February 12, 2010

/ 12 February 2010 / Parents United
February 12, 2010

Update for February 12, 2010

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Read this update online!

This Week At the Capitol
These first weeks of committee hearings are filled with great information, studies and high level discussions. Many reports that feed these discussions can be found on our site—definitely worth a look!

House K-12 Education Finance Division
Tuesday, a report recently released by the Office of Legislative Auditor (OLA) provided some very good news for our students:

“We found that elementary and middle school students who attend ‘extended-time’ alternative education programs (such as before- or after-school programs or summer school) showed higher-than-expected growth on two standardized assessments when compared with other students and national norms. However, the Minnesota Department of Education has limited which school districts may provide these programs. We recommend that the Legislature allow all school districts to provide these alternative education programs. We also make several other recommendations to improve the oversight of alternative education programs.”—from the website of the OLA. More

Especially interesting are the OLA’s recommendations to both the MDE and the Minnesota Legislature.

Thursday, the topic was education finance research. Dr. Karen Seashore (U of M) and Dr. Nicola Alexander (U of M) presented research on issues surrounding school funding. As a way to gain a national view, all data used for Dr. Alexander’s presentation was taken from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Currently, Minnesota school districts spend about 69% of total expenditures on instruction or instructional staff, and the state contributes 66.8% of total revenues raised for public schools. Only four other states bore a greater share of schools funding. But there is still a persistent achievement gap. The conversation began around “differentiated investment.” The literature on school funding says:

  • Focus on adequacy and evidence-based funding models.  
  • Have money follow the child.
  • Have a targeted approach to spending.
  • Support more evidence-based innovation.
  • Provide greater accountability and a better assessment system.

Much of what Dr. Alexander had to say was reminiscent of John Myers’ work with PS Minnesota.

Dr. Seashore, who spoke on “Creating Successful Schools,” had a point that resonates with parents. Developing state level policy to create successful schools requires stability in programs, leadership and resources.

House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight
The hearing on Thursday brought some interesting information and potentially controversial conclusions from Dr.William Schmidt who reported on TIMSS data (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). The presentation was based on a study released last fall.

Dr. Schmidt’s presentation was called “Looking Beneath the Surface: What We Can Learn from the Minnesota TIMSS Science Results.” His thesis was that while Minnesota appears to be doing all right, there is more under the surface.

The TIMSS data show that high performing countries spend considerably more time than Minnesota on physics and chemistry, sciences that in his words “have critical relevance to success in a technological world.” Conversely, Minnesota spends an inordinate amount of time on earth science at the expense of physics and chemistry.  His data further show schools on the lower end of the socio-economic status concentrate even less on physics and chemistry. He said we exacerbate the socio-economic divide by not providing the same opportunity for all students.

In May or June, Dr. Schmidt will be releasing an international study of teacher preparation. He said the committee would be “blown away by the results.”

State of the State
Thursday, Governor Pawlenty presented his State of the State speech in House Chambers.

He encouraged passage of his jobs creation bill; approval of and renewal of JOBZ zones, as well as expansion of this program with a CARZ zone to keep Ford in St. Paul; reduction of government spending; radification of his unallotment cuts and permanently capping property taxes.

As one of the first steps in the legislative process, the governor will present his state budget on Monday. In his speech, he said his budget will have “dramatic and painful cuts” and that “we can’t afford all spending promised.”  He said he was going to keep the cuts out of K-12 classrooms.

Three thoughts about keeping cuts away from K-12 classrooms:

  1. It is ironic that the governor says he will “keep the cuts away from K-12 classrooms,” yet is dealing with the state’s cash flow problem by borrowing from the K-12 schools—causing school boards to cut classroom spending. </p>
  2. Saying one is investing in education by only considering K-12 does not reflect what we know of 21st century work force needs. The investment in education must be from early childhood through higher education. To invest in one at the expense of another decreases needed capacity.  
  3. A great percentage of our E-16 population lives in poverty so cutting services that aid people in poverty, especially health care, has a negative impact on kids’ learning.

The governor wants to carry on the “nation leading reforms” of his administration, continuing the hiring and paying of teachers based on performance. He supports giving the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis full control of the schools. He has created an Office of Turnaround Schools at the MDE to work on these initiatives.

In this issue


A Look Ahead
Next week the governor’s budget is promised on Monday, and both House K-12 Education Finance Division and Senate E-12 Education committees will be dealing with the funding shift for schools. Tuesday, House Education Policy and Oversight will be holding a hearing on assessment, and Early Childhood will be discussing the Quality Rating system.

Also on Tuesday (Feb 16), an unusual hearing is taking place at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis. House K-12 Education Finance Division and Civil Justice will hear presentations and discuss the need for collaboration between human services, education, health plans and juvenile justice.  Find the most current information for these and other important committee hearings at our website

It will be a fast and furious schedule this session. The following dates have been tentatively set but still need to be officially approval by both the House and the Senate:

  • March 12 (first policy deadline)
  • March 19 (second policy deadline)
  • March 29 (fiscal bill deadline).
  • Passover / Easter break will begin around noon on March 30 and end April 6, probably after noon.

In this issue


Did You Know…

Minnesota ranks 50th among the states on spending for school administration?
     (US Census Bureau, 2007)
…that many legislators are on Facebook? Friend yours!


What Can I Do?

  1. Plug phone numbers into your cell phone for the Governor’s office (651-296-3391) and your State Representative and Senator (Find your legislators). They will need to hear from you during this legislative session! </p>
  2. Create an email group for your elected officials and bookmark the contact page for those without direct email.
  3. Become a friend of Parents United on Facebook.
  4. Follow Mary Cecconi’s tweets during the legislative session.
  5. Read and respond to our updates and action alerts.

In this issue


At the Website

Bookmark our News & Events page: it’s updated daily!

In this issue


Childhood has no rewind: Our children cannot go back to grade school and
get another education when times are better and we all have more to give.
When the playground is empty and the children are gone,
either we will have sacrificed for them, or we won’t.”
—from a Parents United poster

Questions? Email Mary Cecconi

Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Avenue N., St. Paul, MN 55108

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In This Issue</p>

At the Capitol
A Look Ahead
Did You Know…
What Can I Do?
At the Website</td>

“Information is the currency of Democracy.”

— Thomas Jefferson