April 18, 2008

/ 18 April 2008 / Parents United
April 18, 2008

Update for April 4-18, 2008 — From Mary Cecconi, Executive Director


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In This Issue

At the Capitol
What Can I Do?
Next Week at the Capitol

Important Date
Monday, May 19, 2008
The Legislature is set to adjourn

“The world is run by those who show up.”




What is happening at the Capitol?

Setting up for High Noon at the OK Corral

On Monday, April 14, Chas Anderson, Deputy Commissioner of Education, testified at the Conference Committee on HF 1812, the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations bill. Ms. Anderson made it clear that the Governor was not happy with the House and Senate decision to fund $51 per pupil (not pupil unit) in one-time money with the unused portion of QComp, nor was he happy with the language regarding the change in the existing statewide report card.

This appears to be a warning of a potential veto if the House and Senate do not keep in line with the Governor’s initiatives. [I think it is important at this point to mention that there is no planned evaluation from the MDE to determine the efficacy of QComp on increasing student achievement. It would seem that our elected officials would need that data in order to make a decision whether to expand the program, contain it or repeal it.] If this bill is vetoed, the $51 per pupil goes away.

[The unused portion of the QComp reserves are those dollars that have been held since 2005 to expand the program. This would essentially place a two-year moratorium on districts that have not yet submitted completed applications to be part of the program. All other schools that have been in the program or had completed applications in by March 20, 2008 would still receive the appropriation.] The argument used by the House and Senate is that schools are bleeding right now and keeping $20 million in reserve in the hopes that other districts would join in the QComp grant initiative seems like a poor idea. Although there are many proponents of QComp, even they said that drastic times call for drastic measures.

Another part of the bill that the Governor sees as unpalatable is the establishment of a growth model that would support the existing state report card. In 2007 legislation, the education omnibus bill repealed the use of the star rating system that had been used to rate our schools since its inception by former Commissioner of Education Cherie Pearson Yecke. This proposed report card language supplements the existing report card – it does NOT supplant it. It strives to give the public GREATER information to determine how our schools are doing by using a growth model. This growth model has been devised over the interim by assessment experts from the University of Minnesota and school district assessment directors.

On Tuesday, there was a joint meeting between the House K12 Education Finance Division and the Senate E12 Education Budget Division. The Senate leadership required that all policy be taken out of budget bills. With that in mind, this joint committee, essentially a working group, determined what needed to be placed in the joint funding bill. Much like a conference committee, they went through the two bills and agreed to accept the House or the Senate version of certain provisions and then worked toward resolving where strictly policy provisions might have a better fit.

Summing up, it appears that the intent is to send a very clean supplemental appropriation bill to the floors and on to the Governor. The bill would add $51 per pupil in one-time money AND the ability to transfer $51 from a district’s capital reserves one time, if a district has a reserve in that fund.

Other helpful provisions in this bill are:

  • $936,000 for kindergarten health and development screening.
  • an increase in the lease levy (beginning in Pay 2009) for the 2009-2010 school year from $100 per pupil to $150 per pupil.
  • clarification of the ballot language for districts seeking to renew a referendum levy at the same amount as previously approved.
  • the elimination of the general fund subtraction for the permanent school fund beginning in the 2009-2010 school year (approximately $30 million).

The intent is to send a bill that will provide relief for schools and not muddy the waters by adding policy that might be controversial to a funding bill. Another way to put it is that by having only dollars on a per-pupil basis in the bill forces transparency of which policy makers disagree with the appropriation of money to schools or the source for that money.

The policy bills will come separately. The Senate passed its policy bill SF3001 on Wednesday and the House will do so either later this week or possibly next week. If past practice is followed, the bills will be sent on to conference committee to align them.

In this issue

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What Can I Do?

We need to take a moment to contact our legislators and thank them for getting this bill to the floor quickly and for their work to give schools some immediate relief. None of the legislators I speak with believe this is anywhere near enough money for schools, but it is what they can come up with, considering the parameters they have been given and while they also work on comprehensive school funding reform. We know it is an uphill battle from here on out and we need to encourage their actions. [Need contact information for your legislators? Find it here.]

One word of insight: Senator Dick Cohen, St. Paul legislator and Finance Chair, said in committee the other day, “Why is it that schools don’t get cut? Why don’t they need to take their share of the pain?” I think it would be helpful for us to explain to Sen. Cohen just how painful cuts to schools have been over the last decade. All of us who work closely with our schools know that they have not been “held harmless.” Feel free to contact Sen. Cohen, (651) 296-5931 (or email form).

“That the public understands that funding is the greatest problem facing the schools will have no practical significance unless we can find ways to translate this sentiment into better funding for schools. The day is gone when school people could concentrate on operating schools and leave others to take care of funding. School leaders, teachers, and parents have no choice but to become lobbyists for their schools. They are the best advocates for public schooling.”

—from 39th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll

In this issue

A Look Ahead at the Week of April 21

Committee meetings and bills scheduled to be heard change frequently! Be sure to check the daily schedule of hearings and agendas.

Once the policy bills are through the House and the Senate, a conference committee will be appointed and meetings will begin again in earnest. Just a point of reference: if a bill goes through the conference committee process, it cannot be amended once it comes back on the floor—it is a straight up or down vote—so what happens in conference committee stays in the bill. The Governor, of course, does have veto authority.

“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

In this issue

Questions? Email Mary Cecconi

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

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