Thursday, June 06, 2019

Adequacy Lawsuit Filed.  The St. Cloud NAACP and the St. Cloud Educational Rights Advocacy Council filed suit in February in the Stearns County District court in an effort to combat the chronic underfunding of special education that has plagued St. Cloud (and districts throughout the state) and the court will be hearing oral arguments tomorrow.  Former St. Cloud School Board Member Jerry Von Korff has been a long-time proponent of investigating the possibility of litigation of this type and the continued failure to make significant headway in reducing the special education cross-subsidy triggered this action.  I have attached a link from The St. Cloud Times regarding the upcoming hearing.

Is special education underfunding a constitutional violation? Court to hear arguments Friday

Compensatory Education Funding Discussed.  The Minneapolis StarTribune had a front-page story in last Sunday's paper outlining the issue of compensatory education funding and how the achievement gap persists even with this funding.  The issue of Minnesota's racial academic achievement gap has been an item of intense discussion over the past two decades and the increase in compensatory education funding during this time is aimed at remedying that situation.  Along with increased compensatory revenue, many have promoted charter schools, more parent choice, and other reforms to address this gap.  Unfortunately, nothing has seemed to make a dent in differences in achievement.

The article spoke with a number of school officials and educators about the challenge and how the current level of compensatory revenue falls short of what is spent on services to address the racial achievement gap.   Often times, the revenue is used to pay for revenue shortfalls resulting from the underfunding of other formulas--particularly the English Language Learner formula--to make those services whole.  Superintendent Anne-Marie Foucault from SEE member district St. Michael-Albertville outlined her concerns over funding in the article.  St. Michael-Albertville is not a district that one would ordinarily think would run a shortfall when addressing student achievement issues, but the compensatory formula is so inadequate for that district that it spent four times the amount of basic skills revenue it received on programs to narrow achievement differences.  Districts that receive higher levels of basic skills revenue have problems of similar magnitude.

The article points out some of the disparities in the distribution of the formula and it's not my place to comment on how the formula works.  Concentration of poverty is certainly an adequate basis for having greater funding in the urban core and regional centers where diversity--especially language diversity--is growing rapidly.  I believe the question boils down to how much of a discrepancy should there be and points are made on both sides of that issue in the article.

Transparency of expenditures is also an issue and that was at the heart of Representative Sondra Erickson's request that the Legislative Auditor look into the issue further and try to get a better handle on the tracking of basic skills revenue.  As a former legislative staffer (lo, though many years ago) who was part of discussions on what should be the allowable uses of compensatory revenue, I can attest it's not that straightforward of a question.

There was talk during the session that the Governor may convene a working group during the interim to look at possible reforms to the education funding system.  Basic Skills/Compensatory Revenue would likely be a big part of that discussion in terms of amount, distribution, and allowable expenditures.  Stay tuned.

Here is a link to the article (nice job Anne-Marie):  $600M A YEAR, YET ACHIEVEMENT GAP PERSISTS  (I'm not shouting!  I copied the headline and it was all caps.  They are shouting.  Not me.)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Equalization Part of Final Tax Agreement.  With all of the talk about the funding increases in the E-12 bill, not much was said about the just under $10 million that was contained in the tax bill for referendum equalization.  It's below what we were hoping for and less than what was either in the House or Senate initiatives passed by the respective bodies (House $25 million in their E-12 omnibus bill and Senate $15 million in their tax bill), but it clearly is a step in the right direction and it is greatly appreciated.  The tax relief is accomplished through an increase in the now first-tier equalizing factor from $510,000 in referendum market value per pupil unit to $567,000 in referendum market value per pupil unit.

As measured annually by the Minnesota Department of Education, the gap between districts at the 5th and 95th percentile of funding in the categories of the operating referendum, local option revenue, equity revenue, and transition revenue is widening again after being narrowed dramatically by changes made during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions when the $300/PU board-approved operating referendum was established and the $424/PU local option revenue was made uniform for all districts.  Narrowing that gap will likely fall to individual districts passed voter-approved levies.  The increased equalizing factor will not deliver relief to districts that will now be at zero in referendum authority (the $300 per pupil unit board-approved referendum and the $424 per pupil unit local option revenue has now been combined into a single category of local option revenue equalized at the current rates for each of the previous categories), but as those districts seek to pass new referendum authority, those districts below $567,000 in referendum market value per pupil unit will receive some measure of state aid.

The challenge for low property wealth districts going forward will be to further increase the equalizing factors across-the-board and then have those factors indexed to averages in statewide property wealth growth.

Here is a data run for the increase in referendum equalization.  The increased aid is found in the column labeled "Q".

District-by-District Referendum Equalization Aid Increase Run

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

For Your Reading Pleasure.  Here is a link to the E-12 bill on which agreement was reached yesterday.  Only 140 pages as there is very little in terms of new policy.  As I reported yesterday, the major parts of the agreement are:

  • 2% increase in the general education basic formula in each year of the biennium.  This costs $388 million.
  • $90 million to prevent the special education cross-subsidy from increasing further.
  • $47 million to maintain the 4,000 pre-kindergarten spots that were part of the School Readiness Plus program.
  • $30 million in school safety grants.  This program is contingent on there being an additional surplus at the end of the current fiscal year.
All told, those appropriations end up being above the $540 million target, but the school safety grants hang in the balance due to the forecast surplus requirement.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Education Deal Struck.  It went an extra day, but the final education conference committee deal for E-12 has been agreed to by leadership.  The last time the conference committee met during the regular session was at 4:30 on Monday, but with floor responsibilities for the members and the difficulties associated with dividing up the remaining revenue in the budget target, there was simply too much ground to cover in a short period of time to finish on time.  Here is the final agreement:

  • 2% on the formula in each year.
  • $3.4 million for Tribal Contract School Funding.  Funding is permanent.
  • $46 million to preserve the existing voluntary pre-K seats.
  • $90 million to freeze the special education cross-subsidy.
  • $30 million in school safety grants contingent on positive balance at the end of the current fiscal year.
  • $1.5 million for each body for grants contained in their bills.
  • No additional policy other than the same/similar provisions already adopted in the conference committee.

There will undoubtedly be more details on the individual grants and I will provide them when they become available.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Conference Committee Begins on Last Day.  The conference committee has just convened and the House has put forward its first offer.  The 2% increase in the basic formula is agreed upon in the global pact and the House has put forward the Governor's recommendations of $90 million for special education and $46 million to preserve the existing pre-kindergarten slots.  Other items deal largely with grants.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Budget Deal Reached.  A global budget agreement has been reached with individual budget targets set for each area of the budget.  The E-12 budget target is set at $540 million, which is approximately $160 million below the Governor's budget proposal and $360 million below the House's.  If it approximately $250 million above the Senate's last budget proposal.  The budget agreement calls for a basic formula increase of 2% in each year of the biennium, which would absorb around $390 million of the $540 million target.  That would leave revenue for special education, early childhood education (school readiness plus or early learning scholarships), and school safety.  We'll have to see where things go from here.  Speaker Hortman indicated she would prefer a special session to be held on Thursday, May 23.  Lots of work to be done between now and then, but things could get done quite easily.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Where We Are At.  In today's Morning Take, Blois Olson described the current debate at the Capitol attempting to reach a budget/policy compromise as taking place in the Cone of Silence.  As a baby boomer, I immediately caught the cultural reference and can't agree more with Olson's apt illustration.  For those of you too young to remember Get Smart, here's the Cone of Silence.

Even with the close-to-the-vest nature of the negotiations, it's pretty obvious where the major points of contention lie.  The Governor laid out a very ambitious platform in January that called for an increase in the gas tax and an extension of the medical provider tax.  The House went further proposing greater investments in education and health and human services and suggesting these investments could be paid for with adjustments to the Minnesota tax code.  The Senate went a totally different direction, coming forward with smaller budget targets and a no-new-taxes approach.  It was always easy to imagine that the initial approaches by each of the branches would be what they were and anticipating that, the Legislature put forward deadlines that aimed to speed up the decision-making process and ensure a more organized, if not amicable, end to the session.  The overall and individual conference committee budget targets were to be set by May 6 and conference committee reports were to be finished by May 13 under that framework.

So much for good intentions.  It's May 16 and the overall budget situation remains unresolved.  At this point, it's difficult to see the session ending smoothly or on time, but given the power of technology to put together substantial bills in a short period of time, it's certainly not out of the question that business can conclude by the 11:59.999999........... on Monday, May 20.  I am not a betting man (I lost fifty cents to an Augsburg College classmate on the 1972 Purdue/Notre Dame football game and have relegated myself to $2 show bets on the favorite at Canterbury Downs ever since), so I'm not going to post any odds regarding how this turns out.  I can only say that no one wins in a special session; one side simply loses more.  Given the uneven electoral swings in Minnesota over the past decade, I'm not going to venture reading the tea leaves as to what any of this means for the 2020 election cycle.

In the meantime, how about some of this with a slow theme (and oh, so mellow)?

I hope to provide some answers in my next post.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

So, What is Happening?  It's been a couple of months and there has been a lot of action, but it's all boiled down to an impasse that few hoped, but many predicted, would happen as the 2019 legislative session rolled along.  All of the major conference committees have been meeting, but there has been very little headway on items that will have major impact in terms of policy or finances.

It's been no different in the education conference committee.  The first few days consisted of:

In which the two sides outlined their vision and the provisions of each bill were presented and discussed.  After that was finished, the conference committee launched into:

And provisions that were either the same in both bills or similar were discussed, sometimes amended, and adopted.  Since then, action has slowed and much of that is due to the overarching effect that the unresolved budget situation is having on the proceedings.  Everyone across the board in both bodies are waiting for a decision on the fiscal parameters that the various conference committees will be accorded as their final bills are put together.  Unfortunately, it seems this song is an apt description of the loggerheads that leadership has found itself in:

As expected, the tax issue is the cloud through which the sun cannot pierce at this point.  Much of the Governor's and House's plans rely on extension of the medical provider tax and an increase in the gas tax to both bolster the state general fund by removing road repair/construction costs from it and provide funding increases in a number of budget areas, including E-12 education.  This approach resembles a loose thread on a sweater (I called the Tortured Analogy Department for this one).  Currently, the revenue leakage from the general fund is like a loose thread and the Governor's tax policy is trying to snip that thread with his proposed tax policies.  The Republicans, while not yanking on the thread, don't seem willing to snip it by increasing taxes, which leaves us in a limbo from which a rapid escape seems unlikely and the fate of the sweater lies in the balance.

I do want to report that there are referendum equalization provisions in both the House and Senate, with $25 million in the House E-12 bill and just below $15 million in the Senate Tax Bill.  I have informed decision-makers that SEE prefers the higher amount (thanks Captain Obvious) and would like it in the Tax Bill as opposed to the E-12 bill.  Like everything else, the ultimate fate of the proposal will depend on how much revenue will be on the table for this and other purposes.  I want to thank all the authors of our equalization bills (Representative John Huot, Representative Brad Tabke, Senator Roger Chamberlain, and Senator Carla Nelson) for their support and the chairs of the committees (Representative Jim Davnie and Senator Roger Chamberlain) who are carrying the provisions in their omnibus bills.

I haven't been using the blog with regularity this session (as you have likely noticed), but as the regular session comes to a close over the next week, I hope to keep you informed of the action (or inaction).  Let me know if you have any questions or comments regarding the status of particular pieces of legislation.  Catch me at 612-220-7459 or

Monday, March 11, 2019

House Omnibus Education Policy Bill Released.  The House Education Policy Committee released its bill today and it comes in at 101 pages, which is relatively slim considering that a number of provisions in the bill are resurrected measures from last year's vetoed omnibus supplemental appropriations and policy bill.

The major provisions of the bill include:

  • Significant changes to the tiered-licensure program adopted by the Legislature in 2017.  Under the bill, a tier one license could only be renewed once among other changes.  The pertinent sections of the bill are found in Article 3, Sections 10 through 29, starting on page 30 of the bill.
  • Nonexclusionary disciplinary policies similar to those in last year's vetoed bill found beginning on page 15.
  • Lowering of the age for compulsory attendance from seven to six.
  • Several of the special education paperwork reduction initiatives that have been discussed this session dealing with conciliation conference requirements and short-term objectives on individual education plans.  The bill also calls for a working group on the prior written notice.

The committee will spend a lot of time over the next few days with the goal of finishing the bill on Thursday, one day before the deadline for policy bills to be heard in committee in the house of origin.

Here is a link to the bill:  HF 1711 Delete-all Amendment (Omnibus Bill Framework)

Great Hearing on Equalization in Senate Education Funding Last Week.  Two different equalization bills were heard in the Senate Education Policy and Funding Committee last week and SEE was well represented at the hearing.  In addition to my usual ramblings on the subject of equalization, expert testimony was provided by Stewartville Superintendent Belinda Selfors and South St. Paul Superintendent Dave Webb.  Both superintendents did a very good job of explaining how low property wealth school districts are at a great disadvantage when going before their voters for operating or debt service levy approval.  

SF 670 is Senator Roger Chamberlain's referendum equalization bill and it takes a different tack than the usual course of equalization bills by looking at tax effort in each tier of the referendum as opposed to using equalizing factors.  It accomplishes much the same purpose as current law and there's certainly no crime in thinking outside the box.

SF 1237 is Senator Nelson's bill that tackles both referendum and debt service equalization.  It stays within the current framework of the law and in the case of the operating referendum it hikes the second tier equalizing factor.  On debt service, it lowers the first tier eligibility threshold and the second tier eligibility threshold.  This makes more debt service revenue eligible to receive equalization aid and increases the rate of equalization for a number of districts.

Here's a picture of Senator Nelson and Superintendents Webb and Selfors taken after the hearing.  Thanks to all:  the Senators for introducing the bills and the superintendents for testifying.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Monday Wrap Up.  There will likely be progress on the MNLARS issue today as the Senate is taking up the bill on the floor this evening.  The big education news of the day took place in the House Education Policy Committee and the release of the Legislative Auditor's report on Debt Service Equalization.  The House Education Policy Committee took up a number of bills related to teachers, including HF 1329, which would dramatically change a number of provisions in the recently-established tiered licensure system.  HF 1559 was also heard.  This bill would raise the training requirements for special education paraprofessionals and fund sixteen hours of training.  It is going to be a very hectic week for the House Education Policy Committee as they wade through a colossal number of bills as the work to meet the March 15 policy committee deadline.

The more exciting news for SEE districts is the release of the evaluation of the Debt Service Equalization Program by the Program Evaluation Division of the Office of the Legislative Auditor.  The report gives an excellent and thorough description of the program and its shortcomings in meeting the current building needs of school districts throughout Minnesota.  Foremost among its recommendations is the suggestion that the current thresholds and equalizing factors for the program be updated to create greater property tax fairness.  Another recommendation looked to explore the differences between the needs of growing districts in need of new construction and districts that need to replace, rather than continue to repair, older buildings.  There are also suggested revisions to the Minnesota Department of Education's Review and Comment process.

Here is a link to the page where the Executive Summary and the complete report can be downloaded:  Debt Service Equalization for School Facilities

Kudos to Jody Hauer as Project Manager and Will Harrison from the Office of the Legislative Auditor on a job well done.  And just in time for the hearing on Senator Carla Nelson's SF 1237 on Wednesday.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

I Haven't been Asleep for Quite Twenty Years.  But I guess one could say I have been asleep for twenty blogging years.  February has been an extremely busy month at the Legislature and it will be a while before things calm down.  The deadlines have been set and the first policy committee deadline is set for Friday, March 15.  That means that the next two weeks will feature extended night meetings in a lot of committees.  Things will likely transpire differently between the two houses of the Legislature as it appears that the committees that combine policy and funding in the Senate may only observe the funding bill deadline of April 12.  All this remains to be seen.

One of the things that has contributed to the hubbub is that most of the policy measures that were part of the vetoed omnibus supplemental appropriations and policy bill for 2018 have been re-introduced again in 2019.  When folks talk about the vast number of bills that have been introduced this year when compared to other years, the effect of last year's veto are rarely mentioned.

In the Meantime.  The Equal(ization) has landed!  A number of equalization bills have been introduced.  In the House, Representative John Huot is carrying HF 1143, a bill that would increase the equalizing factors in the first and second tiers of referendum revenue and deliver about $50 million per year in property tax relief to low property wealth school districts.  Representative Brad Tabke is carrying HF 1142, a bill that would simplify the debt service equalization program by creating a single tier of equalization and then setting the equalization rate at the highest level in current law.  As in the case of the referendum equalization, the total cost of the bill is approximately $50 million per year.  Both bills were heard at an House Education Finance Division meeting in Windom on Friday, March 22, and after the hearing were referred back to the House Ways and Means Committee.  From there, they will be referred to the House Tax Committee.  Representative Paul Marquart who chairs the House Tax Committee has pledged to carry any property tax relief related to education in the tax bill.  That's not to say that there will be an increase in any of the equalization programs or the Ag Bond Credit, but if there is, it will not be pitted against increases in education funding programs.

The Senate also has two equalization bills that it will consider.  They are not companions to the House measures, but do deliver considerable levels of property tax relief.  SF 670 was introduced by Senator Roger Chamberlain and delivers around $30 million of property tax relief by providing relief in each of the three tiers of the referendum levy.  Senator Chamberlain is taking a different approach than what has generally been advocated in the past and the distribution of the relief is a bit different than if the bill were to simply adjust the equalizing factors upward, it is still substantial relief.  Senator Carla Nelson has introduced SF 1237, a bill that would deliver approximately $30 million in referendum equalization and $30 million in debt service equalization.  The approach in Senator Nelson's bill is similar to that found in HF 1142 and 1143, although scaled back somewhat.  Both SF 679 and SF 1237 will be heard in the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee this coming Wednesday (March 6), at 3 PM, in Room 1100 of the Minnesota Senate Building.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Special Education Hearing.  There has been a lot of discussion around the special education issue both in terms of funding shortfalls and paperwork and procedural burdens early this legislative session.  Improving the special education formula is on almost every--if not all--platforms of the major education lobbying group.  The growing amount of revenue being diverted from districts' general funds to pay for special education costs that exceed their special education formula revenue has indeed reached a level that is untenable.

As important as correcting the funding issue is (and it will receive extensive attention during the 2019 Legislative Session), special education procedures that add hours of paperwork for special education teachers and special education administrators to perform took center stage at today's Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee.  Over the summer, the Senate held a series of committee meetings that looked at special education procedures in hopes of easing some of the regulatory burden faced by school districts while ensuring that the rights of special education students are not eroded in the process.

The New Ulm school district, led by Superintendent Jeff Bertrang and Special Services Coordinator Irina Soboleva, took a long look at procedures they believe add to teachers' paperwork burden but add little to the education product delivered to students qualifying to special education.  The results of New Ulm's work found its way into a series of bills that the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee heard today.

The first bill up was SF 749, a bill authored by Senator Gary Dahms, that would eliminate the requirement that school districts must offer parents a conciliation conference prior to a dispute resolution conference.

Next up was SF 482, Senator Eric Pratt's bill that would allow, but not require, districts to state or district assessments related to the student's educational needs.

Senator Paul Anderson's SF 244 was up next.  Like SF 749, SF 244 alters the conciliation conference process.

Fourth in the queue was SF 640, authored by Senator Paul Utke.  Currently, a transition plan for special education student must be developed by the time the student enters the ninth grade.  This goes beyond Federal law, which only requires that the plan be developed by the time the student turns 16.

Senator Dahms returned to the stand with SF 717, a bill that would allow districts to perform a functional behavioral assessment without having to perform a comprehensive evaluation of the student.

The day closed with Senator Greg Clausen presenting SF 159, a bill that would eliminate the requirement that all individualized learning plans contain short-term objectives.  Short-term objectives would still be required for students taking alternative assessments.

As is the case with all discussions regarding special education policy, diverging opinions--sometimes strong opinions--were expressed by the different sides of the debate.  Parent and advocacy groups spoke against the changes, arguing that the proposals would erode provisions that protect the rights of special education students.  On the other hand, proponents of the changes point out that the paperwork burden on teachers and the current conciliation and dispute resolution employed is crippling districts and causing a teacher shortage.  Having followed discussions like this for the past thirty years, I can say emphatically that no new ground was covered and we remain stuck in a system in drastic need of sensible change.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with the bills that came forward today, they need to be looked upon as an honest effort to alter the current paradigm.  We may or may not see progress this year, but it was healthy to see a public discussion of the challenges being faced by school districts.

I'm Lagging on Bill Intros.  I haven't been keeping up, but rest assured I will be posting some very key bill introductions in tomorrow's update.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Full Day Wednesday.  Wednesday is the only day of the legislative week when all three education-related committees meet.  The morning kicks off with the the House Education Finance Division meeting with the afternoon has overlapping meetings of the House Education Policy Committee and the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.

Today's House Education Funding Division meeting dealt with the issue of English language learners and how the current formula that funds programs to help these students become proficient in English falls far short of fully meeting the level of funding needed by districts to address this pressing issue.  The special education cross-subsidy of over $700 million (the amount of general fund revenue needed to pay districts' special education obligations) deservedly garners a lot of attention as it is certainly a challenge for school districts.  While not as significant in terms of magnitude, the current cross-subsidy to make up for the difference in funding provided by the current English language learner funding formula and the actual cost of programming provided by districts throughout the state is approximately $100 million.

A variety of districts testified to the importance of addressing this funding shortfall.  Todd Sesker (pictured below), superintendent at Faribault, was one of the school administrators that addressed the committee and he shared the experience of Faribault, where approximately 25% of the student population is non-English speaking.  The current English language funding formula leaves Faribualt about $1 million short of what it is spending to run its English language programs.  Other districts testifying were Osseo and Waseca.

The committee then turned to a bill authored by Representative Kaohly Her that would increase English language formula funding by $100 million.  The bill--HF 448--increases both the formula and the component of basic skills revenue related to non-English speaking students.

The House Education Policy Committee held a joint hearing with the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee to hear presentations on childhood trauma and how school districts can work with students that register high ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score.  Here is a link to the ACE test so you can get an idea of the experiences that lead to high levels of trauma in children.  Take the ACEs Quiz

The Senate Education Funding and Policy Committee spent its hearing on reading issues, especially as they relate to the diagnosis of dyslexia and the training of teachers to recognize dyslexia in students.  Evidence-based reading instruction has proven effective, but that doesn't mean there are different camps in the debate over what qualifies as effective evidence-based methodology.

The bills discussed today included:

SF 651--Chamberlain--Requires dyslexia screening for all students.
SF 116--Clausen--Requires training for teachers to enable them to meet the needs of students with dyslexia.
SF 196--Clausen--Requires teacher preparation programs to include instruction on dyslexia.
SF 733--Nelson--Provides for professional development to improve reading instruction.  This bill mentions several "brands" of staff development by name and if I've learned anything over my years of education-watching, when assembling any list of approved vendors, someone is going to be left out and there will be comments to that effect.  Senator Nelson did a good job of allaying those concerns and it will be interesting to see how this bill advances.  It is clear that improved reading is at the center of the Senate's education policy agenda and there will be a lot of discussion around how to improve reading and reach all students regardless of learning style.
SF 229--Eichorn--Appropriates money for Minnesota reading and math corps programs at American Indian-controlled tribal contract and grant schools.
SF 772--Eichorn--Appropriates money for dyslexia training for teachers.

Yesterday's Hearings.  I didn't post yesterday, but there were two education-related hearings.  First was the House Education Funding Division, which used its hearing to learn more about school nutrition programs and the challenges faced by school food service professionals in putting together programs that provide healthy meal options while keeping an eye on costs.

The House Education Policy Committee concentrated on special education procedures.  The question that keeps popping up is "How can we reduce the paperwork requirements of teachers while continuing to ensure the due process rights of special education students?"  The Minnesota Department of Education provided a description to Minnesota's special education law and where we go beyond Federal requirements.  The committee then turned to St. Croix River Education District Executive Director Jamie Nord and Special Education Director Nicole Woodward (pictured) for suggestions as to how paperwork can be reduced and some of the tensions districts experience in the monitoring and compliance process.  The hearing wrapped up with testimony from two special education teachers and the daily challenges they face while trying to meet paperwork requirements and spending time with students.  The turnover of special education teachers continues to be a pressing problem for school districts and the main reason most special education teachers leave the profession is the burden of paperwork.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Session in Full Swing.  We've reached the second lap of the legislative session.  The first lap is the "getting to know you" portion of the session, when newly-formed committees become acquainted with the issues the committee will be covering and the interests that will be commenting on these issues.  That includes hearing a lot of reports on funding systems and reports on the implementation of policies that were adopted last biennium.  

Now in the second lap, we begin to hear actual proposals (usually, but not always) in the form of bills that have been introduced by various legislators.  The Senate Education Funding and Policy Committee heard five bills today and all will be held over for possible inclusion in the Senate's omnibus education bill that will be constructed later this spring.

SF 15 was the first bill up and it sparked a bit of spirited discussion.  Senator Mike Goggin's bill would require school districts to provide information on careers in the construction, skilled trades, and the military.  The language from this bill was included in last year's vetoed omnibus supplemental funding and policy bill and was viewed as largely non-controversial.  Three military veterans testified against the bill, urging the committee not to promote the military as an option, believing that decision should be arrived at without encouragement.

The next bill up was SF 295, Chair Carla Nelson's bill promoting P-TECH schools.  The concept underlying P-TECH schools has been around for awhile, but serious interest in it is a relatively new phenomenon.  A graduate of a P-TECH school would ideally leave school with both a high school diploma and an ISO certificate.  That would put them in a position to go directly into the job market, often in a field where there is currently a labor shortage.  I believe this is the same framework of the Sarah Goode High School in Chicago that was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in February, 2014.  The text of the accompanying article is here:  The School that Will Get You a Job.

Third in line was SF 19, a bill authored by Senator Steve Cwodzinski that would require students to take a personal finance course in order to graduate from high school.  The testimony from all parties outlined the value of (and need to) learning personal finance concepts and how to apply them, but there is a question as to whether or not requiring a course is the right way to go given the difficulty of fitting the current course requirements into each students' schedule and allowing students ample opportunity to choose some electives.

Senator Justin Eichorn's SF 94--a bill that would allow students in non-public schools to use Post-Secondary Enrollment Options to take career and technical education courses at a Minnesota Technical College--was heard next.  This bill would affect very few students statewide, but would create needed opportunities for those students.

Last in the line of bills was Chair Nelson's SF 293, a bill requiring the Minnesota Commissioner of Education to collaborate on construction and skilled trades counseling.

The meeting ended with an report on a provision contained in the 2017 omnibus education funding bill.  That provision provided grants to rural career and technical education consortiums (shouldn't that be consortia?) to promote their programs to students.  Soutwest/West Central Service Cooperative Director Cliff Carmody and the Cooperative's Career and Technical Project Coordinator provided a very positive synopsis of how the grant they received has led to great opportunities for students in the region.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

More on Special Education.

It is pretty clear from the get-go that the Legislature is going to spend a lot of time addressing special education funding and policy during the 2019 Legislative Session.  In addition to another presentation by Tom Melcher and Paul Ferrin, the House Education Funding Division heard from a panel of superintendents representing different types of school districts.  From the left, the superintendents were Drs. David Hansen, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart; Carlton Jenkins, Robbinsdale; Joe Gothard, St. Paul; and Mike Funk, Albert Lea.  The panel outlined angles that may differ from district-to-district, but the challenge of unpredictable funding exists throughout the state is consistent among all types of districts.

Here is a link to the MDE presentation regarding the funding formula:  MDE Special Education Presentation.  This is the same Powerpoint that was used at Wednesday's hearing, but yesterday's hearing centered on trends in the number of special education students and disability categories, while today's concentrated on funding (those slides start on page 23 of the document).

Bill Introductions

Thursday, January 31


SF 628 (Eichorn)--Increases state aid for school telecommunications projects.

SF 629 (Rosen)--Allows for the possession and use of sunscreen by students while on school property.

SF 638 (Kiffmeyer)--Creates aid guarantee for low per pupil revenue school districts.

SF 639 (Kiffmeyer)--Creates new categorical revenue program for low per pupil revenue school districts with low levels of per pupil property wealth.

SF 640 (Utke)--Eliminates requirement that transition planning begin in ninth grade.

SF 651 (Chamberlain)--Requires screening for dyslexia.

SF 661 (Carlson)--Modifies student absence for religious holidays.

SF 663 (Chamberlain)--Assigns authority for transporting certain homeless students.

SF 670 (Chamberlain)--Referendum equalization changes.  I have yet to see a data run and I may be able to develop something over the weekend, but the gist of the approach in the bill is to cap local effort in each tier of the referendum with all revenue in each tier above that cap being comprised of state aid.  Interesting concept.

SF 688 (Clausen)--Staff development and program evaluation for intermediate districts and cooperative units.

SF 706 (Nelson)--Creates task force to gauge progress of education finance reform efforts.

SF 709 (Chamberlain)--Modifies student assessment data collection.

SF 712 (Utke)--Provides grant to Minnesota Principals Academy.

SF 717 (Dahms)--Allows for functional behavioral assessment in certain circumstances.

SF 723 (Little)--Authorizes grants for adult English Learner programs.

SF 733 (Nelson)--Provides staff development to improve reading instruction and authorizes payment of  hiring bonuses.

SF 734 (Nelson)--Appropriates money for suicide prevention training for teachers.

SF 735 (Nelson)--Codifies teacher code of ethics in statute and repeals rule.  Further requires school district ethics complaints procedure.

SF 747 (Isaacson)--Establishes grant program for career and technical education needs.

SF 749 (Dahms)--Eliminates requirement for conciliation conferences.

SF 760 (Tomassoni)--Modifies building lease levy for geographically isolated school districts.


HF 501 (Persell)--Appropriates money for Minnesota reading and math corps programs at American Indian-controlled tribal contract and grant schools.

HF 508 (Haley)--Expands school board options when disposing of surplus computers.

HF 514 (Pryor)--Increases safe schools levy.

HF 523 (Drazkowski)--Modifies provisions on transportation of nonresident pupils within resident district.

HF 525 (Persell)--Modifies calculation of transportation sparsity revenue and creates task force to study transportation funding.

HF 531 (Christensen)--Allows school districts to start school prior to Labor Day in the 2020-2021 and 2021-22 school years.

HF 532 (Erickson)--Requires background checks and expands mandatory reporting.

HF 566 (Wazlawik)--Requires school district safety assessment teams.

HF 575 (Huot)--Provides for disposal of unclaimed drugs or medications at school.

HF 576 (Kunesh-Podein)--Requires school districts to pay for a college entrance test for all students in grades 11 and 12.

HF 577 (Heintzeman)--Reallocates 40% of the revenue in the arts and culture heritage fund to public school arts programs.

HF 578 (Lien)--Modifies K-12 education tax credit.

HF 579 (Kresha)--Authorizes certain school safety projects using long term facilities maintenance revenue.

HF 602 (Urdahl)--Ensures students are adequately prepared to be capable citizens able to fully participate in the political process.

HF 618 (Runbeck)--Modifies calculation of referendum equalization revenue.  Companion to Senator Chamberlain's SF 670.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Caught Up (with Bill Introductions at Least).

Education-Related Bill Introductions from Monday, January 28.


SF 505 (Rosen)--Expands definition of extended time revenue to include students taking career and technical courses.

SF 506 (Rosen)--Allows districts to use long term facilities maintenance revenue for building demolition and debris removal.

SF 507 (Wiger)--Increases funding for Area Learning Centers.

SF 508 (Torres Ray)--Requires school districts to develop a recess policy for elementary school students.

SF 521 (Tomassoni)--Appropriates money for a collaborative summer intensive program.

SF 531 (Wiger)--Increases special education funding.

SF 580 (Eichorn)--Modifies calculation of nonpublic pupil aid.

SF 616 (Newton)--Creates post-secondary enrollment options incentive aid and enhances reimbursement for materials purchased as part of post-secondary enrollment options.

SF 617 (Newton)--Appropriates revenue based on general fund forecast to the permanent school fund for certain land sales.


HF 379 (Gunther)--Expands definition of shared time students.

HF 428 (Gruenhagen)--Modifies definition of a textbook.

HF 431 (Albright)--Authorizes fire drills for schools and education institutions.

HF 438 (Quam)--Amends the definition of public employee to include replacement employees who are employed for more than 60 days as a replacement teacher or faculty member.

HF 448 (Her)--Increases funding for English Learner programs.

HF 470 (Gruenhagen)-- Authorizes certain nonpublic students in grade 10 to participate in career and technical courses offered through the post-secondary enrollment options program.

HF 482 (Swedzinski)--Creates choice scholarships for students who have dropped out of high school.

Hearing Update.  The Senate cancelled all hearings, but the two education-related committees did meet and both had interesting presentations.  Newly-appointed Commissioner of Education Mary Catherine Ricker appeared at the Education Funding Division in the morning and at the Education Policy Committee in the afternoon.  After hearing from Commissioner Ricker, the Funding Division turned to the issue of special education with a presentation by Dr. Tom Melcher and Paul Ferrin from the Minnesota Department of Education.  Assistant Commissioner Daron Korte also chimed in a junctures to respond to questions from the committee.  Below is a link to the MDE presentation, which outlines a lot of statistics surrounding the special education issues.

The Education Policy Committee heard from MDE's Future Assessment Design Working Group and also heard Representative Peggy Bennett's HF 125, a bill that would require the work of grant recipients to be measured for effectiveness.  Seeing that there are a number of grant requests each year, it is easy to see why the Legislature wants to look at the programs of those seeking to renew grant funding to make certain value is being delivered.  An amendment was added in committee to exempt grants paid for with federal dollars.  After adoption of the amendment, the bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a later omnibus bill.

Here is a link to HF 125:  HF 125

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Still Catching Up!

I only managed to get the Senate bills from the past two weeks entered during my last blogging session, so here are the House bills for the same period.  As I said in that missive, there are a fair number of bills that were introduced, heard, and passed last session that became part of the ill-fated omnibus supplemental appropriations and policy bill vetoed by the Governor that are resurfacing.

House Introductions

Monday, January 14

HF 55 (Jurgens)--Modifyies school lunch provisions.

HF 57 (Erickson)--Education statutes clean-up bill repealing obsolete provisions and making nonsubstantive language changes.

HF 72 (Gunther)--Allows districts to used long term facilities maintenance revenue for building demolition and material removal.

HF 73 (Gunther)--Expands definition of extended time revenue to students enrolled in career and technical courses.

Thursday, January 17

HF 114 (Lucero)--Creates minimum aid guarantee for low per pupil revenue school districts.

HF 115 (Lucero)--Creates new categorical revenue program for districts with low per pupil revenue and low per pupil property wealth.

HF 116 (Freiburg)--Allows school district board to automatically renew existing referendum levy authority.

HF 125 (Bennett)--Establishes evidence-based grant standard for any legislative grant given to an organizations providing services to pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade students.

HF 151 (Urdahl)--Establishes working group to study possible changes to Minnesota's education funding system.

HF 152 (Lueck)--Appropriates money based on general fund forecast to compensate permanent school fund for certain lands.

HF 163 (Youakim)--Makes technical changes to school board vacancy statute.

HF 169 (Daniels)--Modifies charter school admission lotteries.

HF 193 (Murphy)-- Increases special education funding for school districts, reduces the tuition billbacks to resident school districts and adds operating referendum revenue to general education revenue for charter schools

HF 194 (Murphy)--Appears to be identical to HF 193.

HF 196 (Freiburg)--Requires seat belts on newly-purchased school buses.

Tuesday, January 22

HF 207 (O'Neill)--Modifies Monticello special education aid adjustment.

HF 208 (Kunesh-Podein)--Establishes deadline for teacher contract negotiations.

HF 209 (Kunesh-Podein)--Requires schools for report on testing material expenditures.

HF 224 (Sundin)--Requires child safety curriculum.

HF 244 (Claflin)--Requires radon testing for school buildings.

HF 246 (Bennett)--Establishes vocational enrichment program.

HF 247 (Kunesh-Podein)--Establishes grant program to increase student access to licensed media specialists.

HF 248 (Erickson)--Creates grant program to broaden access to music education in rural Minnesota.

HF 249 (Urdahl)--Changes graduation requirements to ensure students are prepared to be capable citizens and participate in the political process.

HF 250 (Kunesh-Podein)--Requires affirmative consent instruction.

Thursday, January 24

HF 292 (Kunesh-Podein)--Provides grant to Girl Scouts River Valley for ConnectZ program.

HF 314 (Youakim)--Allows school districts to start before Labor Day.

HF 323 (Garofalo)--Creates charter school enrollment preference for students living in or near Castle Rock township.

HF 328 (Runbeck)--Requires teacher preparation programs to include instruction on dyslexia.

HF 329 (Runbeck)--Modifies duties of dyslexia specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education.

HF 337 (Davnie)--Authorizes districts to transfer surplus in community education fund to general fund with approval of the Minnesota Commissioner of Education.

In other news.  Erin Golden has been doing some really great reporting for the Minneapolis StarTribune on the education issues that will likely emerge during the 2019 legislative session.  Two weeks ago, she wrote a piece on special education funding (or lack thereof) and just yesterday, she wrote a piece outlining Governor Walz' concern about increasing reliance on voter-approved referendum levies.

The special education article is pretty straightforward (plus includes a quote from me) and the second article recalls the debate we had within SEE during the 1990s as to whether the state should concentrate on making certain that general education revenue was more sufficient to meet districts' needs and greatly limit voter-approved levies while leaving them largely unequalized or to continue to work on equalizing the referendum and debt service levies to provide greater--and fairer--access to voter-approved levies.  The latter approach carried the day in those debates, but I sense in the article that the Governor may want to re-visit that discussion.  Regardless of the direction, the property tax is going to be central if adequate resources are going to be available and SEE will continue to fight for fairness in the application of the property tax.  I'm looking forward to seeing the Governor's recommendations and I am eager to work with him and the Commissioner of Education on making Minnesota's education system both adequate and equitable.