Thursday, February 25, 2021

Governor's Bill Presented, Supported, and Questioned.  The House Education Funding Committee heard HF 1065 (Davnie) this morning and the bill was presented in its entirety by Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller, Director of School Finance Terri Yetter, and Director of Government Affairs Adosh Unni.  They did a comprehensive job explaining the bill and they did it in rapid fire fashion, which allowed for a considerable amount of public testimony supporting the bill.  In addition to support for the more basic elements of the bill  (basic formula increase, special education cross-subsidy hold harmless aid, increase in the English Language formula, and a healthy increase in property tax equalization combined with simplification of the levy framework), witnesses voiced support for proposals like the student support personnel aid program and student mental health supports.  There is a lot in the bill, which elicited questioning from Republicans on the committee who believe the bill is too large and contains too many programs that don't address basic student and school district needs and instead goes in other directions.  There are new programs that can be framed as mandates in the bill (and also in the Governor's policy bill) and it will be interesting to see what survives the process this session.  There are clearly different visions of Minnesota's education future between the caucuses both in the House and Senate and between the branches of government, so it's going to make for an interesting ride.

I want to thank St. Michael-Albertville Superintendent Ann-Marie Foucault for testifying on behalf of SEE, MREA, AMSD, MSBA, and MASA in favor of the equalization sections of the Governor's bill.  As superintendent of a low property wealth district with a high debt service load, Superintendent Foucault knows firsthand the funding challenges that districts with that profile face and how taxpayer fairness is needed to help level the playing field both in terms of funding and taxpayer burden,

Big day tomorrow with the announcement of the February budget forecast, which will provide a picture of the fiscal confines that will dictate legislative action from here until May (or June . . . or July).

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wondrous Wednesday.  Wednesday is always the busiest day in the education universe at the State Capitol, with House and Senate K-12 committees all meeting at their appointed times.  The House Education Finance Committee took up two bills that had been passed up to them after gaining approval of the House Education Policy Committee last week.  Representative Cheryl Youakim's HF 378 would provide funding for paid training for paraprofessionals working in Minnesota schools and Representative Fue Lee's HF 786 would fund after-school community academic programs.  The bills were laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus education funding bill and no funding amounts are contained in the bill at this time.  The bills appear to have fairly strong support in the majority caucus, so it won't be surprising if these proposals have some presence in the House's omnibus bill.  The question will be over how much money may be dedicated to these efforts and we aren't clear on what level of revenue will be available moving forward.  Things will likely be clearer after the February budget forecast is released on Friday.

The House Education Policy tackled the Governor's Policy Bill--HF 950 (Richardson)--and spent the entire committee time discussing the bill.  The bill is approximately 80 pages, which isn't overly large for a policy bill, but it does contain some fairly sweeping recommendations that proponents view as necessary upgrades to Minnesota's education system while others view them as onerous mandates.  The bill features the changes in student suspension policies that have been hotly-debated the last few sessions.  The primary goal of this provision is to combat the disproportional suspension rates for students of color and special education students.  Another section of the bill calls for the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support; a framework that has been picking up steam nationally.  The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the committee's omnibus recommendations that will be constructed over the next two weeks.  Much of this bill will likely be contained in that later package, but the committee may not accept all of it.

The last committee of the day was the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee and the committee concentrated on a variety of initiatives related to teachers with most of the concentration on increasing the number of teachers of color in Minnesota.  SF 446 (Abeler) The Increase Teachers of Color Act and SF 526 (Koran) The Black Men Teach Twin Cities Program zero in on the goal of getting more people of color into Minnesota's teaching ranks and keeping them there.  Senator Julia Coleman's SF 781 is not as direct in promoting increasing the number of teachers of color, but it does propose a set of bargaining and hiring changes that may prevent teachers of color from being laid off due to lack of seniority.  This bill eliminates the practice of last-in/first-out, which made it the most controversial bill of the day (if anything in the initial stages of legislative discussion truly be described as controversial).  Senator Roger Chamberlain's SF 784 requires all school districts to establish a teacher mentoring program and use district staff development dollars to implement and maintain it.  The companion to this bill--HF 561 (Urdahl)--has been heard in the House.  SF 819 (Dornink), a bill that would create a pilot program for short-call substitute teachers was also heard.  The Human Resources Director for the Austin School District (Go SEE members!) testified in favor and made a compelling case as to why policy surrounding short-call substitute teachers need to be revised due to the extreme shortage in substitute teachers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Two-Bill Tuesday.  The House Education Funding Committee was the only education-related committee that met today and they covered two bills during their hearing.  The first bill--HF 1024 (Pinto)--would create a cabinet-level Department of Early Childhood.  The new department would transfer some employee complement from the departments of Human Services, Education, and Health and put them under one administrative roof.  If the bill is passed and signed by the Governor, the new agency would take effect January 1, 2023.  While few, if any, of the current legislative roster were around in the early-1990s when the Department of Children, Families, and Learning was created and many of the same employee transfers took place.  That agency last about a decade before it was split apart during the Pawlenty Administration with the various employees and state program jurisdictions returned to their original agencies.  This initiative somewhat deviates from that effort in that it creates a single new agency instead of adding onto an existing agency (Education) from other agencies (Human Services and Health).  A case can be made that creating an agency that would give parents of young children a one-stop agency instead of having to deal with programs that are funded in one budget and administered by a different agency is a good idea, but there will also be pushback from those who believe these programs can be streamlined (or reassigned) to cut through some of the confusion that is currently experienced.  The committee approved the bill and sent it on its way to its next committee.

The committee then turned to a bill that is already moving in the Senate.  HF 288 (Edelson) would create a grant program that would allocate $1 million in each of the next two years to school districts to provide staff development in the LETRS (Language Essentials for Teacher of Reading and Spelling).  The success of this scientifically-based reading program is well documented and it appears to have strong support in both the House and Senate.  I neglected to include the LETRS website when I wrote about the Senate hearing on this bill, so I will do that here:  LETRS

Monday, February 22, 2021

Monday, Monday. The House Education Policy Committee and the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee met today and both hearings were interesting.  The House Education Policy Committee featured a presentation by a number of agricultural interests stressing the importance of Agriculture in the Classroom initiatives.  Agriculture continues to play a large role in the Minnesota economy. While the number of people actively involved in day-to-day farming has decreased over the decades, the food industry remains very strong and that fact was stressed mightily throughout the presentation.  Another angle that was brought up and discussed was how in an era where more and more of Minnesota's population lives in urban and suburban communities it is important that Minnesota students are exposed to the "food cycle" to gain a more comprehensive understanding of where their food comes from and the work required to put food on the table of Minnesotans.  

The committee then moved to Representative Urdahl's HF 562 , a bill that would require Civics be taught as a course (instead of standards) in 11th or 12th grade in Minnesota high schools.  The bill also would give students the option of studying either personal finance or economics and not both.  Representative Urdahl has been working on this bill for a number of years and the arguments do make some sense.  There are always issues surrounding when Civics should be taught (most Minnesota schools do it in 9th or 10th grade) and what some consider to be a diminished ability of students to take electives if another course is formally wedged into the curriculum.  The other part of the bill that provides a choice between economics and personal finance is a little trickier seeing that Minnesota social studies standards cover both of these subjects and the standards are often embedded into classes as opposed to being taught as stand-alone subjects. The case for more attention to social studies in general--and perhaps Civics in particular--has been building over the past decade and complications notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see where the discussion goes this year.

The Senate tackled four bills:

SF 707 (Nelson)--This is the bill that provides grants to the 12 education partnerships that exist throughout Minnesota.  These partnerships--heard earlier in the session in the House as HF 156--have been vitally important during the pandemic as they have helped families in a wide variety of ways with a focus of helping students academically and meeting their basic needs.

SF 987 (Dornink)--Legislation that would require recipients of legislative grants to provide data analysis outlining the results obtained from the grant.

SF 628 (Chamberlain)--This bill would require school districts to administer the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments tests this spring whether the students are still in distance learning or not.  The argument for the bill is that it is extremely important to obtain baseline data for students who have not been in formal classroom settings for much--if not all--of the past year.  The argument against is that the scores won't mean that much and that it will be extremely difficult for school districts to implement the tests.

SF 859 (Hoffman)--This bill was introduced last session, but like so much legislation it fell by the wayside as the pandemic forced the Legislature into hybrid mode.  Under the bill, families could negotiate with school districts to have the private duty nurse that provides health supports to their medically fragile child to accompany their child to school and perform the same services in that setting.  It seems straightforward, but as we all know, when it comes to special education law, nothing is straight forward.  Advocates and providers have worked to come to a compromise over the past year, but there are still several outstanding issues to be resolved, most of them around the status of Federal law as it pertains to these potential arrangements.

In the spirit of today's blog title, let's jump in the Wayback Machine and set the date to 1966 and listen to the Mamas and the Papas on Ed Sullivans really be "shoe" singing "Monday, Monday."

Thursday, February 18, 2021

First Education Floor Action.  There's been some major legislation passed of the floor of a legislative body this session, but today was the first time that an education-related bill has been acting upon.  The Senate passed SF 2 by a vote of 40-27.  I have not seen the roll call, but given the final vote, it's apparent that several DFLers supported the bill.  The bill is very straightforward in that it prohibits the Governor, current and future, from closing schools through an emergency order.  Passage was expected, but the bill's path likely ends here as it is highly doubtful it will get out of committee in the House of Representatives.  That doesn't mean that COVID and the state's response to COVID won't remain high-profile subjects throughout the 2021 legislative session.  I am not surprised, but it is a little disappointing seeing that there was agreement shortly after the election on a substantial COVID relief package that there isn't a more unified approach on how to move forward. 

New Guidance on School Opening.  Governor Walz issued new guidance regarding getting schools back to normal with an expectation that all middle and high school students will be back in the classroom by March 8.  Many districts have already been bringing students back in and this should accelerate that process.  There will likely be some tricky adjustments as spelled out in the guidance, but this go-ahead is what parents and school personnel have been hoping for.

Here is a link to the Minnesota Department of Education's guidance on the re-opening:  Prioritizing In-Person Learning for All Students

Single Education-Related Committee Today.  The House Education Finance Committee was the only education-related meeting today.  The committee heard two bills:  HF 587 and HF 725.  HF 587 (Murphy) is the full service community bill that has been considered the past few sessions and is contained in the Governor's budget recommendations.  HF 725 (Youakim) would expand extended time revenue for districts for every student they place in a facility offering mental health services, juvenile justice services, or related programming.  District 287 Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski provided concise and insightful testimony on the challenges faced by students and service providers who face a situation that necessitates such a placement and how HF 725 would be helpful.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Wednesday Tripleheader.   The day led off with the House Education Finance Committee hearing Representative Paul Marquart's HF 498, a bill that would allow districts to include in their Long Term Facilities Maintenance levy costs associated with maintenance at cooperative units (intermediate districts, cooperatives, joint powers agreements) to which they belong.

The action then moved to the House Education Policy Committee in the early afternoon.  The committee covered three bills, the first being Representative Cheryl Youakim's HF 378.  HF 378 would establish a minimum of 16 hours of training for paraprofessionals, Title I aides, and other instructional support personnel, with 8 of these hours needing to be completed prior to the first day of school.  The bill provides for funding of this training and the bill was re-referred to the Education Finance Committee after passing on a split vote on which several, but not all, Republicans voted against it.  The committee then moved to HF 469, Representative Kelly Moller's bill that would require seizure training for school personnel and require school districts to have a seizure action plan.  The testimony in favor of the bill was quite moving and it's a testament to the students who suffer from seizure disorders and their parents for their fortitude in dealing with the challenging medical effects related to seizures.  The committee ended by considering HF 786, a bill authored by Representative Fue Lee that would modify and fund after-school academic programs.  As in the case of HF 378, because the bill calls for funding, it now will head to the Education Finance Committee.

The day ended with a whirlwind session of the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.  SF 790 would provide funding for the Sanneh Foundation.  Senator Zack Duckworth is the chief author of the bill.  The committee then turned to all of the Governor's recommendations that are carried in three bills that have been introduced:  

SF 973 (Chamberlain)--Governor's "Summer" Bill

SF 960 (Chamberlain)--Governor's Budget Recommendations

SF 788 (Chamberlain)--Minnesota Department of Education Policy Bill

Minnesota Department of Education staff went through the highlights of the budget at a brisk pace and testimony on the provisions was quite limited.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

 Governor's "Summer" Bill Heard in House Education Finance Committee.  The House Education Finance Committee heard HF 1064 this morning.  The lion's share of the bill provides assistance to students who have been adversely affected by the state's transition to hybrid and distance learning through a variety of educational opportunities,  Here is a breakdown of those funding initiatives:

  • $5 million for community partnerships for tutoring and mentoring programs.  Eligible programs include school districts, charter schools, intermediate districts, and cooperative units.  Maximum grant amount is $100,000.
  • $3.25 million for expanded tutoring.  Same programs eligible as with community partnerships.  Maximum grant amount is $200,000.
  • $1 million for mental health supports.  School districts and charter schools eligible.
  • $10 million for field trips and hands-on learning experiences.  School districts and charter schools eligible.  Revenue distributed per ADM and concentration of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
  • $10 million for Adult Basic Education.
  • $5 million for neighborhood programs.
  • $20 million for Summer pre-school programs.  Grant amount of up to $4,800 per student,
  • $6 million for Summer college program for graduating seniors.  Grant amount of up to $512 per course.
  • $6 million for School-Linked Mental Health Program.
  • $1.025 million to the Office of Higher Education for learning acceleration and college readiness initiatives and to combat learning loss of historically underserved students.
  • $25 million to school districts who have lost enrollment due to the pandemic by increasing the percentage in the declining pupil aid program from 25% to 48.5%.

The funding for all these programs comes in FY 21 and the programs run for this summer only.  It is hoped that this bill will be passed early in the session so that education providers can plan to implement the programs outlined in HF 1064 smoothly.

There was a lot of testimony in support of the bill, both written and presented.  The companion to HF 1064--SF 973--will be heard in the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee tomorrow along with the Governor's budget recommendations and the Department of Education's policy bill.  Full day ahead.