match-up with Hennepin County Commissioner and 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson and some thought Pawlenty would win quite handily.  The problem with picking primary winners is that with turnout levels much lower than the general election, a particularly motivated block of voters can turn the election.  The Republican party has done quite well over the past couple of decades in getting their endorsed candidate through the primary election successfully.  On the other hand, this is the second consecutive time that the DFL has not gotten its endorsed candidate for Governor to the general election (not counting Governor Dayton's 2014 re-election effort as a sitting incumbent).  I wish I knew for reason for the difference.

For my part, I told many (and the SEE legislative committee is my set of witnesses) that I would be surprised, but not shocked, if Commissioner Johnson defeated former Governor Pawlenty.  Yesterday's result reminded me of the 1990 Republican primary election when endorsed candidate Jon Grunseth was pitted against Arne Carlson.  Carlson went straight to the primary as the moderate alternative, foregoing the endorsement battle that featured Grunseth against David Printy in which Grunseth prevailed.  Carlson was the prohibitive favorite in the primary, with most polls showing him with a comfortable lead (some polls showed him with a lead of nearly twenty points), but, like yesterday, the Republican voters rallied behind the endorsed candidate to put him into the general election . . . but not quite as all of you will recall that a scandal removed Grunseth from the ticket, where he was replaced by Carlson and Carlson defeated incumbent Rudy Perpich to become Governor.  On primary evening in 1990, I remember (having had the opportunity to be in an election night "war room" in what now seems like the horse-and-buggy days of politics) the look on Carlson's face when asked how things were going as the early returns were coming in and realizing (as I had seen that face on other politicians in the past) that things weren't going to turn out well for him.  As an aside, campaigns pick a set of precincts as their target precincts to gauge their chances at success.  There is a science to picking target precincts and if they are chosen accurately, the candidates generally know how they are faring early in the vote tabulation process.  There can still be surprises, but that type of methodology is usually dead on and it likely was again last night.

In yesteday's Morning Take, publisher Blois Olson highlighted the First Congressional District as one to watch.  He conjectured that if State Senator Carla Nelson fared well in her challenge to GOP-endorsed Jim Hagedorn, it may be a harbinger of a similar success for Pawlenty.  Like the statewide GOP primary, Hagedorn prevailed by an almost 2-to-1 margin and while Johnson's victory over Pawlenty didn't reach that level, it was an indication that Republican voters were pretty much going along with their endorsed candidates.

From my perspective, two other elements contributed to Pawlenty's coming up short.  Because the DFL was anticipating a Pawlenty victory, much of the advertising by each candidate tied Pawlenty to policies he pursued during his time as Governor.  While those policies were supported by Republicans, Pawlenty needed to bring other folks to the polls in order to go over the top and the ads probably blunted enthusiasm for another Pawlenty term.  Which leads to the second point, which is (being a bit glib), the "third time is not the charm."  Minnesotans seem to have an aversion to giving Governors a third term, as (again channeling 1990) Rudy Perpich found out.

The DFL side of the night had a lot more drama given events of the last month.  Early polls showed a tight race between Attorney General Lori Swanson and First District Congressman Tim Walz with endorsed candidate Erin Murphy lagging behind.  As I stated earlier, a motivated voting bloc can make all the difference and while Murphy had trouble raising money to get ads on the air until late in the game while both Swanson and Walz had ads on shortly after the DFL state convention.  Murphy's campaign picked up steam as the primary approached, but there was just too much ground to pick up to overtake Walz.  I was somewhat surprised that Swanson fell into third place by the margin that she did, but (and this is getting to be a theme) the voting blocs in primaries can be quite fluid.

As we look toward to the general election, it's important to note that turnout on the DFL side was considerably higher than on the GOP side yesterday.  Some may attribute that to energy on the DFL side emanating from opposition to President Trump.  A word of caution needs to be injected, because in 2010 DFL turnout was similarly higher than on the Republican side and it turned out to be a wave election for the Republicans.  Like this year, 2010 featured a hotly-contested race between DFL-endorsed candidate Margaret Anderson-Kelliher and Mark Dayton.  Dayton narrowly won the general election over then-State Representative (now Congressman) Tom Emmer.  It is tempting to extrapolate general election projections from primary results, but it is a dicey proposition.  One thing to remember is that the party that holds the Presidency usually (but not always) has a difficult time with mid-term elections, which the Obama Administration faced in 2010 and 2014.  DFLers appear to have more energy this year and we will have to see if that translates into general election results and what those results are.

Good to be back on the blog scene.  Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Wha' Happened?

That's what a lot of folks are asking after the Legislature adjourned for the biennium last evening just before midnight.  The Legislature did finish its work, sending the Governor a tax/school safety bill, a supplemental budget bill, a bonding bill, and a pension bill and the fate of each of those bills now lies with the Governor.

The Governor did veto the tax bill the first time through and with the threat of the veto looming over the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill, the Legislature decided to attach a $50 million appropriation to the vetoed tax bill (with minor changes) to the Governor.  The school funding portion of that bill does three things:

  • Moves $50 million from the budget reserve to a one-time school safety appropriation.  Uses of this one-time revenue would be limited to the uses currently prescribed in the school safety revenue law.
  • Allows school board to unilaterally waive the 2% staff development set-aside currently mandated by law and use that revenue flexibly.
  • Calls for more aggressive marketing of the school trust lands to get more money into school districts (and to replenish the $50 million moved from the budget reserve to schools).
There is a clear strategy in the Legislature's approach.  First off, the $50 million in one-time money in school safety revenue is a strong statement toward the initial need of school districts in upgrading their school safety efforts, both in terms of facilities and personnel.  The problem, of course, it is one-time money and if I had one considerable disappointment as to how the school safety issue was handled as the session wound down was the downplaying of school safety needs beyond next year.  The Governor's budget recommendations and the House bill both devoted considerable resources to school safety needs beyond the coming school year, but the Senate greatly reduced funding for the next biennium after the initial bump for next year and that position held the day (or night).  I get the argument that this wasn't a budget year and that the next Legislature needs to fashion the appropriate level of school safety revenue in the context of next year's biennial budget, but I also realize that priorities change year-to-year and I find it hard to believe the need for school safety improvements--especially on-going investments in student support services--is going to diminish.  In order to hire additional school support personnel with school safety revenue, districts need assurance that those dollars are going to be there and not pulled away.  That commitment is absent from the Legislature's approach, making this increase in school safety revenue less useful than it would have been had their been an on-going appropriation at the increased level.

While no new revenue is generated with the ability of districts to waive the 2% staff development set-aside, some districts may benefit from the increased flexibility.  What wasn't said yesterday is that districts and their bargaining units already have the ability to come to an agreement on a partial or complete waiving of the set-aside in addressing budget shortfalls.

The increased marketing of the school trust lands has been a goal of a number of education-related groups and it is a welcome addition to this year's discussion, although it came up late.

There is also $25 million in the bonding bill for school safety facility upgrades.  This will not be handled through general obligation bonding, but instead will be a grant program administered by the Minnesota Department of Education.  The maximum grant is $500,000 and half of the money must go to school districts outside the 11-county metropolitan area.  Grants will be awarded on a first-come/first-served basis.  I have linked the bill and the language governing these grants--Section 4, Subdivision 3, is found on the bottom of page 8 through the top of page 10.

HF 1226--Bonding Bill

The omnibus supplemental budget bill underwent some minor changes on Friday night, with eight sections relating to new mandates removed from the bill, but the framework of the funding provisions remain as I described in an entry last week remain the same.

Perhaps the best news of the night came with the passage of the final bill in both the House and Senate, which was the pension bill.  Despite assurances from legislators of every stripe that the bill would pass (and it passed unanimously), when the clock was winding down, pulses were quickening.  There was a rumor that the fate of the pension bill was tied to the passage of the bonding bill by the Senate.  The bonding bill failed in the Senate on a straight party-line vote last week because the bonding bill requires a 60% of the Senate (or 41 votes) to pass.  The revised bonding bill garnered 42 votes and shortly after that vote was announced, the pension bill moved through final passage in the House.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  But there was that rumor.  Speaking of rumors:

The Governor has stated that he plans to veto both the school safety/tax bill and the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  Because he received these bills in the last three days of the legislative session, he has two weeks to either sign them, veto them, or allow them to become law without his signature.  I am sure he will be deluged with advice from every quarter on to what to do and I am not going to venture a guess as to what direction he will go, although if I were a betting person (the ability of which will undoubtedly be discussed next session in the wake of the recent United States Supreme Court ruling on sports betting), I would say he won't waver from his statements regarding his intentions.

Big-Time Congratulations in Order.  Congratulations to House Research tax analysts Steve Hinze and Joel Michael for being recognized by the National Conference of State Legislatures for excellence in public finance policy.  Both Steve and Joel are knowledgeable, professional, and effective in dealing with legislators and the public.  They do great work and it was great to see them awarded honors commensurate with their talents.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Curtain Coming Down in a Few.  The pension bill just passed the House 131-0 and is on its way back to the Senate for concurrence in an amendment that was adopted in the House at the committee level.

And . . . . .  the Senate repasses the pension bill on a vote of 67-0 and the pension bill is on its way to the Governor.

I will sign off for now, but not before I leave you with one last musical tribute that kind of sums up the day and the session.

School Safety/Tax Bill Passes House.  Just a few minutes ago, the House passed the conference committee report on HF 947, the vehicle bill for the latest school safety/tax bill on a vote of 85-42.  Eight DFLers joined the Republican majority in passing the bill.  That bill will head to the Senate in a short time where it is likely to pass on, if not a party-line vote, a close vote.

As we wait, another Sunday hit, this one a 1972 hit by Daniel Boone (born Peter Charles Green in Birmingham, England).  The video below constitutes high-tech in 1972.

Less than 10 Hours to Go.  There's bound to be a mad rush on the floors of the House and Senate in the next few hours, but work is being done in another conference committee--HF 1226--that will carry the bonding bill to the floor of both houses.  HF 1226 originally dealt with some miscellaneous tax provisions, but as we have already witnessed today (and I pointed out in Friday's entry), there are vehicles on the lot and all they need is a driver and some passengers.

The pension bill is scheduled to be voted on later today and it is expected that everyone wants to see that passed.  But that is yet to come.

Time for another musical interlude that sums up a lot of people's feelings about today.

The Plot Thickens.

As I reported earlier, the Legislature has agreed to use HF 947 as a vehicle for funding one-time revenue for school safety with $50 million from the budget reserve and providing emergency funding by allowing school boards to unilaterally waive the 2% staff development set-aside and transfer money out of any community education fund balance they have.

The latest development has the Legislature adding the tax bill the Governor vetoed on Friday to the conference committee report.  Difficult to say at this point what the Governor's reaction will be, but the odds among the observers appears to be pretty low that he will sign it.

Anyway, how about another Sunday song.  I wish it was Another Park, Another Sunday, but it's Room 5, State Office Building, This Sunday.

Note that this live recording of The Doobie Brothers performance took place one day short of two years ago.  The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan will be performing at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday, June 15.  Tickets are available.

That's all for now.
We Have Arrived at Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.

We are at just more than 16 hours left in the 2018 session and a number of things may be moving.  As I wrote on Friday in my entry about vehicle bills, the Legislature has taken a conference committee on a minor education-related bill and are going to use that as a vehicle for a very focused school safety bill that will spend $50 million in one-time money and send that to schools for uses allowed under the current school safety statute.  The bill will also allow school districts to waive the 2% staff development set-aside without reaching agreement with the local bargaining unit.

While not providing on-going money for school safety or directly addressing the Governor's request for emergency funding, this effort would, at least on paper, serve as a response to the Governor's negotiating stance.

Stay tuned and let's hope that we end up with what Etta James was asking for in this classic.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill Conference Committee Report Released.  In this corner, weighing in at 990 pages is the 2018 omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  The E-12 related articles run from pages 799 to 990 and the bill contains a number of policy items to which the Governor has voiced objections.  Just a few minutes ago, legislative leaders rejected the Governor's proposed budget compromise, saying it does not go far enough in cutting taxes.  Here is the link to the entire bill.  The opioid and elder care bills were folded into the omnibus bill after being considered as stand-alone legislation until a couple of days ago.

Link:  Conference Committee Report on SF 3656
Clarification.  The provision that is being hotly debated by the agriculture committees in both the House and Senate deals with the effects of fertilizer on water quality.  A rule has been published in the State Register and is slated for a round of hearings for public input this summer.  The resolution being debated tonight would slow down the final adoption of any rule in the event the Governor does not sign a similar bill passed by the Legislature on Thursday.  My earlier post indicated incorrectly that the debate centered around the buffer zone issue.

Meanwhile, it's not Almost Saturday Night, it's Saturday Night!

Governor's Proposed Compromise.  The link below shows the offer that the Governor proposed to legislators about an hour ago.  The bottom line shows how much revenue will be on the state's bottom line given the current budget projections.  Don't try to make sense of that line other than that because the columns do not add up.

Link:  Governor's Offer to Legislators Saturday Afternoon

Here is a link to the language items that the Governor wants removed from the supplemental omnibus appropriations bill.  It's the list of 100+ items I referenced in my earlier entry that I posted within the past hour. The education-related language the Governor finds fault with are found on pages 13-16.   Eight of the education-related items were removed last night, including mandatory dyslexia screening and the prohibition of use of school funds in elections.  MDE also received a small revenue increase to help administer the grants included in the bill.  There's still more in the bill that the Governor objects to, so even with these removals, the bill could die on the vine (or the grapes stomped when they get to the Governor's office).

Here is a link to the document distributed by the Governor's office:  Problematic Language in Supplemental Appropriations Bill from Governor Dayton's Perspective

In another development, there's a heated debate going on in the House Agriculture Policy Committee regarding the water quality bill.  The majority would like to delay implementation of the buffer bill through a resolution that the minority views as a slap at the Governor.  Not to make light of the importance of this resolution or other items that will be coming up in the next day-and-a-quarter, but it at least for next few hours, I think it's safe to say that

Saturday (Not in the Park).

Here we are at the Capitol on a Saturday afternoon with not a whole lot going on.  I think Peter Callaghan summed it up best in today's edition of MinnPost, where he points out that the final results of this session may end up being rather meager, especially when it comes to the larger issues relating to taxes and the budget.  We are closing in on the point where there will be a smidgen over 30 hours before the curtain will come down on the 2018 legislative session.

Here is a link to that story:  As Legislature enters final days, one policy option seems more likely: Doing nothing

Another angle comes from Chris Magan of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that outlines the obstacles (117 on the Governor's list) to a smooth ending to the session.  Here's a link to that story:  Gov. Mark Dayton: Lawmakers have 117 paths to failure, can they work them out?

So, what will it be?  Will we get

Or will it be

Friday, May 18, 2018

It's Friday (And a Lot is on the Legislature's Mind).

We are at about 57 and counting hours before the curtain has to come down and a lot of work remains to be done at the Legislature.  The veto of the tax bill has left things up in the air to a great extent and the budget bill is still not wrapped up.  The conference chairs on the supplemental budget bill--Senator Julie Rosen and Representative Jim Knoblach--seem to opting to leave the bill open to address the Governor's considerable list of issues with the bill, many of them dealing with language to which he objects.

Here's a nice piece from MPR earlier today that sums things up succinctly:

Time for Your (Modern) Civics Lesson.  First, get a sheet of paper.  Second, go to the page in your civics text that describes how a bill becomes a law.  Third, write down everything (well, maybe not everything) I tell you in this entry and tape it to that page in the text.

As referenced in the MPR story above, Senator Carla Nelson spoke about having alternate plans if the Governor were to wield the veto pen on the supplemental appropriations bill.  I wrote yesterday how the supplemental budget bill could have a number of other provisions attached to it before being sent to the Governor.  Superstar lobbyist Amy Walstein pointed out to me later (I am gratified she does read the blog and did point this out) that it can work the other way around as well and that the supplemental budget bill could be broken into a number of pieces and sent to the Governor in a series of bills.  How you might ask.  They are called "vehicle bills" and they can take many forms.  In the legislative process, many of the bills that pass one house of the Legislature and go to the other are often not acted upon (for a variety of reasons that aren't really important right now).  Further, all of the conference committee reports the Governor vetoed last session are also "live" as they were returned to the Legislature and the final budget agreement was reached in a special session.  And remember, special sessions are proceedings onto themselves with separate bills, bill numbers, and committee processes.  So, with help of the following illustration, think of all of this moribund legislation as a used car lot.

All those cars need is a driver and some passengers and if worse comes to worse in the next two days, some of these cars may get loaded up and take a little spin down toward the Governor's office.  Before you get too hepped up thinking that this is all new and just another indication of how political discourse in this country has bottomed out (and it be bottoming out, but this little diversion is not one of the reasons why), these types of end-runs have been employed for years and years and years.  Sometimes, it is necessary given time constraints.  Sometimes it's the only way one house of the Legislature can get the other house to consider a topic.  And admittedly, sometimes it's just pure hi-jinks used for partisan political purposes or between committee chairs in different bodies who simply don't like each other.

So, recapping:  (1) the Legislature and Governor may be at loggerheads on a number of issues, (2) time is of the essence, and (3) means exist to get a number of things done if negotiations on larger items cannot come to a successful end.  So who knows, maybe we'll see this little gent carrying a trunk full of provisions to the Governor before the weekend is out.

Was the Governor Humming This During while Writing His Veto Message on the Tax Bill?  Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Just wanted to let you know that those of us in the Elvis Party have a three-plank platform.  In addition to making Elvis' birthday a state holiday as mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, we want to see a sales tax exemption on all Elvis-related merchandise and the construction of an Elvis theme park.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

First Salvo (Well, maybe not the first).  Governor Dayton vetoed the tax bill passed by the House and Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday, saying the benefits were tilted too heavily toward the rich and that the Legislature had not considered his request for $138 million in emergency funding for school districts.  The veto was expected, but that doesn't mean there weren't a few people who were surprised.  There are less than four days left in the 2018 legislative session which must adjourn by midnight Sunday under the Minnesota Constitution.  The bonding bill also failed in the Senate yesterday on a 34-33 vote (a bonding bill needs 60% of the legislative body--41 votes in the Senate and 82 votes in the House--in order to pass.  

The supplemental budget conference committee is not closed up as of yet and there may be a strategy to keep that open as part of the negotiations into which the final compromise could be incorporated.

The pension bill is also sitting on the House floor along with the proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate the revenue generated by automobile repairs and replacement parts to the trunk highway fund.  I always take a jaundiced view of constitutional amendments and I can't figure out why the Legislature would want to cede additional authority over budget matters to the realm of the constitution.  But I don't have an election certificate (for which many can be thankful).  The first bill I would author would propose that Elvis Presley's birthday be a state holiday (like I said last sentence).

Here is a link to an MPR story on the Governor's veto of the tax bill:  Dayton vetoes tax bill over lack of school money

Special Education Story.  Solvejg Wastvedt put together this story on special education for MPR and it highlights many of the concerns being voiced about rising special education costs.  Well done Solvejg.

As schools struggle with costs, special education takes a toll

Given the fact that we still work on Elvis' birthday in Minnesota, I thought I would leave you with a dash of The King to tide you over until my next entry later today.  The Legislature may be re-working this title from "One Night with You" to "Four Nights with Us."

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday.  I couldn't find a good Wednesday song, so you'll have to settle for this pop culture reference to tide you over.

Things are getting a little bit like that wacky Addams family as the Legislature heads into its last few days.  The Senate passed the tax bill today and it is on its way to the Governor where it will meet a likely veto, but it's too early to really tell on that.  The Governor has expressed his discontentment with the tax bill, but with all the big furniture being moved around, it's hard to tell what the final arrangement will be.

The omnibus supplemental appropriations bill is still at the conference committee level with the bill probably being wrapped up tomorrow.  It may hit the floors of both the Senate and House on Friday and make it down to the Governor early in the weekend.  It is unknown what the Governor will do when it hits his desk, although there a number of policy provisions in the bill to which he has voiced opposition.  It does need to be noted that the Governor did ask for separate funding and policy bills at the beginning of the session and that request was dismissed not only in the combining of policy and funding, but in the amalgamating all of the subject areas of state government into one bill.  That doesn't necessarily mean anything at this point, but if the bill is vetoed, that logic might find its way into the veto message.

The proposed constitutional amendment that would reserve the sales tax proceeds from automobile repairs and replacement parts for the trunk highway fund is scheduled to be up on the House floor tomorrow (Thursday).  It is difficult to tell what the ultimate fate of that bill will be.  Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is on record saying he doesn't believe the votes are there in the Senate to pass the bill, so even if the House passes it, it may not make it to this fall's ballot.

The other bill that looms large as the session winds down is the pension bill.  That also sits on the House floor after being approved by the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday night.  Again, rumors are flying rampant that there will be an amendment offered to pull the Teachers' Retirement Association language out of the bill or that the bill is being held by the House until the tax bill is signed and all other sorts of theories as to what the end of session will look like.  Needless to say, if one thing could happen on the expenditure side of the ledger this session that would be universally hailed by the education community, it would be the passage of the pension bill as currently constructed.

That's it for now.  So let's sign off with the second incarnation of Wednesday Addams from the 1990s movie versions of the 1960s television show.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Three Blog Entries in a Day?  Sounds like we need a song with "three" in the title, so how about Gimme Three Steps by Lynyrd Skynyrd?

As promised, here is a more digestible presentation of the education articles in the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.

Article 33-School Safety
Article 34-General Education
Article 35-Education Excellence
Article 36-Teachers
Article 37-Special Education
Article 38-Facilities, Technology, Libraries, and Nutrition
Article 39-Early Education and Self-Sufficiency
Article 40-State Agencies
Article 41-Forecast Adjustments

As I stated earlier today, the money in the bill is not overwhelming.  To me the most troubling aspect of the safe schools funding is that there is an increase of $18 per pupil unit for the coming school year, but that is scaled back to $5.50 per pupil unit starting next biennium.  Not to sound snarky, but are we going to solve all the school safety issues next year to the extent that funding can be scaled back in subsequent years?

There aren't quite as many grants as there were in 2016, when the bill looked like Bud Grant's family reunion (speaking of Bud, great segments on Dan Barreiro's Bumper-to-Bumper show on KFAN this afternoon).  A plethora of grants is always a bit disappointing when there are so many needs across all school districts, but when the legislators are limited to one-time money, they don't have a lot of options.

The academic balance language in the Senate bill was dropped, but the House's summative rating framework was retained.  The House moved away from the five-star rating system to a one-hundred point system, but the basic gist of things stays the same.  The language of the rating system is found in Section 19 (p. 28) of Article 35.

So the question remains, "Does the Governor sign this bill?"  He asked for separate budget and policy bills and this bill lumps all the budget recommendations and policy provisions in one single bill, which goes beyond policy and funding being combined but spread across issue areas (i.e. education funding and policy in a single bill, health and human services funding and policy in a single bill, etc.).  We can then take things a step further and ask, "Given the funding is below the Governor's recommended level and there is little, if any, policy he wants in the bill, why would he sign it?"  These and many other questions will be answered between now and Sunday, when the curtain has to come down.  There are three other major pieces of legislation that will loom large in this year's denouement:  the tax bill, the bonding bill, and the pension bill.  There are other items that will likely elbow their way into the conversation, particularly the proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate the sales tax from auto repairs and replacement parts to the trunk highway fund.  All of these could play a part in the negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor in the next few days.  Stay tuned.

Two Great MinnPost Articles.  MinnPost has been doing a great job of covering education this session and the past week saw two articles of great interest.  In last Wednesday's edition, reporter Erin Hinrichs focused on a number of school districts that are facing budget cuts in the year ahead.  SEE members Rockford and North Branch were featured in the article, with a photo of Rockford Superintendent Paul Durand accompanying the article.

Here is a link to that story:  Chronic budget shortfalls: a look at the last-ditch solutions some Minnesota school districts are relying on

On Friday, Greta Kaul provided some context for the Governor's $138 million request for emergency education aid.  The article features perspectives from a variety of education voices, including some who don't believe the influx of funding proposed by the Governor is warranted.

Link:  As Minnesota debates a last-minute funding boost, some historical context for state-funding of schools

To close out the day, let's turn to the Lynyrd Skynyrd ballad Tuesday's Gone, which it will be in a couple of hours.

Tuesday Afternoon.  So why not a little Moody Blues' Tuesday Afternoon action.

The collective education lobbyist team--sometimes labelled the Education Cartel or the Education Industrial Complex--has filed into Room 120 at the Capitol to witness the actual unveiling of the education articles to the omnibus supplemental funding bill.  Here is a link to the education articles.  I am linking the legislative schedule page and if you scroll down to the conference committee on SF 3656 section, you will see each article and the spreadsheets listed.  So here goes:  Legislative Schedule Page

The conference committee is set to begin, so paraphrasing the Moody Blues to some extent, it's time for me to Go Now.

Tuesday Morning. So let's start it out with a trip through memory lane when a young Mick Jagger crooned Ruby Tuesday.

Funny story about Ruby Tuesday.  When the song came out, my older brother thought is was Groovy Tuesday and for once in my life, I had something right vis-a-vis my brilliant older sibling and of course we got into a shouting match until my mother yelled "What's all that racket in there!" (one of her favorite lines) and our disagreement came to an abrupt end (at least in terms of spirited debate).

So what does this have to do with what's going on at the Legislature.  In brief, there's quite a racket going on.  The Fox 9 report on fraud in the state childcare program is producing quite a spirited debate which will hang over the Legislature's proceedings as the session draws to an end.

The omnibus budget/policy conference committee will be reconvening in the early afternoon and the E-12 articles are supposedly first on the agenda.  I will post those articles as soon as I can find the link to them.

Until then, how about a little more of the Rolling Stones with a song that describes how a lot of folks with legislatively-related lives are feeling as the session winds down.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday Part 2.

It rained a bit outside (hence B.B. King's version of Stormy Monday), but things moved along quite nicely inside the Capitol today as the Conference Committee on SF 3656 continued working through its agreement.  The pace is a bit on the slow side as there is a considerable amount of policy language being adopted along with the appropriation amounts.

As I reported earlier today, the budget agreement contains about $31 million in new spending along with savings/reductions of just under $3 million, which makes the net target just over $28 million.  I neglected to mention the $3 million in cuts in my earlier post this afternoon.

The highlights of the bill include:

  • $19.9 million increase in school safety revenue for the 2018-2019 school year.  That amount is reduced to $8.8 million and $7.1 million in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years respectively.  I have yet to see the language explaining the amounts and how the program will unfold in the next biennium.  I believe the allowable uses of Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue has been expanded to include school safety upgrades.
  • $5 million for school-linked mental health grants with the amount folded into the long-term budget at $5 million per year in the next biennium.$1 million for physical school security audits.
  • $725,000 for character education grants.
  • $562,000 in telecommunications aid.
  • $300,000 for St. Cloud's EL program.
  • $300,000 for "Jake's Law," a drug abuse prevention program.
  • $273,000 for an online suicide prevention training program for teachers.
  • $250,000 for the Sanneh Foundation.
  • $250,000 for Resource Officer training grants.
  • $200,000 for Mounds View school district's early college program.
  • $200,000 for the Legislative Auditor to study funding patterns for school districts and charter schools.
  • $185,000 for a turnaround arts program.
  • $150,000 for threat assessment grants.
  • The first $300 per pupil unit of board-approved referenda has been folded into the local option revenue category.  Equalization levels remain the same.

Here is a link to the entire spreadsheet:  SF 3656 E-12 Appropriations

Pension Bill Takes a Crucial Step.  SF 2620--the omnibus pension bill--passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee this evening and is now headed to the House floor, where it will likely be considered tomorrow or Wednesday.  There were no amendments offered in the committee this evening, but there is a rumor going around that there may be an amendment offered on the floor that would take TRA out of the bill.  Let's hope that is not the case.
Monday Monday.

We are heading into the last six days of the 2018 Legislative Session and things are moving rapidly.  The conference committee on SF 3656 (the mega-multisubject-catchall-everything including the kitchen sink appropriations bill) has announced its funding targets.  The target of the E-12 portion of the bill is $30.8 million, with $19.9 million going to school safety revenue that will go to all districts.  There several other school safety-related grants and revenue streams and a number of other isolated grant programs.  I have yet to see the language part of the bill that explains how the school safety revenue mechanism will work (it looks like something close to the House proposal at first blush).

This target does not include revenue to fund the pension bill.  The revenue dedicated to that cause is included in the target, but is being carried in another subtarget.  

I will be back later with more details.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Conference Committee Kicks Off.

The initial meeting of the House/Senate supplemental budget conference committee began its proceedings today with a review of the various appropriations contained in each bill.  As I've stated before, this bill is huge in volume and scope, covering all of the functions to state government and also dealing with the policy for all of these areas in addition to funding.  Initially, the House passed a series of appropriations bills while the Senate lumped all of the appropriations into one bill, but the House rules allow the folding of bills that have passed the full House into discussion at the conference committee level.  To the lay person, this is quite confusing (as it is for many lobbyists) and it begs the question as to how Civics should be taught.  Needless to say, the "how a bill becomes a law" page in the textbook needs some significant revision.

The conference committee will continue to meet, with a late afternoon meeting scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss some of the significant language differences that exist between the House and Senate bills.  It will be interesting to see how the policy questions are handled.  The Governor was explicit in his request that funding and policy be handled in separate bills, which could mean one big veto awaits the supplemental budget bill if it contains policy language the Governor does not like.  How that plays out in the next twelve days will be interesting to watch (if you enjoy watching that sort of thing).

Pension Bill Finally Moving in the House.  After passing the Senate on a unanimous vote of 66-0 over a month ago, the House is moving on the pension bill (SF 2620), with the bill scheduled for a hearing in the House State Government Finance Committee on Friday morning.  It will be interesting to see if the House amends the bill at all.  The impediment to getting the bill passed last session revolved around the decision to attach a couple of other policy measures to the bill that the Governor could not support, leading in turn to a veto.  This version of the pension bill has been negotiated very carefully, so any amendments will probably be looked at with a jaundiced eye.  I don't think anyone wants to see this become a bargaining chip as the session winds down given the fact that the cost of remedying the shortages in the pension funds goes up if this issue remains unresolved another year.

Constitutional Amendment on Transportation Continues to Move in the House.  Even with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka saying he is short votes to pass the proposed constitutional amendment that would reserve the proceeds from the sales tax on auto repairs and replacement parts for use in transportation projects, the House continues to marshal the bill through the various committees necessary to get the bill to the floor.  The battle lines on the bill are pretty clearly drawn.  If you work in the construction trades, you are for the constitutional amendment.  If your interest depends on money from the state general fund, you are against it.  While it's not a huge amount of money when viewed in the context of the entire budget, it is enough that if the reserve language was in effect for this year, the $329 million budget forecast surplus we are currently enjoying would be totally absorbed.

Another matter that isn't being discussed very extensively is whether the Minnesota Constitution is the appropriate vehicle (seeing we are talking about auto repairs) to enact a relatively narrow policy initiative.  The Legislature and Governor could agree to do this right now (which would admittedly be difficult given the divergent views of the Legislature and the Dayton Administration on this issue) and perhaps at some point in the future they will do so.  But to put language like this in the Constitution would limit the ability of the Legislature to reverse course in the midst of an economic downturn if more flexibility is needed.  Further, if this language were to go into the Constitution, I can pretty much guarantee there will be a line around the block from interests seeking to reserve revenue for one reason or another and make that happen through the Constitution.  This will be an issue to watch as the session winds down.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Catch Up.

No!  That's ketchup.  I'm talking about catching up on the last couple of days at the Legislature since the Governor announced his one-time infusion of $138 million into the E-12 education budget.  That afternoon, the Senate passed its version of the E-12 education policy bill on a vote of 42-25.  Included in the floor debate was the adoption of an amendment that most observers found surprising, and that was Senator Susan Kent's amendment to strip the 5-star rating system for school districts based on test scores out of the bill.  Two Republican legislators joined the entire DFL caucus and passed the amendment on a vote of 35-32.  This leaves the House bill with the only place where the 5-star rating system sits, which may be enough to derail its passage during the 2018 legislative session.  Another provision of note was adopted as part of Senator Pratt's--the bill's chief author--amendment is a three-month delay in the deadline for new teacher licensure rules to be finalized by the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

Governor Vows Hard Push on Funding Increase.  The Governor held another press conference today on his proposal to provide one-time emergency funding of $126 per pupil unit to school districts and charter schools for the coming school year.  This press conference included statements from a number of school officials.  It was great to see a SEE district represented in the person of Mora high school teacher Joy Whitbread.  Other speakers included St. Paul superintendent Joe Gothard, Winona teacher Matt Reuter, and Benson superintendent Dennis Laumeyer.

Here is a link to the press release summarizing today's press conference:  Educators Join Governor Dayton to Urge Support for Emergency School Aid

Governor Urges Passage of School Safety Measure.  In addition to his push on increased basic education funding, the Governor also issued a press release calling on the Legislature to pass a stand-alone school safety bill.  The Governor's school safety recommendations were introduced as a single purpose bill two weeks ago (HF 4439/SF 4015) and if negotiations bog down on the major supplemental funding bill, this legislation could serve as the vehicle to fuse elements of the three different approaches to the subject into one final bill.

Here is a link to the Governor's press statement:  Governor Dayton to Legislators: Pass School Safety Measures, Now

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

As Promised.  Below find the link to the district-by-district run that provides the level of revenue that would result from the Governor's one-time increase of 2% on the general education basic formula.

Emergency Aid for Minnesota Schools
Governor Unveils Big Proposal.  Governor Dayton unveiled a significant education funding package just an hour ago.  His proposal calls for a one-time increase in the general education basic formula of 2%.  This would amount to $138 million statewide.  Because it is one-time money, it would not be folded into the on-going E-12 budget and thus would not have those dreaded budget "tails" that seem to be the bane of government budget policy these days.

When pressed by the press, the Governor used a medical analogy to justify the one-time spending, saying this was a tourniquet that would save the limb by preventing damaging budget cuts that most districts in the state are poised to undertake.  He also pointed out the erosion of the general education basic formula's buying power by pointing out how far it has fallen behind inflation over the past two decades (if you want to go back three decades, we have that graph on the SEE website).

Obviously, this is viewed as a step forward or a step backwards depending on your vantage point.  With the Senate releasing a tax cut proposal that is much larger than either the Governor's or the House's, it appears legislative priorities will go elsewhere.  That said, there has been a lot of focus nationally on education funding with teacher strikes in a number of states.  While Minnesota may not be in the same situation as Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, there is little question that school districts here are being faced with program cuts year after year.  In addition, at a time when schools are being asked to do more in providing student support and expand curriculum to help students better map their futures, more revenue is needed.  

The Governor's press release contained a data run showing the amount of revenue each district would receive under his proposal and I will post that information as soon as it is available in electronic form.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Education Bills Clear Respective Floors.  

It wasn't perfect form as pictured above, but (moving from track to basketball) as Phil Jackson once said, "They don't ask 'How?" They ask "How many?"  And the votes were enough to get the Education Finance and Policy bill--HF 4328--off the House floor on a vote of  94-29.  In the House, they have only combined the Higher Education and E-12 Education bills into one at this point, with similar combinations of bills coming up on the House floor next week.  In the Senate, the process has been markedly different with all the budget division bills (and a number of policy division bills) all combined into the mega-ginormous 476-page bill I thought might be coming down the pike when I reported earlier this week.  That bill--SF 3656--passed on vote of party-line vote of 34-31 (with two DFLers excused for the day).

The House debate was spirited and a number of amendments were adopted, although many of the amendments offered by DFLers were adjusted by amendments-to-the-amendments made by the majority caucus.  Much of the debate on the House floor centered on school safety and the various angles taken in the bill and how they could be improved.  To my knowledge, the bill was not transmitted to the Senate, so it remains in possession of the House where it could conceivably be folded into an omnibus supplemental appropriations bill like the one the Senate constructed.  We will have to wait until next week to see how the two bodies reconcile the different approaches to this year's budget bills.

Debate in the Senate--which took place at the end of a marathon 10-hour session covering the entirety of the bill--revolved largely around the academic balance provision that is in the bill.  There is concern that the academic balance provision is a ticking time bomb that will blow up in teachers' hands as they provide instruction on controversial issues.  Proponents say that won't be the case and that all that is being sought is the assurance by local school boards that teachers do not cross the line and either inculcate students or lower students' grades for expressing ideological or religious beliefs that do not match their own.  The debate on the issue got a bit contentious and the two amendments offered by Senator Melissa Franzen to either strike the policy from the bill or modify it failed.

As I stated above, we do not know how things will proceed from this point.  If I were to guess, I would venture that the House will roll all of its bills into a single comprehensive supplemental budget bill and that a conference committee on the differing bills will begin either late next week or early in the week after that.  That would give the Legislature less than two weeks to iron out the differences in the bill and get it to the Governor.  The Governor has said repeatedly that he wants zero policy in the budget bills and the Legislature has ignored that request.  That could mean a veto is coming unless the Legislature changes its course between now and then.  As Bette Davis' character Margo Channing said in All About Eve: 

Legislative Auditor's Report on Early Childhood Programs Released.  Legislators have been leery about addressing changes to early childhood programs this session as they have waited for the release of the Office of the Legislative Auditor's report outlining Minnesota's array of early childhood programs.  The heart of the report can be summed up in one of the key findings:  The array of early childhood programs is complex and fragmented, due in part to differences in the way programs are funded and variation in their eligibility and other requirements. For example, although the programs are primarily aimed at low income families, they define income eligibility differently.

This finding bears out what many in both the education and health and human services communities have known for years.  There are a lot of different programs with different eligibility guidelines and goals.  There have been efforts over the years to bring greater cohesion to the system of early childhood education programs, but there have always been roadblocks to streamlining the system, much of which emanates from the different visions of educators and health and human service providers.

Names and programs will not be mentioned to preserve the rights of the innocent, but years eons ago when I was on legislative staff, then-Governor Rudy Perpich suggested that a program housed in the Department of Human Services be moved to the Department of Education and given a boost in their budget.  The person who was involved with the program with whom I met told me flat-out (and I paraphrase) that they would rather forego the increased revenue and stay where they were instead of being transferred to the Department of Education.  It made my boss's life easier because he had a little extra jing to move around in his budget.

At any rate, enough with memory lane.  Here is a link to the Legislative Auditor's report, both the Executive Summary and the full report:  Legislative Auditor Report on Early Childhood Programs

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Senate Education Bill Set to Go.

The Senate E-12 funding bill cleared another hurdle yesterday as it was recommended to pass after a couple of minor amendments were added in the Senate Finance Committee.  At this point, it appears that all of he budget division bills will be combined into the mega-ginormous supplemental budget and policy bill I referenced as a possibility last week.  The question remains whether each funding bill will receive a separate floor vote before it is combined into the larger document.  The House combined the Higher Education budget bill and the E-12 budget bill into one document at Monday's House Ways and Means Committee meeting, but the extent of the combining process is not yet clear.  My Magic 8-Ball says "Reply Hazy.  Ask Again Later."  And believe me, there are days I believe the Magic 8-Ball is as good a prognosticator as any when it comes to predicting the movement of government.

The path the Legislature appears to be taking could lead to either a messy end or a streamlined decision-making process at the close of the 2018 session.  I think one of the biggest hang-ups will be the Governor's insistence that policy and spending come to him in separate bills.  The Legislature does not seem to be adhering to that request, which could lead to a series of rapid-fire vetoes by the Governor.  

Tax Front.  We have three-and-a-half weeks left in the session and things will start moving quickly.  The one hold-up now is the Senate has not released its tax bill and it will be curious to see what is contained in that bill.  The House Tax Committee released its bill yesterday and it aims to provide both relief and help Minnesota taxpayers navigate the changes to the Federal tax code without assuming an additional burden.  Here is a link to a summary of the House Tax proposal:  House Taxes Committee approves omnibus bill focused on conformity

"Clean" School Safety Bill Introduced.  During her testimony earlier in the 2018 session, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius was asked why the school safety bill proposed by the Governor was not introduced separately instead of being combined with the Governor's other education funding proposals.  Reacting to that query, the Commissioner set about having that bill drafted and it was introduced last Thursday in the House and Senate by Representative Jenifer Loon and Senator Eric Pratt respectively.  The House and Senate have developed their own variations on the school safety theme, but the possibility remains that this bill could become the school safety vehicle if negotiations on the mega-budget bill bog down.  I doubt the Legislature would pass the Governor's recommendations without some adjustments and policy changes, but in the era of high-speed technology, producing a final bill doesn't take a lot of time and having an extra avenue to accomplish needed school safety improvements isn't a bad thing to have at one's disposal.

Here is a link to the bill language:  HF 4439/SF 4015

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Train Kept a Rollin'.  

The House omnibus education funding and policy bill cleared another hurdle today as it passed the House Ways and Means Committee on a voice-vote.  There were three amendments; one technical amendment that passed and two substantive amendments (one that provided more funding to school districts with high special education cross-subsidies starting next year and one that would have made funding or the School Readiness-Plus program contained in last year's bill permanent) offered by the DFL minority that were rejected.  The bill will now move on to the House floor later this week.

It was revealed by House Capital Investments Committee Chair Representative Dean Urdahl that the House bonding bill will likely contain $25 million in bonding for school facilities upgrades related to improved student safety.  While the parameters of this proposal have yet to be spelled out in detail, I would assume (and it's dangerous to assume) that the program will consist of bonding grants to help the neediest school districts in terms of building age and condition to make necessary improvements.  We'll have to wait until the House bonding bill is released for more detail.

The Senate Finance Committee will be taking up the Senate's omnibus education funding bill tomorrow morning.

Here's a little musical nugget by 1960s British blues rockers The Yardbirds all about The Train Kept a Rollin'.  Note guitarist Jimmy Page who later went on to play in Led Zeppelin playing lead guitar in this video.

Sticking with the Train Theme.

There may be a collision dead ahead.  As the House omnibus education funding bill was being discussed today, the difference of opinion of how the funding and policy process should unfold this year popped up.  The Governor has been clear that he wants the Legislature to send him funding bills devoid of policy and policy bills devoid of funding.  The Legislature (at least the House) is combining its funding and policy provisions for each issue area into single bills.  On top of that, the possibility exists that the Legislature will combine all of its funding and policy into one supplemental budget bill and that bill, along with the tax and bonding bills will be the only bills in the conference committee process as the session winds down.  Like a joked last week, if they put all the funding and policy into one bill, I will need one of these to carry the bill around.

House Property Tax Bill has some Interesting Provisions.  The House Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division reported out their bill last Friday and it contains a couple of provisions that school districts have been opposing for years and will oppose again this session.  The bill would require ballot language that would describe to voters the current amount of voter-approved referendum levy and board-approved local option revenue when seeking additional operating levy revenue.  The other provision would limit the days (perhaps I should say "day") on which a district could hold a bond referendum to the general election day.  We've been through this discussion before and given that the dates for holding a bond referendum were pared down to four in addition to general election day last session, it's premature to limit them once again. As for the first proposal, districts already go through the truth-in-taxation process and that should suffice in providing a detailed explanation of the education-related property tax burden that district residents experience.  If there needs to be another round of required reporting prior to an operating levy question, there are better ways of doing that than loading up the ballot with confusing language.

A provision that would change the property tax base for bond levies from the current framework to one where agricultural property would be exempted from the tax base was amended into the bill as well.  This effort--spearheaded in a bipartisan manner by Republican Representative Steve Drazkowski (the Division chair) and DFL Representative Paul Marquart--has been discussed for years and it may still not be ready to be served, but it has come a long way as the current iteration of the provision greatly hikes the debt service equalization equalizing factor and the referendum equalizing factor to avoid the shift of the property tax burden too heavily onto residential and commercial property.  This is something to watch even if it does not pass this session, as the property tax burden carried by owners of agricultural property continues to climb.

Great Link Passed Along by Superintendent Teri Preisler.  Tri-Cities United Superintendent tweeted this link last week and it describes a really interesting program that seeks to individualize education for students.  What I found most interesting is that some people are talking about the need for more customization of education while others think standardized testing (and by extension summative assessment frameworks that grade schools) is the way to go.  The article linked below shows what individualized education that is student-driven might look like:  Setting the pace in schools: How to overcome the hurdles of giving students more control over their learning

Go Bombers!  I always have to give a shout-out to my alma mater of Cannon Falls High School when they are in the news and they deserve a couple of whoo-whoo's in addition to a shout-out in recognition of their third consecutive state speech title.  If anyone wants to see what a state speech champion doesn't look like, just ask me to do my Humorous Interpretation entry from 1970s, "The Flea Gang's First Cigars."  If you want to see what state speech champions do look like, here they are: