It all comes down to this – Update for April 19, 2013

Mark your calendar

It’s action time

The next four weeks make the difference between a proposal and law. If you have been reading these updates, trying to keep apprised of proposed legislation that will impact your schools, if you have a Legislative Action Committee – now is the time to ACT.

The House and Senate Omnibus bills have been crafted by their committees and the Governor’s priorities are clear from his budget proposal. The next four weeks will determine which provisions from each of these three will be in a final bill. NOW is when law is made and NOW is when we need to support what we believe are good ideas!

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Here is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Everyone else is pushing for what they want, are we? Are we doing everything possible so our schools will be in a better position next year than they have been in the last ten?

A very wise former legislator used to say, Don’t count on a vote – ask for it!

You may think that if provisions are in everyone’s budgets they will survive the legislative process. Not so. The tax bill needs to pass to provide the necessary funds for all these education investments. If dollars dwindle, so do investments. If you support the funding, then ask your elected official to vote YES.

Necessary, but left out: Campaigning for levy renewal this year? Why?

This bill needs to come forward! It could still move through the process on its own, or be amended into the Omnibus bill. Let’s not call it dead! It is a bill that I would like us all to vocally support!

HF234/SF356 (Authorizing school district expiring referendum renewal by school board action) was recently heard but not included in the Omnibus Bill. Parents United strongly supports HF234. Several additional requirements are necessary for a board to utilize this process, but a renewal would not have to return to the voter. Only referendum renewals already passed by voters qualify under this bill.

Remember:

  • The Minnesota Miracle passed in 1971 and was a mechanism to provide education funding NOT dependent on the property wealth of a district. An operating levy was to provide extras.
  • A voter-approved levy would grant a school board authority to tax for a certain amount and the dollars would stay within the school district.
  • Prior to the mid-1990s, the passage of a levy granted school boards this tax authority ad infinitum. Yet at the time the legislature placed a maximum length of 10 years on any new levy.

Passage of HF234/SF356 respects the local voters’ decision to elect school board members AND grant those officials the authority to be fiscally prudent in the governing of their schools.

Potential controversy worthy of weighing in on! Testing provisions in both Omnibus Bills

One provision in both omnibus bills that may see opposition is the newly proposed suite of assessments to replace the GRAD test. This proposal has been in the works for years and is based on recommendations from a stakeholder assessment task force. It was first proposed in HF 1337 and SF1103.

This provision is worthy of our support and I encourage each of you to highlight its inclusion in any final education bill.

LISTEN to more: MPR ran a thorough report on this on April 18’s Daily Circuit, in an interview with Commissioner Cassellius and Anoka Teacher Union President Julie Blaha.

Let me cut to the controversy: The current requirement for high school graduation is the passage of the GRAD test, developed exclusively for MN, with no correlation to any other state’s testing regime and no relevance for students.

New legislation will change that requirement to a suite of assessments that must be taken for graduation – none of which in the proposed legislation would require a “hard cut score” for graduation. The new suite of assessments would include an Explore test in 8th grade, the PLAN in 10th and a college normed assessment like ACT in 11th. Currently, 72% of Minnesota students take the ACT. With this change all students would take it. This changes out high stakes assessments for high value assessments.

The Explore and PLAN help students explore potential careers and understand what they need to achieve to match their career goals. The first two tests are linked and predictive of what one can expect to score on ACT.

Certain groups want a “hard test score” to graduate and opine that without this watermark, “Minnesota would be lying to students about their college/career readiness.” The problem with this logic is that many colleges do not require these scores for college entrance, but Minnesota would deny the student a high school diploma!

What do I do? How do I do it?

Find what you like, or don’t like in the bills and write an email today! Support is as important as opposition. Using the same email for each legislator is just fine!

If you’re not sure who represents you check it out on the District Finder.

Sample Emails

The best communication with a legislator is you telling your own story. It need not be lengthy, just real. Legislators will respond most to constituents, but it is critical that Senate, House and state leadership also hear what you are asking of your local representative.

Subject line: Constituent re: school levies

Dear Senator:

I am supportive of HF234 and want to see it in law. I have worked three different times on district levy campaigns. Each time I hold my breath wondering if it will pass. I know too well how important these dollars are for my children’s education, and I am frightened each time we have to ask the voter to renew this levy.

I vote for my local school board and hold them responsible to run our district.

They should have the authority to renew these levies. Our voters gave them that authority already – why do they have to give it to them again and again? If our community is unhappy with our schools, our resolution is to change the make-up of our local board.

Please do what you can to make this proposal law. Thank you,

Name and address

Subject line: Constituent re: testing provisions in Omnibus bill

Dear Representative:

I am happy to see the inclusion of a new testing system for our state in the Education Omnibus bill. I hope you will support it as is. I have heard that in order for a student to graduate, some people want a “hard cut score” legislated. I am not in favor of a one-day score determining a young person’s life. There are many assessments a child needs to complete in order to graduate; this is only one and should not decide the rest of their lives. I look forward to hearing your response. Thank you,

Name and address

Why is high school redesign important?

The MDE has been working with MNSCU and the Office of Higher Education to help students improve job skills through high school redesign. Greater attention is being given to an E-12 alignment with higher education.

This alignment reflects a desire to help students learn relevant skills through internships, apprenticeships, vocational/career tech programs and certificated programs as they matriculate through grades 10-14.

So often we hear schools castigated for not providing skilled graduates, yet in Hiring Difficulties in Minnesota we see how this new vision for our schools align with our children’s future careers.

Snippets from the full report:

“The study findings indicate that skills mismatches misalignment of supply and demand occur in pockets of Minnesota’s labor market. When they do, the policy and education response cannot be one-size-fits-all, but rather, should be customized to the industry or set of occupations facing difficulty. One example of a more nuanced and tailored method for studying and addressing employers’ needs is the approach taken by the Minnesota State Colleges and University system and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce through their Workforce Assessment sessions in 2012.

“The answer may not be more education across the board. In the occupations studied here, a more appropriate response might be to find ways to provide hands-on experience and work-based learning to students who are still in college, for example, through internship programs. In the case of production occupations, it may mean going back further in the pipeline to provide career education, information and hand-on learning experiences at the K-12 level. It is also worth asking what role employers might play. Where demand-side issues are driving the problem, employers may be in the best position to offer a course correction.”

________________

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