Update for March 13, 2015: Halfway There….

/ 13 March 2015 / Shawna

Quote of the Week:

“Can’t we figure out the problem before we start legislating solutions to it? What’s real? What’s fabricated?”

-Rep. Ryan Winkler

 Advocacy in action!

On Monday, several parents and community members representing the school communities of Hopkins, Orono, Osseo, Robbinsdale and Wayzata met at the TIES building to hear an update on the session. Scott Croonquist (AMSD), Ann Hobbie and Mary Cecconi (Parents United) shared their perspectives and suggestions for making an impact with legislators.

Following the presentation, attendees met with legislators who represent their communities to talk about education issues that concern them and to thank them for their support. One attendee, Esther D., was so inspired that she returned to the Capitol on Thursday to continue to connect with legislators. “It makes me feel like a better citizen by being down here at the Capitol. It’s surprising how accessible it is. Thank you for doing this!”

Our invitation stands – consider joining us for a committee hearing and experience this process first-hand!

Something to consider

In his overview at our Monday gathering, Scott Croonquist explained that if we were to put a 3% increase on the per pupil funding formula for two consecutive years it would cost about $525 million.

There is also talk among the public right now that a $1.9 billion surplus simply means Minnesota has been overtaxed. This piece from MPR does a nice job of breaking down how the surplus happened and what it has meant for taxpayers.

This Week at the Capitol

How a bill becomes a law is often not the way you learned it on “Schoolhouse Rock“ when you were ten. The next few weeks are twisting, turning, messy territory–especially for education bills. Bills will be picked up, tossed out or torn apart, with some provisions added to omnibus bills in a fast-changing and unpredictable route to the finish line. Session ends in late May, so at this point we are halfway there!

Testimony in House Education Policy Innovation Committee

Testimony in House Education Policy Innovation Committee

This week in both the House and the Senate we heard the Minnesota Department of Education’s policy bill. While much of it is technical in nature, there are major changes proposed for state tests. The Department, at the Governor’s request, reduces 21 tests that a student currently takes in their K12 career to 14. We see this as progress – better assessments, fewer tests, and took the opportunity to testify in support of this reduction. We expect to see these proposals as part of next week’s omnibus bills. Full House summary.

Expect Education Omnibus bills next week!

All policy bills must be heard and passed out of Senate and House policy committees by March 20th. Any education bills with financial implications will have to be heard before March 28, when the legislature begins a week long recess. As they are heard in committee, most bills have been “held over.” This means the committee sets it aside for “possible inclusion in the education omnibus bill.” An omnibus bill is a compilation of bills and/or provisions from bills that the chair deems appropriate to move forward. There is usually an omnibus bill in each body.

After both houses develop their omnibus bills, leadership from both House and Senate select members to serve on an Education Conference Committee. That committee will have to hammer out the differences between the two bills – and those differences appear broad this year. The final product—the conference committee report — will head back to the floor of each chamber for a final reading and then be presented to the Governor to sign or veto.

It cannot be overstated how important this conference committee process is. Those selected to be conferees have to decide what will be acceptable in both bodies. Whatever is agreed to in the final conference committee report cannot be amended and requires an up or down vote in both chambers.

In the House

Myriad bills flew through education committees this week to solve a plethora of school woes. It seems everybody has an idea for a law that will solve a little piece of the problem. All come with a cost – and there are many, many worthy ideas for spending money for the sake of helping kids. Most will be held over for possible inclusion in the House Ed Omnibus bill. Funding for College Possible, the MN Children’s Museum, the Collaborative Urban Education Program, Early Learning Scholarships, Principals’ Leadership Academy and grants for after school programs were among the lot. Many are hard to argue with, but resources are finite. There’s no disagreement on the ends. There is disagreement on the means to the end.

One great idea was Rep Newton’s HF605 to increase the ratio of school counselors to students. We hear from parents all the time about this issue, usually related to mental health, school struggles and post- secondary prep. The bill would improve the 792:1 ratio of students to counselors in MN (48th in the nation) by requiring it to be 400:1. (The US average is 470:1). When we were not investing in education in Minnesota, class size and other needs became priorities. Our ratios are so low in Minnesota it now calls for a mandated improvement. (I almost testified in favor of this as a parent – in principle, few parents would argue this!)

However, while showing great respect for the bill’s intent, several testifiers voiced a number of concerns. These included the fact that many Minnesota schools have student bodies of several hundred total. Some schools use a “dean’s model,” where staff who aren’t necessarily licensed counselors help guide students, relieving some of the counseling need in a way that works for them. It would also take away some staffing flexibility, forcing potential teacher layoffs in order to comply with the law.

While this and so many of the bills have great value, the question is how best do we ensure our kids have all that they need without hamstringing individual schools and districts with mandates that may not work for their community? Would adequate money on the per pupil formula solve some of these problems?

Great to be having the conversation.

Over in the Senate

We’ve got the golden ticket! (aka the mob that never materialized)

“Due to the amount of interest in this hearing, tickets will be required to enter the hearing room. They will be distributed at the door on a first-come, first-served basis.”

The statement above was sent out Wednesday night regarding an 8:00am hearing on Thursday in the Senate Education Committee. The committee was taking up SF97 (Bonoff DFL-Minnetonka) a partial companion to HF2 (Pratt R-Prior Lake).

Naturally, I left my house, which is 5 miles away from the Capital, at 7:00am. To my surprise the mob of people I imagined would be there were missing! The threatening red velvet ropes were certainly present, but as the WCCO guy so eloquently put it, “Where is everyone?” Hmm…my thoughts exactly.

We were given our golden ticket, (I’m not making this up, they were yellowish) and we ran, ok, maybe sauntered to our seats.

What does this tell us? Are people tired of hearing about these bills? Is the hype over? The testimony from both sides was powerful and informative and Senators weighed in with praise and concern. The topic of teacher seniority, licensure, reciprocity, and everything else these bills entail is an important discussion to have and deserves the time alotted it. Maybe there’s nothing more anyone can add that hasn’t already been said, or maybe the idea of having to wait in line for your golden ticket to get into a committee hearing that starts at 8:00am seems daunting?

SF106 (Bonoff-DFL Minnetonka) perked my interest as a mother with kids in a language immersion school. This would allow grades 9 and 10 to have access to advanced language, college-level classes through concurrent enrollment options (college level courses taught in high schools by high school teachers). HF217 (Selcer DFL -Minnetonka) is the companion bill in the House. Marta Shore, St. Paul mother of two and Professor of Statistics at the University of Minnesota, voiced praise for the College in the Schools route, understanding first hand concerns with PSEO options, where risks are involved with young high school students venturing to a University or College campus.

She states, “I have seen bright, mature, motivated juniors and seniors succeed in PSEO. But I have also seen some students struggle with the combination of independence and pressure. I think this it would be too much to handle for a 14-year-old. Expanding college in the schools, which are taught by teachers who are experienced teaching to high school students, is a much better idea.”

What’s percolating?

We will not attempt to read the coffee grounds, but it is interesting to see the priorities that seem to be percolating in the House and Senate:

These are the issues that appear to have the favor of the majority in the House:

  • Special education
  • American Indian students
  • Homeless students
  • Charter school law changes
  • LIFO changes
  • Teacher shortage
  • Concurrent enrollment (college credit bearing high school courses)
  • Scholarships for early learning
  • Testing reduction

These are the issues that appear to have the favor of the majority in the Senate:

  • Special education (same focus, different means of support than the House)
  • American Indian students
  • Homeless students
  • Teacher shortage
  • World’s Best Work Force and career and college readiness
  • Concurrent enrollment
  • Universal pre-K and early learning scholarships
  • Testing reduction

Bill Introductions

Every bill introduced in one body does not have to have a companion in the other house. However, in order for a bill to become a law it must be approved by both bodies and signed by the Governor. This system is not as tidy as it sounds, however. Remember, sometimes provisions from a bill that does not pass both bodies can still end up in the Omnibus Education Policy or Finance bill and become law.

2015 House Education Bill Introductions

2015 Senate Education Bill Introductions

Bills to watch 

SF97 (Bonoff DFL-Minnetonka) HF721 (Loon R-Eden Prairie) Teacher placement on unrequested leaves of absence or discontinuing or terminating teachers requirements modified.

SF559 (Clausen DFL-Apple Valley) HF589 (Fenton R-Woodbury) Alternative teacher licensure provisions modifications

SF1001 (Hoffman DFL-Champlin) HF1233 (Christensen R-Burnsville) Student discipline provisions modifications

SF740 (Pratt R-Prior Lake) HF804 (Christensen R-Burnsville) Students with disabilities records transfer procedures requirements

SF472 (Bonoff DFL-Minnetonka) HF552 (Gunther R-Fairmont) High school career advising services appropriation

HF1217 (Davnie DFL-Minneapolis) desegregates data on “rigorous course taking” meaning AP, IB, PSEO and College in the Schools with the intent of expanding who accesses these opportunities. It also increases concurrent enrollment options by supporting teacher training for providing college-credit bearing courses in high schools.

A look ahead

Next week the Senate and the House will unveil their Omnibus Policy bills.

The House hears theirs Tuesday. The Senate hears theirs Wednesday.

Worth a second look

Education policy acknowledges that students who live in poverty likely have deeper needs than affluent students by inflating per pupil funding for those registered for free and reduced-priced lunch. It further increases that funding for schools that have a high concentration of children who live in poverty. Research shows that these investments help. The stories and research in this article demonstrate how it helps, and why it is all of our responsibility to extend this help. 

Editorial comment: We selected one article this week because it is so important but long. Please note that in one portion of the story the article places some blame on teachers. I feel a need to support teachers who do amazing work under challenging circumstances, though we acknowledge, some struggle. The article neglected to state that when schools fail students, it is also the responsibility of administrators, district leadership, state legislators, and federal law. We cannot let teachers stand alone.

What Can I do?

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.

Come join us at the Capitol!

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.