Update—for January 16, 2015 Back to School for Lawmakers!

/ 16 January 2015 / Shawna

It was “back to school” for legislators. Legislators were given the rules from their chairs and non-partisan staff presented background on areas of relevance. Casual observers may be surprised by the how much new legislators have to learn when they begin to serve on their committees. But remember — we elect our neighbors to represent us. They are not necessarily experts, and these non-partisan staff presentations help everyone with the complexities in current law. Veteran legislators add a great deal to this knowledge base!

 

This week at the Capitol– the Team, the Players and the Field

In the House

Great overview in Session Weekly article

In House Education Finance, Chair Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) had members introduce themselves and share a story from their own education. It was a chance to learn where representatives are from, what their priorities are and what has informed their views on education. It’s interesting that more than half of the members on this committee are or have been teachers. Two teachers – Rep. Marquart (DFL-Dilworth and former chair of Ed Finance) and Rep. Bennett (R-Albert Lea) – are currently on leave to serve in the House.

The non-partisan House staff provided presentations on education funding including changes made in 2014 legislation.

Organizations who represent education stakeholders introduced themselves, their interests and their platforms. Parents United took the time to introduce ourselves!

Concerns around testing, local control, teacher licensure, teacher evaluation and statutes regarding teacher layoffs, special education funding and so many other issues articulated are sure to be topics of debate as the session heats up. The buzz in the room was around implementing recommendations made by the state-level facilities task force to help districts statewide afford maintaining school buildings.

In the beginning there was a nod to decorum, bipartisanship and common ground. As the issues unfolded the spicy nature of varied opinions started to arise.

 

In House Education Innovation Policy Chair Sondra Erickson (R- Princeton) focused on members getting to know the team, the players and the playing field. Legislative Analyst, Lisa Larson had the floor most of the time and educated policymakers on decades of federal and state education policy “innovation,” and the implications of these laws for local districts, schools and students.

Ms. Larson broke down No Child Left Behind and its ramifications in Minnesota. Rather than adopting the term “subgroups of students”, which she suggested was indicative of more deeply rooted problems within the federal law, she more equitably referenced, “different groups of students” when referring to those most deeply affected by the achievement gap.

In her overview of “Career and College Readiness; Alternative or Expanded Educational Opportunities” she explained that one of the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind was that its focus on reading and math made other programs the “sorry step children” of a traditional curriculum. Ironically, those programs had historically been the most helpful to the very students that NCLB was enacted to protect. Across the room, sentiment seemed strong for bringing back applied and experiential learning in an effort to bridge the gap to post-secondary opportunity.

While members introduced themselves and their goals for the session, common goals included “bipartisan cooperation,” “local control,” “streamlining,” “bridging the gap to post-secondary options,” “vocational training and trades”, “equity,” and of course, “innovation.”

Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), a former teacher, had an expansive goal for Minnesota’s children: “avoiding adverse childhood experiences, encouraging early learning and limiting liabilities for kids before they get to school.” He went on to say, “Every day I am in committee there is a teacher somewhere concerned about a student who came to school hungry.”

 

Over in the Senate

There is an optimistic tone in the Senate E-12 Budget Division (Education Committee). As in House committees, members introduced themselves and named their priorities, while education stakeholders provided brief statements about their platforms.

Steve Dibb, Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) presented an outline of key components of the World’s Best Workforce Legislation.

The 2013 law is to, “Ensure every school district in the state is making strides to increase student performance. Each district must develop a plan that addresses the following five goals:”

1.) All children are ready to start kindergarten.
2.) All third-graders can read at grade level.
3.) All achievement gaps between students are closed.
4.) All students are ready for career and/or postsecondary education.
5.) All students graduate from high school.
 

The overall feel from school districts present was positive. Numerous structures and procedures were shared for meeting these goals, including school improvement plans, a curriculum improvement process and the use of Professional Learning Communities among teachers.

Since it provides a strategic plan for Minnesota’s public schools, Parents United will be closely following the progress of The World’s Best Workforce legislation as it is implemented in each district.

 

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 will not 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

 

More information about the feds and NCLB

If you read our last Update, or attended our Legislative Kick-Off, you heard that there is an effort at the federal level to drastically change NCLB. We have been hearing from the GOP-held House of Representatives that they want to return control of schools and testing to states. This week, the Senate announced a very similar statement.

The idea of repealing annual testing will be an interesting debate and greatly impact the future of schools!

 

$1 Billion Surplus! The good news and the not so good news…

When the Minnesota Budget Office released its projected budget we saw a significant forecasted budget surplus for the first time in years! $1 billion surplus–great news for the state’s economy, but there is a word of caution from both sides of the aisle.

The way forecasted budgets work, the projections on the revenue side (money taken in through taxes) is adjusted for inflation. But the spending side of the ledger (money spent) is NOT adjusted for inflation. Here is an analogy—you assume that you will be getting a raise in 2015 AND you assume that not one of your expenses will increase in cost.

In a nutshell, if we keep our existing budget commitments and adjust for inflation, the surplus goes away – read more.

 

Just a word about how the budget process works

The legislature works on a biennial basis–a 2-year cycle. Their job in the first year is to create a balanced budget for the next two years. On January 27, the Governor’s Budget will be released. This will give us a clear picture of Governor Dayton’s priorities for the session.

After the February state budget forecast, we begin to flesh out the legislature’s priorities. Leadership in both bodies (House and Senate) provide a budget resolution (how big is the pie) and committee targets (what piece of that pie will each area of the budget receive). Then we start seeing the bills! Budget targets and priorities can look very different between the House and Senate!

 

A look ahead

This week, The Somali Youth organization—Ka Joog, testified about the role of education in helping young Somali youth find positive pathways. An event you may be interested in attending is their Press Conference Tuesday, January 20 at 11:15 Room 181 in the State Office Building! We will be there! What an amazing group!

Next week, in the Senate E-12 Budget Division (Education committee) bills are coming fast and furious. Most will be about funding for technology and facilities. On Wednesday, the first bill proposing universal 4-year-old preschool will be heard in committee.

Meanwhile, the House will be hearing updates about implementation of World’s Best Workforce legislation, Regional Centers of Excellence, and School Trust Lands. Should be a busy week!

 

Worth a second look

In June, author and educator Mark Phillips wrote a succinct article for Edutopia that offers a research perspective on some of the issues likely to surface this session, including teacher effectiveness, class-size, school funding and zero-tolerance policies: 8 Myths that Undermine Educational Effectiveness. The article is brief and worth the 5-minute read!

If you have not yet found it, please check out At the Capitol, where we will keep you updated on committees, bills and opportunities to get involved at the Capitol this session.

Remember, the Capitol is under construction! Before You Visit Today is a helpful resource with restoration updates, parking information, accessibility.

 

What is Parents United’s agenda_?** **_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.