Bill deadlines fast approaching – Update for March 8, 2013

There have been and will continue to be several late night and additional committee hearings for the next weeks as a flurry of bills are processed. March 15 is fast approaching and it is the first committee deadline – “The first deadline is for committees to act favorably on bills in the house of origin.”

If a bill hasn’t been heard before a deadline its chance of making it into law is greatly decreased. I say decreased, because bills HAVE made it into law without having had a hearing at all. Expect a busy couple of weeks and then the Legislature will recess from March 22-April 2.

Anti-bullying legislation – Sweeping change

HF 826 – the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act – began its trip through the legislative process last week and this week its companion SF 783 was heard in Senate Education. The bill, using recommendations from the Governor’s Prevention of Bullying Task Force, elicited heartfelt testimony from parents and students as to the damaging effects of bullying, harassment and intimidation. Opponents called the law vague yet prescriptive, unconstitutional and a violation of religious freedom. In the law’s desire to be inclusive, they were concerned that children would be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs on homosexuality.

The bill consistently cites the need to establish safe and supportive schools for ALL while additionally enumerates specific protected classes of students. This “enumeration” led to a great deal of debate. Several legislators asked why this was needed and attempted to discount the need. Sitting in the room listening, it was apparent that dealing with protecting students against discrimination, intimidation or bullying because of “real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity” was very uncomfortable for opponents.

According to research cited by GLSEN, anti-bullying laws that call out or enumerate are more effective in protecting children: “Evidence shows that school officials often do not recognize that anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination are unacceptable behaviors, or do not respond to the problem due to prejudice or community pressure without the cover of a specific law or policy.”

This is not a simple law. It represents a sea change and has the potential of making a great many children’s’ lives a great deal better. Several education groups testified with concerns but complimented the author for working with them to make the law more effective.

An audit on special education provides confirmation and clarification

The Office of Legislative Auditor reported on special education this week. Each year, audit topics are selected by the Legislative Audit Commission. This last year, the Commission requested an OLA report on special education.

The Program Evaluation division was created within the Office of Legislative Auditor (OLA) in 1975. The division’s mission, as set forth in law, is to determine the degree to which state agencies and programs are accomplishing their goals and objectives and utilizing resources efficiently.

…evaluations by the office are independently researched…and reports are issued without prior review by the commissioner or any other legislators.

—Preamble to the OLA Special Education Report March 2013

The results were not surprising, but the report did offer independent confirmation of increased need and a lack of state and federal funding for special education. This is causing more schools to use general education funds or local levies to pay costs not being paid by the state. In the auditors’ report, beyond their recommendation that the legislature reduce reliance on general education funding to pay for special education, were recommendations to identify cost controls, shift the burden of cost away from the resident district, and “direct the Minnesota Department of Education to initiate detailed, independent analyses of the economic and educational impacts of any proposed changes.”

Several findings recommended oversight changes at the Minnesota Department of Education. Commissioner Cassellius testified that she was appreciative of the report and responded with the remedies, several of which are already being implemented. The MDE’s responses to the OLA report are outlined in the final pages of the report. The entire OLA report is available – with an easy to read executive summary!

Integration aid bill progresses through House – from Tom Anderson, Parents United intern

Background: The current system for integration revenue was created in 1997. Since that time, there have been dramatic demographic changes throughout Minnesota. The system no longer meets the original purpose of integration aid and does nothing to address the achievement gap. In 2011, the bi-partisan Integration Revenue Replacement Task Force was charged with making recommendations for “repurposing integration revenue funds to create and sustain opportunities for improved educational outcomes that narrow and close the academic achievement gap.”

Modeled after the task force recommendations, Rep. Mariani introduced HF247, which would create the “Achievement and Integration for Minnesota” program (AIM).

Under this program, some schools will see an increase in funding, while others will see their funding decrease. Representatives from both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools testified in support of these changes even though they stand to lose a combined $5.3 million. These districts realize the formula is broken and are willing to lose money in order to make sure the system accurately reflects the needs of Minnesota’s students and the goals of integration revenue.

Task force members Robert Erickson and Helen Basset testified in support of HF247. They stressed the importance of integration revenue in connecting with the community, breaking through cultural barriers, and helping teachers transcend cultural differences. Rep. Davnie added that an integrated learning environment allows for deeper thought and a higher quality of discussion for all students.

HF247 (AIM) would create a funding system that shifts money to the districts which have the greatest need. Additionally, it would allow districts to continue to levy up to 30% for integration revenue. Currently, that ability is set to expire after 2014. This provision came under scrutiny in the Education Finance Committee. An amendment was attempted which would allow for levying ability to expire in 2014. The amendment failed on a party-line vote (10-8) and HF247 was laid-over for possible inclusion in an Omnibus Bill.

Caution: Editorializing ahead! We love doing this, but only if you all understand that it is my opinion being shared.

The Democrats and Republicans appear to be in disagreement about whether integration revenue is worth the investment. In my opinion, it is.

In my experience as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, I have been a part of classroom discussions involving people of various socioeconomic backgrounds, races and religions. This diversity has always enhanced conversations and debates. It makes individuals think about things from new perspectives and allows for a deeper engagement and more critical thought. To prepare our students for the future, it is essential that we realize the importance of integration within our schools. HF247 is a step in the right direction. It updates an outdated formula, enhances accountability, and allows districts to continue fully funding integration programs. Minnesota will continue to become more diverse and the world will continue to be increasingly connected. This bill will help schools adapt to the changing demographics of our state and will help students prepare for a globally connected future.

Regional Cost Differences – what does this mean and why might it matter?

In last week’s Update we referenced equalization as a major component of school funding. This week we look at another critical component of funding – regional cost differences.

According to the most recent independent study done by Hamline University School of Business, regional cost differences do exist for Minnesota schools in both the metro area and to a lesser degree in large regional centers throughout the state.

In testimony, Minnetonka superintendent Peterson used the figures of wage, housing and service differentials at around 20%. Suburban schools may receive a great deal less state aid than others and have larger local levies.

The debate cited examples of state revenue being used to mitigate transportation sparsity in isolated districts and small schools revenue for districts smaller than 1,000 pupils and asked, shouldn’t state funds deal with regional cost differences? Senator Torres Ray was emphatic that “we have created regions of inequality and we need to weigh the impact of these decisions based on equity.”

Parents United testified that these fights over categorical funds are just symptoms of the real problem – the state per pupil formula has not kept pace with inflation and has caused schools to be overly reliant on funding though different categories.

When debating funding formulas it is wise to consider model principles. The Association of Metropolitan School Districts has laid out school funding principles that provide good direction.

Ideas legislators are thinking about….

It is interesting to see the education bills that have been introduced and may be called up later for hearings; we keep a running list on our website. Senate Introductions   House Introductions

A Look Ahead

Authors are asking for hearings on their bills and chairs are trying to schedule meetings when possible to meet bill deadlines. Now that the February forecast has been released, we can expect a supplemental budget from the Governor within the next week or so. He has often said he is paying a great deal of attention to responses to his tax proposals; all along has said he wants this budget to be a “people’s budget.”

Easter/Passover Break the week of March 25 will have the Legislature in recess; they will reconvene on April 2.

If you would like to plan a Capitol visit and need a little help—call us!!! It is always a good idea to check the House/Senate schedule the morning of your visit. Hearings and agendas are often changed.

Bills scheduled to be heard this week

House Education Finance
HF397 (Atkins) Independent School District No. 199, Inver Grove Heights, permitted to participate in the alternative facilities revenue program.
HF312 (Dill) Independent School District No. 381, Lake Superior; technology levy authorized.
HF431 (Dorholt) Independent School District No. 742, St. Cloud permitted a onetime transfer.
HF830 (Zerwas) Independent School District No. 728, Elk River, equity revenue adjusted by the metro equity region factor for students residing in the region.
HF831 (Zerwas) Independent School District No. 728, Elk River, fund transfers authorized.
HF64 (Hansen) Special School District No. 6, South St. Paul participation permitted in the alternative facilities revenue program.
HF247 (Mariani) Integration revenue replacement advisory task force recommendations implemented, and integration revenue repurposed by establishing the “Achievement and Integration for Minnesota” program to increase student performance and equitable educational opportunities and prepare all students to be effective citizens.
HF895 (Marquart) Referendum equalization revenue calculation obsolete language removed.

House Education Policy
HF361 (Slocum) Education provided in care and treatment settings, and money appropriated.
HF166 (Slocum) Resident pupils temporarily placed in a care and treatment center allowed to continue participation in district extracurricular activities.
HF957 (Dettmer) School construction near former landfills prohibited, and notice required for schools located near former landfills.
HF688 (Winkler) Schools allowed to maintain a supply of epinephrine auto-injectors, and immunity from liability provided.
HF771 (Davnie) Restrictive procedures for children with disabilities use clarified.
HF363 (Benson) Students per school counselor minimum ratios established.
HF860 (Bernardy) English language learning aid for students not yet proficient in the English language extended from five to seven years.
HF1003 (Morgan) Minnesota math corps program established and money appropriated.
HF925 (Mariani) School district ability to request department assistance clarified.
HF354 (Selcer) Teacher licensure renewal requirements related to recognizing mental illness in children and adolescents clarified.
HF1257 (Yarusso) Teacher candidates and licensure basic skills requirements clarified, and advisory task force established.
Pending Introduction and Referral from the Floor, the committee will hear HFYYY (Brynaert) relating to student assessment after HF354 and HF1257.

House Early Childhood and Youth Development
HF430 (Hortman) Family economic security act created, minimum wage rate increased, child care assistance modified, new child care tax credit provided, working family tax credit expanded, and money appropriated.
HF362 (Halverson) MFIP child care assistance modified.
HF1141 (Moran) Homeless children qualified for early educational services.
HF1142 (Moran) Minnesota Families and Children Assistance Program Act created, MFIP and child care assistance programs modified, commissioner provided directions, revisor instructed to change terminology, and money appropriated.
HF951 (Moran) Child Care Affordability Act established, child care assistance programs modified, and money appropriated.
HF1141 and HF1142 will be heard informationally, no formal action will be taken on them at Tuesday’s hearing. They will be formally acted upon at Wednesday’s Hearing.

Senate E12 Division
S.F. 522 Kiffmeyer Independent school district #728, Elk River; fund transfer authorization.
S.F. 618 Kiffmeyer Independent school district #728, Elk River; metro equity region factor equity revenue adjustment.
S.F. 494 Jensen Minnesota state academies for the deaf and blind kitchen upgrade appropriation.
S.F. 595 Tomassoni General education small schools revenue modification.
S.F. 601 Dziedzic School energy conservation revolving loan program establishment, bond issue and appropriation.
S.F. 543 Sieben School districts additional safe schools levy.
S.F. 221 Bonoff School district location equity index establishment and general education revenue formula modification.

Senate Committee on Education
S.F. 783 Dibble Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act.
S.F. 481 Wiger Early learning scholarship program establishment; access to quality early learning and care expansion.
S.F. 1024 Wiklund Early care and education department creation.
S.F. XXXX Dahle Providing for a series of statewide assessments aligned with state academic standards and career and college readiness benchmarks. This bill will be introduced on Wednesday, March 6th. For a copy of the bill, call Brad Kelly at: 651/296-5312. This bill will be heard informationally. While testimony is welcome on the bill no formal action will be taken on the bill at Thursday’s hearing.

 

Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391; mary@parentsunited.org