Now, it’s quiet – Update for May 31, 2013

End of Session Update - Photo

Now, it’s quiet…

The lights are low and the silence is deafening. The 2013 session is over and is one that many are calling “the education session.” There is good reason for that. The Governor and legislature made a substantial investment in early education, a modest increase in the per pupil formula, created an aligned system of relevant and diagnostic assessments, a thoughtful approach to integration and achievement, a nod to structural reform for school funding, and a vision for producing the “World’s Best Workforce.” Not bad – and a definite about-face from the last many years!

While the Senate, House and Governor all had very different approaches, no one was saying that schools were drowning in excess money. From the investments in early childhood to post-secondary, students were the focus throughout the spectrum. But “Largest Ever” Education Spending Increase? Not so Fast.

In addition to the focus on E12 (and I just LOVE saying that – early childhood through grade 12) the Higher Ed bill guarantees tuition will remain flat for the first time in a decade and passage of Minnesota’s DREAM Act allows children of undocumented immigrants the chance to attend college!

We have been living with a No New Taxes mentality, being told that increased taxes will chase jobs and wealth away from Minnesota and destroy our economy. But if you research the facts, it turns out that Taxing Gatsby to Invest in Ricardo Makes Sense. And the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities weighed in about Minnesota’s decisions as well.

Down and to the right

There’s something rather extraordinary that I haven’t seen commented on. This is the first education omnibus bill I have seen that was passed without “runs” – those Excel spreadsheets printed in the tiniest font possible, that have the tendency to infect policy makers with “down and to the right” disease. It’s a disease that causes even the most cerebral to quickly track down and to the right of a spreadsheet to see just how much THEIR district will get with the passage of a given bill. I believe the absence of these spreadsheets as deciding factors helped legislators truly consider the policy around funding streams and the logic behind using categoricals. Now it’s your turn to see if the allure of “down and to the right” infects you! Here are the spreadsheets for 2014 and 2015 (PDFs)– just look for your district then track to the right.

The whole shebang

The MDE DRAFT Summary (pdf) provides very precise information about our new bill and you may be interested in hearing the authors who spoke on May 22, right after Governor Dayton signed the 2013 E12 Omnibus Bill. If you are curious about what happened with certain bills that made it off the floor in the waning hours of the session check out the governor’s signing page to see what has been signed into law and what has been vetoed.

The power of parent advocacy

Many of you have been following the story of the East Metro Integration District (EMID) and their divestiture from governance of Harambee and Crosswinds, two schools built by the state of Minnesota in the 1990s for the purpose of integration. Governance was to be by the EMID board of education, comprised of a single board member from each participating EMID school district. The current EMID board decided to pull away from governance of the schools for a variety of understandable reasons, and the issue landed in the legislature’s hands this session. Necessary legislation was not completed, leaving the two schools in the position of being shuttered in the coming year.

However, the story is not over by a long shot AND if you want proof that parent advocacy works, look no further.

The EMID families came together three years ago, when the future of integration funding was at risk, and began the long road of advocacy. It is critical to understand that this was not a group of families whining to keep their schools open, but parents and students who believed in the value of integration and wanted the state’s vision to grow, not dissolve.

Dan Larson’s testimony outlines the results of the session and the work of the parents. It is due to this parent advocacy that I witnessed an unprecedented event at the May 29 EMID board meeting. House Education Policy Chair Mariani, Rep. Isaccson, Rep. Ward, Rep. Fischer and Sen. Marty came to the board meeting to discuss the current situation. The legislators were there because of these families. Not because the families had threatened or pouted but because they had consistently led the charge for the rightness of continuing the state’s vision. Chair Mariani, lead author of the new Integration and Achievement provisions in the Omnibus bill, will be holding an interim integration hearing in July. The power of advocacy is not to be discounted.

What was it like? from Tom Anderson

This session we introduced you to Tom Anderson, who was tracking House Education Finance for us. It has been a pleasure working with such an intelligent and astute young man. In a very few weeks Tom begins his Master’s program in Education and we wish him well. He is just the person we need in our classrooms. I wanted him to share his perspectives and insights from the legislative session. Good luck Tom! And thank you!!

Parents United asked me to write a piece, reflecting on my experience at the Capitol. I contemplated writing about specific policies but the Parents United staff will do a much better job at that than I. So, I decided to write about my experiences and what I learned in the process.

In a few weeks I will be starting a Masters of Education/Initial Teacher Licensure Program. With my background in political science and government I was interested in learning more about education policy. I asked Parents United if they would take me on as an intern, in order to gain deeper insight into how our schools are funded and the education policy process. Over the course of the legislative session, I sat in on Education Finance Committee meetings. I learned an enormous amount about the education system and the historical path we have taken as a state in regards to our education funding system.

I got to hear debates on the purpose and value of integration funding. I got to hear experts testify on the early brain development of children and the value of pre-K and all-day kindergarten programs. I witnessed heated discussions over the proper balance of power between local and state government. I listened to business leaders push for increased college readiness and career alignment in our high schools. I watched our elected officials work diligently to pursue increased equalization aid for property tax relief. I was able to watch democracy in action. For someone like me, who is interested in the process of education policy, it was a fascinating experience. However, the issues were complex and the process was far from simple.

Many of the policies discussed have histories dating back decades. Without knowing why the policy came to be, it is not possible to change it for the better. One can desperately want to decrease the education gap, ease property taxes, and help create the world’s best workforce but without historical perspective it is nearly impossible.

The guidance I received from Parents United was invaluable. I was deeply interested in learning more about education issues but I had no prior knowledge of the issues facing our education system in Minnesota. The formation of education policy is complex for a newcomer. With the vast array of acronyms, different education advocacy groups, and the multitude of education issues, it was difficult to follow everything that was being discussed. Fortunately, I was able to ask questions and receive detailed answers from Parents United. As a political science student, I felt like I had a pretty decent amount of background knowledge on the mechanism of government. I learned quite quickly that textbooks are not very good at predicting what people will do. At the Capitol you are dealing with people who do not follow the black and white rules of a government textbook or flowchart.

All-in-all, it was enlightening, confusing, and inspiring. I will admit that I am partial to Parents United for the help they gave me. However, it is only because of that help that I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the education finance and policy process. As I enter the teaching profession, I will continue to rely on Parents United to help me understand the complex world of education policy. I was inspired by the plethora of education advocates that dedicate their time and expertise to help change our education system so that all of our children have a shot at pursuing their dreams. I will go into teaching knowing that there are so many intelligent and well-intentioned people working on my behalf, to form better policies and help prepare my students for their future. I would encourage anyone who would like to know more about the issues affecting out students to reach out to Parents United. I am certainly glad that I did.

Articles that expound on parts of the session that impact our students!

Higher Education (SF 1236)

  • Two year tuition freeze for in-state graduates at both the U of M and MnSCU systems ($120 million) [Session Daily, 05/17/13]
  • Includes the “Dream Act,” which allows high school graduates without documentation to pay in-state tuition rates and qualify for state grants [Politics in Minnesota, 05/17/13]
  • $75 million in new money to help low- and middle-income students through state grants [Session Daily, 05/17/13]

K-12 Education (HF 630)

  • $158 per pupil increase in funding ($238 million—a 1.5 percent increase) [Pioneer Press, 05/19/13; MPR, 05/18/13]
  • $134 million to fund free all-day kindergarten for every child in Minnesota [Pioneer Press, 05/19/13]
  • $40 million increase in funding for special education [Pioneer Press, 05/19/13]

Taxes (HF 677)

  • $80 million increase in Local Government Aid [MPR, 05/20/13]
  • Raises fair revenue by asking the richest two percent of Minnesotans to pay their fair share in taxes ($1.1 billion) [Politics in Minnesota, 05/20/13]
  • Eliminates tax loopholes that allow corporations to hide profits overseas and avoid paying US taxes ($26 million in the first year and $20 million per year after that) [Session Daily, 05/20/13]
  • Pays for new spending on education and property tax relief, as well as erasing the state’s budget deficit [MPR, 05/21/13]
  • Includes tax aids and credits that will reduce property taxes by $400 million [Politics in Minnesota, 05/20/13]

A kind statement sent from our friends at Heartland Democracy

“I’d urge you to get involved with Parents United: smart people doing good work at the statewide level to raise funds for, and advance, public education and focus on the most critical challenges. If you think you see an issue in your kid’s school, often it will have originated with a decision made at the state level, starting with funding and class size.

“Click on E12 Omnibus bill to see the best existing description of what is in the new education funding law in Minn., best if accompanied by background music of triumphal fanfare….

“Elections matter, and now we can say that the 2012 election significantly improved the education of every public school kid in the state. These are investments that will pay off handsomely in 1, 5, 10, 15, and 20 years. Thank legislators who supported the bill, and thank your school district leaders, and thank Parents United.” – Heartland Democracy

________________

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