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.

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