Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Upcoming Special Education Discussion.  The amount of money districts are expending from their general funds to pay for special education costs continues to increase.  There is a new special education formula that is causing consternation.  The number of students identified as needing special education services is rising.  Looks like this calls for an extended legislative discussion and it appears that discussion will take place.

The growing cross-subsidy (currently estimated at $715 million) is of primary concern to districts throughout the state as revenue coming from the general fund to pay for special education costs hamstring what districts can do.  You can only spend a dollar once and a dollar going toward special education can't be used to preserve existing general education programs or create new ones.  This isn't the fault of local districts or special education students and parents.  There simply isn't enough revenue in the special education formula to stem the tide of revenue being drained from district general funds.

There are also concerns with the new special education formula that was established in 2013.  The state is in a period of transition from the cost-based formula to a census-based formula and that has caused changes in the distribution of revenue among school districts.  While nearly all school districts are receiving more revenue, there appear to be some distributional issues and predictability problems for some districts and cooperatives.

The problems related to special education funding have a long history in Minnesota's education funding system and this year, the Legislature appears to be preparing to grapple with a number of these issues.  HF 2846 authored by Representative Drew Christensen aims to tackle several issues related to special education through the creation of a working group comprised of stakeholders.  It is rumored that the Senate will take a different approach and instead of having a stakeholder-centric working group will propose a working group comprised of legislators.

Both approaches have met with success in the past.  The Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue program was developed by a working group that was largely made up of stakeholders while the changes in teacher licensure were developed by a working group composed solely of legislators, proving there is no single way to accomplish change legislatively from the composition of working groups.  Those promoting a legislative working group over a stakeholder working group believe there may be a delay in seeing changes enacted if there is not legislative buy-in in the development of a working group's recommendations.  This should be an interesting discussion to follow.

There will also bills introduced to either increase special education funding for all districts or target revenue toward districts with the highest levels of special education cross-subsidy.  I will have my eyes peeled for those introductions early in the legislative session.

A MASBO-initiated working group has been discussing a number of special education-related issues throughout the interim and the viewpoints developed by this group should contribute greatly to the discussion surrounding special education during the 2018 legislative session.

The Problem from the Monticello Perspective.  A district with a very distinct complaint about the new special education funding formula is SEE's own Monticello.  Representative Marion O'Neill has introduced HF 2877 to remedy the funding issue being faced by the Monticello district.  Below is a link to a Fox9 story (starring Monticello Business Manager Tina Burkholder) that describes the issue.

Link:  Special education funding change costs Monticello Schools $1.6 million

School Shooting Concerns.  The horrific shooting in Florida on Wednesday is a sad reminder that we have to re-visit the issue of school security.  I would guess that bills will be introduced in 2018 to increase the safe schools levy and to increase the number of support staff in school districts.  MPR put this story together in the wake of Wednesday's tragedy and it features comments from Faribault superintendent (and SEE Treasurer) Todd Sesker.

Link:  After Florida shooting, Minnesota schools double check security

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Special Election Recap.  Both sides of the partisan aisle held serve as they retained the seats previously held by a member of their party in Monday's special election.  Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham bested former State Representative Denny McNamara in the race to replace Dan Schoen in Senate District 54 by 530 votes, which translates to a percentage margin of about 3 3/4 percentage points.  This is a bit below former Senator Schoen's winning margin in 2016 in a district that was carried narrowly by President Trump.

On the House side, Jeremy Munson defeated Melissa Wagner by just under 20 percentage points (59.21% to 39.93%) to keep that seat in the Republican column.  Munson's winning percentage was about 7 percentage points less than former Representative Tony Cornish's level in 2016 in a district that Trump won handily.

As with every special election nationally over the past year, the numbers are sliced and diced to determine whether there is a "Trump effect" in the results.   While most races nationally have gone the way of the Democrats (or have shown a marked increase in the Democratic vote total in races they have lost), that wasn't the case here.  Recent Minnesota polls have shown that President Trump's support in rural Minnesota has not eroded to the extent it has in other parts of the country, which calls into question whether 2018 will be a "wave" election in Minnesota.  It's way too early to determine what the November races will look like up and down the ballot and we have a legislative session beginning next week that may frame the messages both parties will put before the voters.  So I'm not placing any bets one way or the other.

Here's the MinnPost article regarding Monday's special elections:  Special election results: keeping the status quo at the Minnesota Capitol

Speaking of MinnPost.  MinnPost staff has been putting together a number of great articles on education over the past few months.  Recently, reporter Erin Hinrichs wrote an interesting article that shows Minnesota is spending less on programming for gifted-and-talented students than a number of other states.  While the graphs accompanying the story are a little confusing, it's a good article.  I think one thing that isn't mentioned is that both in Minnesota and nationally, the pressure of achievement testing on school districts probably absorbs a lot of money that could be put into gifted-and-talented programs.

Here's the article:  Minnesota is less likely to offer gifted programming than other states, report shows

Good Article on "SEE Country."  A person knows they are getting old when the daughter of a contemporary is writing great articles in a publication.  Greta Kaul wrote the following piece of MinnPost on the population explosion in East Central Minnesota.  For those districts that are SEE members, this isn't really a surprise as outside of stagnant growth during the housing bust, student populations have been growing in a number of districts (and growing rapidly in some of them).  This has put a lot of pressure on voters to pass bond levies to house all of these new students.  The other angle on this that I always like to point out is that even though overall population (and by extension, numbers of students) has been growing, growth of value-intensive commercial and industrial property has not.  A lot of that has to do with the change in the economy from being based on manufacturing to being more heavily based on service industries.  While that trend may be changing a bit and East Central Minnesota has a strong and diversified economy, it is unlikely that the region will ever be the home to large "smokestack" industries, which means that the burden on homeowner taxes will remain considerable when compared to the region within the 494/694 beltway.

Kudos to Greta for this great article:  Why Central Minnesota’s population has exploded over the last few decades

Last, but not Least in Today's Wrap-Up.  The transition from the now-defunct Minnesota Board of Teaching to the newly-established Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board has not been without a few bumps.  There has been some concern expressed over the Board of Teaching's decision to tackle the responsibility of developing rules that were outlined by the 2017 legislature and handing that work product off to the new board when it began its work on January 1, 2018.  Now the new board is working to fill its Executive Director position.  Here is an article that describes the three finalists and provides some comments from stakeholders about them.

Link:  State board overseeing teacher licensure reopens its executive-director search

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Joint Property Tax/Education Funding Hearing.  The House Education Funding Committee and House Property Tax Division held a joint hearing today to discuss HF 2495, Representative Steve Drazkowski's bill that would move debt service levies away from net tax capacity toward referendum market value.  Representative Drazkowski has worked tirelessly over the past few sessions to relieve the property tax burden on agricultural property, especially as that tax burden relates to school bond questions.  One of the primary differences between net tax capacity and referendum market value is that agricultural property is not included in the calculation of referendum market value.  The primary vehicle that has been established to alleviated the tax burden on agricultural property is the agricultural bond credit that was part of last year's tax bill.  That provision reduces the tax burden on agricultural property that is attributable to school bonded debt by 40%.  While that has brought real relief to owners of agricultural property, Representative Drazkowski wants to go further.

There's no question that owners of agricultural property carry a considerable burden on school bond issues, especially in school districts where agricultural property comprises an overwhelming percentage of a school district's total property wealth.  One of the problems that eliminating agricultural property from the tax base through the transition from net capacity to referendum market value is that there will be a shift in the tax burden from agricultural property to other types of property--mostly homestead property and commercial-industrial property--and that could make it more difficult to pass bond issues in a number of school districts.  To combat this tax burden shift, HF 2495 proposes an adjustment in the referendum market value tax base that would reduce the burden imposed by the operating levy and establishes a very high equalizing factor for the debt service equalization program.  There is ample time to work on this legislation, as the effective date would be for taxes payable in 2021.  Given the potential costs of the bill (and the fact that without these costs the shift in tax burden the bill would be extremely difficult to pass).

Here is a link to the language of HF 2495--Delete-all Amendment

Here is a link to the other documents posted on the Education Finance Committee web page.  There is a spreadsheet showing the change in tax burden resulting from all of the changes in HF 2495, but it is somewhat difficult to explain.  I will be receiving an electronic copy of the spreadsheet and will try to alter it to make it easier to understand (Me make something less complicated?  There's always a first time.)

Link: House Education Funding Division Homepage

Before I move on, I want to commend the House for holding a joint committee hearing on equalization.  Like I have remarked in the past, I can go back about 10 hard drives and try to find the letter I wrote to then-Education Funding Chair Representative Becky Kelso urging the creation of a joint committee comprised of members of the Education Funding and Property Tax Committees to work on equalization issues.  One of the on-going problems with the equalization issue is that it is often an policy "orphan" in that the tax committees believe it is education policy and should come from the education target and the education committees believe it is tax policy that should be accommodated in the tax committee target.  Thus, I have watched the game of policy hot potato for my 28 years of working on this issue and whether or not there is ever a formal committee to deal with equalization policy (and other elements of how the property tax system interfaces with the education funding system) is ever established, for one day, we at least got to see the two hands of the issue working together simultaneously.

Trauma-Informed Schools.  There have been a number of interesting education stories hitting the airwaves and newsprint these days.  One of the more compelling is this story from National Public Radio's Weekend Edition about the effects of trauma on students.  Take a listen.  It really shows how the need to address the needs of children is crucial if learning is to take place.

Link:  What Do Asthma, Heart Disease And Cancer Have In Common? Maybe Childhood Trauma

Monday, February 12, 2018

Back in the Saddle Again.  We are one week from the beginning of the 2018 legislative session and so it's time to dust off this oldie-but-goodie, buckle up, and get ready for the fun.

You go Late Great Gene Autry!

Bill Introductions.  The House of Representatives' rules allow for the introduction of bills prior to the session and over 160 bills were introduced on Thursday, February 8.  Among this plethora of proposals are 21 (Blackjack!) E-12 education-related bills.  Here are the introductions with the link to the bill language embedded in the bill number for each introduction.

HF 2724--Jurgens--Prohibits school lunch providers from shaming students and requires school lunch plan requirements to be posted on district websites.

HF 2734--Quam--Allows school districts to access the personnel files of prospective teachers from the district in which they are employed.

HF 2737--Erickson--Creates cross-reference directory of provisions relating to school district flexibility.

HF 2738--Erickson--Instructs Commissioner of MDE to create a standard child abuse prevention poster.

HF 2744--Garofalo--Reduces minimum required pupil transportation distance from 2 miles for secondary school students and 1 mile for elementary school students to 1 mile and half-a-mile (5 blocks) respectively.

HF 2750--Bahr--Modifies exemptions from compulsory attendance laws relating to service in the military.

HF 2752--Garofalo--Creates enrollment preference for charter school applicants living near Castle Rock Township.

HF 2768--Jessup--Includes sex trafficking prevention in the child sexual abuse prevention curriculum.

HF 2772--Drazkowski--Modifies provisions relating to transportation of nonresident pupils within resident district.

HF 2777--Fenton--Expands grounds for revocation, suspension, or denial of a teaching license.

HF 2794--Davnie--Makes PELSB and BOSA members mandatory reporters of physical and sexual abuse.

HF 2795--Loon--Establishes various standards for teacher behavior including background checks and a teachers code of ethics.

HF 2825--Gruenhagen--Allows certain nonpublic students in grades 10 through 12 to participate in career and technical education programs offered through post-secondary enrollment options.

HF 2836--Ecklund--Modifies taconite assistance aid area.

HF 2841--Layman--Provides grant for the Children's Discovery Museum of Grand Rapids

HF 2843--Daniels--Modifies charter school admission lotteries.

HF 2845--Loon--Clarifies appropriation for the Rock and Read program.

HF 2846--Christensen--Establishes special education working group.

HF 2859--Erickson--Requires state assessments to be administered in May of each school year.

HF 2860--Erickson--Requires MDE to review charter school and district curricula.

HF 2877--O'Neill--Modifies Monticello school district special education aid adjustment.

Podcast of Note.  I will be tossing out a few additional items in my blog that highlight both state and national education policy.  An interesting item I came across as a result of listening to a story on National Public Radio is the podcast Have You Heard put together by Dr. Jack Schneider of the College of the Holy Cross and freelance journalist Jennifer Berkshire.  The podcast has a left-of-center bent, but it's extremely informative and covers a wide range of education issues.