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:



Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Education Bills Clear Their Committees.  Both the House and Senate Education Finance Committees approved their respective versions of the omnibus education funding bills today.  Neither committee hearing featured a plethora of proposed amendments and only a few of the amendments that were proposed passed.  The amendments that carried the most weight were passed in the House Education Finance Committee, where one amendment installed a funding mechanism to provide relief to school districts with high levels of special education cross-subsidy and another amendment that would provide the Commissioner of Education with the responsibility for developing the summative assessment (AKA the star-rating system).  Neither of the committees met late into the evening, which the Legislature has largely been able to avoid over the past few years.



And let me give you my opinion on that.  There are days I feel like an old man whittling away on a porch, thinking about those halcyon days when committee meetings stretched into the wee hours of the morning.  The minority party would offer amendment after amendment, asking for a roll call vote on each amendment.  Needless to say, proceedings seem to go on forever and it got on everybody's nerves.  It was almost like a wrestling battle royal with a flock of amendments running around the ring.

The majority party played the role of Andre the Giant, tossing the amendments aside one-by-one until there were none left.
Things have changed dramatically and while not all the changes have been for the better in every sense, the process is certainly more orderly than it was way back when.  The House adopts a budget resolution, which pretty much disqualifies any amendment that seeks to spend more money on a provision without a corresponding reduction in a different provision.  Further, the minority has largely refrained over the past few sessions from running up a long string of amendments at the committee level only to have them rejected.  It also has to be added that this is not a funding year, which limits the amount of room for possible amendments.

So thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me.

The Senate omnibus education finance bill (which does not contain the Senate's omnibus education policy bill) now moves on to the Senate Finance Committee and the House bill moves to the House Tax Committee.  While there will be spirited discussion at each stop, we probably won't see any substantive attempts to amend the bill until it hits the Senate and House floors.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

House Bill Released.


The curtain is up and the House Omnibus Education Funding and Policy bill has hit the big stage.  Unlike the Senate--at least at this point--the House has combined its funding and policy components into one bill.  The Governor has stated a preference for policy and funding to be treated separately, so we will have to wait to see what the process will look like going forward.  It is also unknown whether the Legislature will assemble one giant mega-budget bill that will entail all the budget (and perhaps policy) decisions in one document.  That is a format that has been followed periodically--and more consistently--over the past few decades.

So, with no further delay, here is a link to the House Omnibus Education Funding and Policy Bill:  HF 4328.

Here are the budget change items that are in the bill:

  • Permanent increase of $18/PU in School Safety Revenue at a cost of $16.6 million.
  • $5.0 million for School-linked Mental Health Grants.
  • $2.0 million for School Facility Audit Grants.
  • $1.9 million for Safe Schools Revenue for Intermediate School Districts.
  • $1.7 million for Safe Schools Revenue for Education Cooperatives.
  • $1.6 million for the Monticello School District's special education state miscalculation issue.
  • $420,000 for St. Cloud's summer ELL program.
  • $400,000 for School Resource Officer Training.
  • $350,000 for "Jake's Law."
  • $300,000 for School Threat Assessment Grants.
  • $273,000 for Suicide Prevention Training.
  • $250,000 for Vocational Enrichment Revenue.
  • $250,000 for Mounds View Early College Aid.
  • $200,000 to the Legislative Auditor for a report on school district funding.
  • $200,000 for the Mind Foundry Learning Foundation.
  • $150,000 for a Vocational PSEO Grant.
  • $50,000 for a school bus safety campaign.
  • $50,000 for the Grand Rapids Children's Museum.
The bill also expands the use of Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue to include school safety improvements.  That provision would take effect for taxes payable in 2019 which is the 2019-2020 school year.

Here is a link to the budget sheet that also shows some funding reductions for various education programs:  HF 4328 Budget Amounts.

The bill will be formally heard this afternoon at 1 PM in Room 5 of the State Office Building.  The House Education Finance Committee will entertain amendments from members at tomorrow afternoon's meeting.



Monday, April 16, 2018

House Budget Targets Announced.  


Late last week, the House of Representatives passed its budget resolution outlining the budget targets for each of the programmatic categories in this year's budget and there weren't a whole lot of surprises.  The budget targets are outlined below:

  • $107.45 million in tax relief, including simplification of state taxes;
  • $101 million for road and bridge repairs;
  • $50.6 million to address a variety of issues, including pension woes;
  • $30.23 million for student safety through school safety improvements and mental health programming;
  • $15 million for expanded broadband internet across the state;
  • $10 million to prevent a 7 percent cut to people caring for Minnesota’s disabled community through the Disability Waiver Rate System;
  • $7.12 million for public safety;
  • $5 million for higher education;
  • $750,000 to address chronic wasting disease; and
  • $250,000 to support mental health counseling for farmers.
There is a little bit of dissonance existing between the level of funding for school safety--$50 million--announced by House Republican leadership last week and the House education budget target of $30 million, but it needs to be pointed out that the $50 million referenced at that event includes all of the money throughout the budget that will be dedicated to school safety and that there are likely initiatives that will come from other targets.  One rumor that is circulating is that there will be an amount set aside in the bonding bill to fund a competitive building project program that would funnel dollars to the districts that are most in need to safety-related facilities upgrades.  The House E-12 funding bill will be unveiled tomorrow and more details will be known at that time.

Here is a copy of the House budget resolution, which passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee on an 18-6 vote:  House Budget Resolution

And here is a story from the Session Daily published by the House Public Information Office on the resolution:  Tax relief focus of House budget targets

Senate E-12 Funding Bill Released.  The Senate Education Finance Committee presented its version of the omnibus education funding bill today in a delete-all amendment to SF 3928.  Unlike the House, where there is a strict formal budget resolution, the Senate sets targets for each committee that may be more malleable in the policy development process.  That said, the Senate is actually proposing to spend less in the coming fiscal year than the amount contained in the House budget resolution; approximately $20 million to the House's $30 million.

The funding highlights of the bill include:
  • $19.8 million in aid for school safety in FY 19 (next school year).  Additional $15/PU for FY 19.  Additional $3.51/PU ($7.50 for districts in an intermediate district) for following fiscal years.
  • $800,000 in a special education aid adjustment for the Monticello School District (provided money to transfer from the Minnesota Department of Education's litigation fund is available).
  • $750,000 grant program to promote character education.
  • $440,000 to two programs to promote equity and expand access to school telecommunications.
  • $273,000 for suicide prevention training for teachers.
  • $250,000 to the Sanneh Foundation to help close the achievement gap.
  • $125,000 for a grant to develop online access to music education.
  • $100,000 for the Race 2 Reduce water conservation curriculum program.
  • $47,000 for the Children's Museum of Grand Rapids.
The bill also contains the academic balance provision contained in Senator Nelson's SF 2487.  There have been some changes in the language, which is found in Article 3, Section 1, of the SF 3928.

Here are the documents that accompanied the release of the Senate's omnibus education funding bill.
Amendments will be discussed in committee on Wednesday, April 18, with the bill being passed out of committee at that meeting.  The deadline for all funding bills to be out of their respective funding committees is Friday, April 20.

Bill Introductions


Even past deadlines, the beat of bill introductions goes on!

Senate

Thursday, April 12

SF 3926--Wiger--Provides for online special education reporting system.
SF 3927--Relph--Grant to St. Cloud school district for development of leadership skills and cultural knowledge.
SF 3928--Nelson--Omnibus Education Funding Bill (Delete-all adopted on Monday, April 16, as reported above is current bill language.  This is original bill language which has been replaced.).
SF 3953--Nelson--Codifies teacher code of ethics.
SF 3962--Bigham--Requires school district threat assessment teams.
SF 3966--Chamberlain--Continues facilities levy authority for members of TIES.

Monday, April 16

SF 3977--Wiger--Narrows exemption for opting out of vaccinations to religious beliefs only.

House

Thursday, April 12

HF 4352--Torkelson--Appropriates money for an agriculturally-based STEM program.
HF 4356--Haley--Waives surplus property fees for school districts and state colleges and universities.
HF 4372--Loon--Sets forecast adjustments for E-12 budget amounts.
HF 4382--Davnie--Provides for online special education reporting system.
HF 4384--Peterson--Provides transportation for certain pregnant teens or teen parents.
HF 4387--Wills--Creates grant program for school resource officer training.
HF 4393--Jurrgens--Creates school hot lunch grant program for students who do not qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

Monday, April 16

HF 4406--Lillie--Narrows exemption for opting out of vaccinations to religious beliefs only.
HF 4414--Urdahl--Appropriates money for the repurposing of the Cosmos Elementary School.
HF 4421--Schomacker--Authorizes fund transfer for Ivanhoe school district.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Committee Reports.  Two education-related committees met today.  The early afternoon featured the House Education Finance Committee, which heard four bills.  The two bills of greatest interest to those who follow funding were HF 4272, Representative Knoblach's bill that provides additional revenue for districts with high levels of special education cross-subsidies, and HF 3591, Representative Dettmer's bill that increases transportation sparsity revenue.

Here is a data run for Representative Knoblach's bill:  HF 4272

Other bills included Represenative Franke's HF 4299, a bill that requires school districts to do a threat assessment, and Representative Jessup's HF 4302, a bill that provides a grant to the Mounds View School District for its early college program.

The Senate Education Finance Committee handled five bills.  They were:

SF 3743--Senator Carla Nelson's bill that provides a $1,000,000 for competitive grants for school districts to develop character development education programs.

SF 3123--Senator Carla Nelson's bill to increase state aid for school district telecommunications projects.

SF 3013--Senator Justin Eichorn's bill that expands eligibility for early childhood scholarships down to birth and modifies the administration of the early childhood scholarship program.

SF 2540--Senator Justin Eichorn's bill that provides a grant to the Children's Discovery Museum of Grand Rapids.

SF 3433--Senator Rich Draheim's bill that authorizes transportation for certain pregnant or parenting teens.
Missed a Day.  But seeing I did two on Monday, I'm still one my targeted one-a-day regimen.  The House Education Finance Committee was the only education-related committee that met on Tuesday.  The committee received a presentation on the Governor's education budget proposal--HF 4328--and testimony from the various and sundry education organizations that have interest in the bill.  There are three major funding provisions in the Governor's bill.

  • $16 million aid increase to school district for FY 19 for school safety revenue (putting per pupil amount at $54/PU).  School safety revenue is set at $72/PU thereafter with an aid/levy mix.
  • $17 million aid increase in changes to the special education formula for FY 19 with tails of an additional $43.5 million in the next biennium.
  • $56 million in the next biennium to make the School Readiness Plus program permanent.

There are a number of other program funding increases, but those listed above is where the big money is located.

Legislative budget targets have not been set yet, so it is difficult to know exactly where the conflicting views of the Legislature and Governor will collide.  Who knows?  Maybe there won't be conflicting views.

NAEP Results Released.  

(Sorry.  Couldn't resist the temptation.)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP) released its annual report outlining student achievement across the states that participate in the NAEP process.  Christopher Mangan from the St. Paul Pioneer Press put together this article that takes apart Minnesota's results.  As has been the case in recent history, our scores stack up very well nationally, but we continue to have troubling gaps between the achievement of white students and students in minority groups.

Link:  MN students near top on national test. Breaking results down by race tells another story.

Here is a link to the Nation's Report Card where you can see where Minnesota stands compared to other states.  Link:  Nations Report Card

In addition, here is the link that gives an overall review of the national results:  The 2017 grades 4 and 8 mathematics and reading results are in!

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris in Town.  Renowned pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris spoke at the Westminster Town Forum in Minneapolis yesterday.  I listened to the re-broadcast of her speech while driving back from the Belle Plaine Community Forum on their proposed bond election (Thanks for inviting me Dr. Laager and thanks to all the community members who participated).  Dr. Burke Harris provides a lot of insight in her remarks about how childhood trauma has an adverse effect on later intellectual and emotional development.

Here is a link to her remarks:  Dr. Nadine Burke Harris at Westminster Town Hall Forum

In addition, this link leads to the Center for Youth Wellness that Dr. Burke Harris founded:  Center for Youth Wellness

Last, but not least, a link to more information about ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) scores and what they may mean:  Take The ACE Quiz — And Learn What It Does And Doesn't Mean

Monday, April 09, 2018

Second Post of a Day/Night Double Header.  The House and Senate were back in session today.  The only education-related hearing was the Senate Education Finance Committee, which featured five bills, four of which concerned school facilities safety. Of the bills heard, SF 3243--Senator Pratt's bill that increases the Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue by $100 per pupil unit for Fiscal Year 2020 through Fiscal Year 2027--has the biggest chance of making it into the Senate omnibus education funding bill.  Other bills that were heard were Senator Wiger's SF 2507, a bill that includes cybersecurity along with the Governor's school safety revenue increase, and SF 2508, a bill that would create a new facilities funding category (School Improvement Revenue) that would provide districts with $212 per pupil equalized at the same rate as Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue to be used for facilities improvement.  The text of SF 2508 was Recommendation 4 in the final report of the School Facilities Finance Working Group issued in 2014.  It would replace the current lease levy, which is unequalized.  Before going further, in my testimony in support of all of the school safety bills, I pointed out that SF 2508 would solve a lot of issues facing the state's school districts, including that of building improvements for school safety and it is probably the best long-term strategy to pursue.  Unfortunately, it's not a budget year and even if there is some money left on the table after the Legislature and Governor agree on a tax conformity plan, it won't be enough to fund this measure going into the future.  The last of the school facility bills was Senator Clausen's SF 3472, which increases the school safety levy and makes certain that cooperative units receive a proportional increase in the total revenue increase.

The final bill of the day was Chair Nelson's SF 2774, which provides a $273,000 grant to Kognito, a group that provides evidence-based online suicide prevention training for teachers and students.  Here is a link to the Suicide Prevention simulations that are part of the training offered by Kognito:  Kognito Suicide Prevention

Bill Introductions

Introductions are down to a trickle!

Senate

SF 3896--Eaton--Increases and modifies Gifted and Talented Revenue.

SF 3904--Abeler--Appropriates money for a study comparing charter school and school district financing.

SF 3911--Dziedzic--Requires affirmative consent instruction.

SF 3914--Clausen--Defines cultural competency required for teacher licensure.

House

HF 4325--Poston--Allows for identification of students for free lunch using the Community Eligibility Program.

HF 4328--Loon--Governor's Education Funding Proposal.

HF 4329--Bernardy--Makes School Readiness Plus program funding permanent.

HF 4330--Peterson--Establishes Help Me Grow program.

HF 4331--Dean--Requires one credit in government and citizenship for high school graduation.


Let's Get Ready to Rumble.  


It's been a quiet session thus far (at least from my perspective).  A lot of bills have been heard and there has been an outpouring of public activity on several issues, most notably gun control how it relates to school safety.  For the most part, the Legislature worked diligently through the policy committee deadlines and has constructed its omnibus policy bills.  There are a number of important items in these policy bills--for education, the re-implementation of the five-star school rating system is probably the most prominent, but the session will likely not pivot on most of these provisions.

From this point forward in the session money will be the focus with some conformance to the changes in the Federal tax code at the heart of those discussions.  Minnesota's income tax system has been aligned with the measure of Federally Adjusted Gross Income (FAGI) in the calculation of income tax burdens, but with the significant changes to the definition of FAGI in the tax bill passed by Congress in late-2017 and signed by the President, that measure no longer is as seamless for Minnesota taxpayers as it has been in the past.  Thus, conforming to the Federal changes is a little trickier in Minnesota than it is in most other states, especially given the fact that there is now a cap on the deduction for state and local taxes at the Federal level.

As pointed out in Sunday's StarTribune, the issue will dominate the remaining six weeks of the 2018 Legislative Session.  Here is a link to that article:  Taxes top state lawmakers' agendas in second half of the legislative session

The primacy of the tax debate does not mean other important items will be totally shuffled off to the side.  There will be a supplemental budget bill and there will be a number of confrontations between the Legislature and the Governor across the varied budget fronts.  In education, the Governor has proposed some money for school safety along with more money being built into the special education base and a folding of the School Readiness Plus program into the base as well.  While the Legislature hasn't released its budget plans as of yet, at first blush it feels as though they are going to concentrate almost solely on school safety in both the areas of facilities and staff.  It's too early to tell, but we may yet again see a stand-off over early childhood funding.  There may be more traction and a chance for agreement on the special education issue.  In addition to the Governor's recommendation, there is a bill authored by Representative Jim Knoblach and Senator Jerry Relph (HF 4272/SF 3861) that provides districts with high levels of special education cross-subsidies with some measure of relief through a new special education formula component.  Rather than add an additional wrinkle to the formula, the Governor's proposal changes some elements within the current special education formula.  

Here is a link to the text of the Knoblach/Relph bill:  HF 4272/SF 3861.

There are also data runs that accompany both bills.   Here they are:

HF 4272/SF 3861

Governor's Special Education Recommendations

National Attention on Education.  However one feels about teacher strikes, there is little doubt that the statewide strikes by teachers in Oklahoma and West Virginia have brought the issues of education funding and policy into the public spotlight in a way and at an angle that hasn't been seen in a number of years.

Here is last weekend's edition of Marketplace Weekend, which includes a feature on teacher salaries and education funding (it leads off the broadcast, so there's no waiting around for the story):  Marketplace Weekend--04/06/18: Teachers, tariffs, and savings-savvy tech workers

The Sunday edition of The New York Times included a pull-out section on education.  Noted educator thinker Sir Kenneth Robinson weighed in with his opinions on what he views to be the major problems facing education in this interview:  An Expert's View: Sir Ken Robinson

As a bit on an aside, one of the most entertaining things I've ever seen on the internet is this animation based on Robinson's speech on changing education paradigms.  Enjoy it!



Here is another interesting article about individuals who earned a college degree, but decided to re-tool their skills and go into a trade.  Career and technical education has been generating a lot of interest lately both in states and nationally and articles like this do point out the impending shortage of skilled workers that is just around the corner:  Tired of Your Cubicle? Try a Trade.

Follow the Blog.  The next six weeks are going to be chock full of happenings on the education front and I will be blogging most every weekday and perhaps on some weekends.  If you have questions about what is posted or have a suggestion about something I should cover more closely, let me know at brad.lundell@schoolsforequity.org.