Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Here Comes the Night (Meetings).

Van Morrison and Them weren't singing, but there was a very long line of witnesses on a very long list of bills and it would have been nice to have Van (or a Van Morrison impersonator) croon a bit between committee meetings.  There were three committee meetings today, starting with the House Education Innovation Policy Committee.  With the first committee deadline a mere week away, the agendas are getting stuffed to capacity and the House Education Innovation Policy Committee couldn't complete its full agenda during its morning session and had to reconvene at 4:00 PM.  They then met until 8:00 PM.

The bill that generated the most testimony today was HF 3178, a bill authored by Representative Roz Peterson in the House (and SF 2816 authored by Senator Roger Chamberlain in the Senate--more on that later).  HF 3178 seeks to streamline the current Minnesota Department of Education school accountability framework and move back toward a five-star rating system.  The rating system proposed in the bill would consider multiple measurements, making it more sophisticated than the previous school report card that devolved into "accountability on a stick" that was passed out at the State Fair.  

There's no question that the current school accountability system is on the complex side of things.  The state collects a ton of data and it doesn't always present that data in a manner that is easily digestible by parents.  That was evident from the testimony of a number of parents.  At the same time, I think it's important to remember H.L. Mencken's admonishment that "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."  

The parents that testified in the House this morning went over to the Senate this afternoon and testified on the aforementioned SF 2816--the Senate companion to HF 3178--in the Senate Education Policy Committee.  The discussion was similar to that in the House as it was spirited and compelling.  The challenge will be to meet the goals of accuracy and simplicity.  Schools themselves are collections of very unique learners and not all schools are blessed with the same levels of physical, fiscal, and personnel resources.  Trying to cram all of these differences into a single unadorned document may be too much to ask.  This is an debate to watch for the remainder of the session.

The other bill that sparked considerable debate in the House committee was HF 1507, Representative Eric Lucero's bill that would govern access to student's online activity.  Representative Lucero has been working on this bill for four years.  One of the primary goals of the bill is to protect students from vendors of educational products that the school may be using.  As everyone knows, sign up for anything on the internet and you've got a friend--heck, many friends--for life.

The House Education Finance Committee dealt with two extended time bills, one being Representative Bennett's bill that was heard in the House Education Innovation Policy Committee last week that would allow extended time revenue to be used for career and technical education electives offered outside the regular school day.  The other extended time bill is authored by Representative Carlos Mariani and would allow extended time revenue to be used to educate students in correctional institutions.  Representative Mariani's bill to increase the English learner funding formula was also heard.

In addition to SF 2816, the Senate Education Policy Committee heard Senator Eric Pratt's SF 3243, which would allow Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue to be used for school safety improvements.  Unlike Representative Loon's bill that expands the allowable uses of Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue that doesn't increase to total revenue allowance, Senator Pratt's bill proposes to add $100 per pupil to the system for the fiscal years 2020 through 2027.

Another bill of interest--SF 2900--came from the brainchild of Jordan superintendent (and SEE member) Dr. Matt Helgerson.  As Jordan superintendent, Helgerson has been thinking about conducting fire drills in a way that does not require students to leave the building.  A number of school shootings have taken place after a perpetrator (or accomplice) trips a fire alarm, with the shooting taking place after students have left the building.  School districts must conduct five fire drills during the year and SF 2900 would allow districts to have alternative drills where students don't leave the building for three of them.  Great thinking from Matt.

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