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

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