Update—for January 23, 2015: Slow and Steady

/ 23 January 2015 / Shawna

These early weeks continue to be filled with task force reports and presentations from the Minnesota Department of Education and other state agencies dealing with education related issues. It is a way to ease into the session. Legislators get to know each other and hopefully develop a common knowledge base.

This week at the Capitol

In the House

As the representatives are still hearing testimony from state agencies and nearly every stakeholder in public education this week, it’s difficult to sense the tenor of the group and the focus of their disagreements. In fact, as of yet, very little disagreement has arisen. However, the room is a buzz with House File 2. Stakeholders are lining up to debate teacher tenure, teacher training, and teacher evaluation. More to come.

The reps were educated on the The World’s Best Workforce legislation from 2013, the MDE Regional Centers of Excellence, and the task force update for Special Education Case Load and Rule Alignment. In brief, many representatives, including Chair, Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) commented that programs already in statute needed more time to be fully implemented. They requested demographic data including recent immigration or refugee status for 3rd grade reading scores, and wanted to see further breakdown of the category “Asian” students, revealing a sense of cultural sensitivity. The Regional Centers clearly proved their worth, and there was no question of Special Education rules that decreased caseloads for teachers.

A second hot-button issue is surfacing in the House Innovation Policy committee. HF 46 has been introduced by Minority Leader, Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) and would provide funding for universal all-day preschool for four-year-old students. All-day preschool for four-year olds currently exists in many districts throughout Minnesota–the bill does not create a new program, but funds its expansion to provide universal access. The goal of this bill is to decrease the achievement gap by expanding access to early learning. It is unusual that a bill would be introduced by a minority leader and a sign that this is an important priority for the DFL.

However, this bill may have competition. Rep Mullery (DFL-Minneapolis) introduced HF 152, which increases funding for the early learning scholarship program. Frank Forsberg (United Way) and Nancy Jost (West Central Initiative) testified on behalf of MinneMinds this Thursday, urging the representatives to consider that 9/10 eligible kids are currently waitlisted for early learning scholarships. They also advised that portability of scholarships increases the choices for parents, “who we think,” states Forsberg, “are most informed to make education decisions for their children.”

 

Over in the Senate

The Senate E-12 Finance Division (Education Committee) began bill hearings.

Several bills authored by the Chair of the committee centered on providing school technology funding. There is a great deal of interest in helping schools with rising technology costs but the difficulty is how. Discussion about r_egional_ broadband needs and disparities soon followed these proposals.

The companion of HF 46 (universal pre-K for all 4-yr olds) is SF 6 (Hoffman-DFL-Anoka). The cost of $416 million surprised several legislators. While conversation in both House and Senate focuses on methods to increase children’s opportunities for quality care and education, Gov.Dayton announced a family tax credit as a method to help families.

SF 75 and SF 76, Dahle (DFL-Northfield) are crafted with recommendations from the School Facilities Financing Task Force. Implementing these recommendations is a top priority for several major education stakeholder groups. This should come as no surprise to any of us. Keeping schools safe and up-to-date as learning environments is a challenge for every school district in the state. Keep your eye on these bills.

It is worth noting that there was a reference in testimony to a study conducted by the American Association of Civil Engineers that placed the cost of dealing with the deferred maintenance of school buildings in the US at $3.9 billion. Judging from a study done here in Minnesota 20 years ago, I think that figure is low.

 

“This Land is Your Land” 

Expect a great deal of conversation this session about school trust lands—it’s a good time to have a bit of background on these lands

For kids in the US, the old folk song is true! Did you know that the Federal government had funding of public schools in mind as our states were settled in the US? After the Revolutionary War, the US government’s coffers were depleted. They wanted to provide for states for public education, so they gifted new states lands to set aside and propagate so that the wealth they produced would provide for public schools. This is what is meant by the term “land grant institution;” (the University of Minnesota has similar trust lands).

Minnesota got its school trust lands when it was founded in 1858. The original gift was 2.9 million acres – two designated parcels of each township. Since then, some of that land has been sold, but about 2.5 million acres remain, along with mineral rights, all largely in the Arrowhead region of northeastern Minnesota. These lands are managed under current law by the Minnesota DNR (Department of Natural Resources), and is overseen by a school trust Administrator and a commission of 12 bipartisan legislators, from both bodies. Profits from these lands are distributed twice yearly by the Office of Management and Budget to all the school districts of the state.

Every few years, the issue of managing these school trust lands arises at the Capitol. Is it a conflict of interest to have the lands managed by the DNR, who has an interest in preserving them? How should they best be managed for maximum profit? Should the profits from these lands be used to ear mark certain school spending needs, like technology? These questions will resurface this session. Learn more and stay tuned.

SF 18 (Wiger) proposes to earmark school trust land profits for school technology needs, specifically. Currently, distributions to school districts have no strings attached.

“Knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” – Northwest Ordinance, Second Continental Congress, 1787

 

Bill Introductions

Thousands of bills are introduced each session. Each week in this section you will be able to read through newly introduced bills that deal with education. No bill can be heard in committee that has not first been introduced on the floor of the House or the Senate, so unless it is on this list, you won’t see it in committee. Conversely, the chair of each committee is charged with deciding which bills will be heard. Reading through these bills gives us a better understanding of what our elected leaders are thinking.

2015 House Bill Introductions

2015 Senate Bill Introductions

 

A look ahead

 

Bills to Watch (Our best guess of bills that will bring a great deal of discussion!)__ 

SF 6 Hoffman (DFL-Anoka) Universal all-day preschool for four-year-old students funding

SF 18 Wiger (DFL-North St. Paul) Special technology revenue creation and levy authorization

SF 75 Dahle (DFL-Northfield) School district capital project referendum provisions modification and appropriation

SF 76 Dahle (DFL-Northfield) School districts and charter schools long-term facilities maintenance revenue program establishment and department of education appropriation; alternative facilities bonding and levy program and deferred maintenance revenue repeal

 

Worth a second look

  • school funding is a warm sweaterSometimes the best way to explain something complicated is a simple metaphor. For a little background on public education funding, please check out School Funding is a Warm Sweater on our website.
  • Check out At the Capitol, where we will keep you updated on committees, bills and opportunities to get involved at the Capitol this session.
  • The Capitol is under construction! Before You Visit Today is a helpful resource with restoration updates, parking information, accessibility.

 

Our agenda is simple

We don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the law-making process so parents can speak for themselves. Truth be told, Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications, as well as a navigator fora legislative process often oblique to the public.