Priorities become clear – Update for Jan. 25, 2013

Interested in weighing in on All Day K?

» Thursday, January 31, 8:30 AM, Senate E12 Division, Capitol 112

The discussion will be on voluntary All Day Kindergarten (SF2) and an alternative bill, yet unnumbered, that allows for those dollars to be used for Pre-K. If you are interested in testifying, please call me.

The Governor’s budget

As expected, the Governor’s budget was released on Tuesday, January 22. His priorities for Minnesota are clearly delineated in his budget. It shows a wonderful commitment to children and their education. Along with additional dollars on the formula – an impact for every student in the state – he proposes specific investments in early learning, English learners, bullying prevention, special education and the implementation of the new teacher evaluation process signed into law last year. Through other budget proposals he also invests in higher education, child homelessness, children’s mental health issues, school safety and quality care for children with disabilities. This budget provides the largest unencumbered increase in school funding that I have seen in many, many years.

The one concern expressed by several organizations is the question of funding equity. There was great hope that the general education levy would be reinstated as a method to stabilize school funding, but that was not in the Governor’s proposal.

Background on the “gen ed” levy: The Ventura administration changed funding for schools, proposing that the state provide the lion’s share of funding and repeal the uniform general education levy that had been used to fund schools since 1950. Interestingly enough, Governor Ventura proposed expanding sales taxes on services as an alternative to the gen ed levy. While the legislature agreed to repeal the gen ed levy, they did not approve an alternative revenue source. In the last 10 years, this action has created less stability for school funding and less equity among districts.

Worth knowing aboutRegional Centers of Excellence

An interesting reform being implemented by the MN Dept. of Education (MDE) will provide a statewide system of support and a great way to help schools share best practices, close achievement gaps and increase graduation rates. Dividing the state into three regions and entering into collaborative partnerships with service coops in Thief River Falls, St. Cloud and Rochester, learning specialists can be in schools throughout Minnesota every day of the year offering direct support and technical assistance. The Regional Centers provide “a statewide infrastructure that supports a common coherent implementation of evidence-based practices and interventions.”

Currently, the three regional centers are financed with federal Title 1 dollars and therefore their focus is on Title 1 schools in those regions, but Commissioner Cassellius wants to expand the reform to impact more schools. Providing support where it can do the most good is a great idea. In his budget, the Governor has proposed expanding the three regions to eight or nine.

Note: Because of the many, many state level budget cuts over the years, the MDE is now funded over 60% with federal dollars; this doesn’t leave much room (read that “money”) to implement state initiatives!

Early childhood advancing

With the inception of the Office of Early Learning (OEL), the Governor’s Early Learning Council, Minnesota securing a federal Race to the Top Grant, the current MinneMinds campaign, a commitment to early childhood funding in the governor’s budget – it all feels like early childhood is finally advancing! The House Early Childhood and Youth Development committee heard extended testimony on the work of the OEL to coordinate and provide the structure to support a system of early learning for Minnesota.

An interesting view of testing

Over the last two years, several state-level task forces and working groups have been convened by the MDE to take time and deal with truly important issues for our schools – testing, teacher evaluation, school funding, NCLB waiver. We were pleased that parents were appointed to each of these groups. A lot of good work was done.

It is heartening to hear how often and how respectfully the recommendations from these groups are referenced in committee hearings and testimony. On Tuesday, House Ed Policy Chair Mariani began the discussion around testing in Minnesota and Dr. Matthew Mohs, Interim Chief Academic Officer from Saint Paul Public Schools and co-chair of the assessment task force, shared his perspective. I found it enlightening and wanted to share it with you.

Legislative priorities from education organizations

Both House and Senate committees have been taking testimony on priorities from organizations that track education policy/funding legislation. There seemed to be a great deal of repetition of priorities from many different organizations. In this case, repetition is great! However, and not to be a naysayer this early in the game, I have learned agreement on broad issue areas does NOT guarantee agreement when specifics are introduced. Issues referenced by multiple groups:

Funding

  • Adequacy and equity in school funding
  • Reducing special education cross subsidy
  • Allow existing law to be used to pay back school shift
  • Tax fairness

Policy

  • Increased attention on early childhood and school readiness
  • Effective teachers and principals
  • Closing the achievement gap
  • Greater alignment between K12 and post-secondary education

Other issues mentioned

  • Having school funding dependent on measurable outcomes
  • Discretionary authority for school boards to renew existing levies
  • Use of teacher evaluation for staffing decisions
  • Expanded access to choice for parents/families
  • Expansion of high performing charter schools

Social Studies Standards – they’re back…..

In 2003, under No Child Left Behind, the state defined academic standards in social studies. Many academic standards are easily identified, but social studies is an area that is always contentious. Factions quickly arose – one wanted social studies standards to stress the idea of “American Exceptionalism” while the other wanted a more factually based set of standards. Tracking and influencing this debate was how Parents United first cut its legislative teeth.

Statute requires that the standards be reviewed and revised every 10 years. That time is here and the argument is back. I well remember Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke proposing social study standards that included the “immigration” of Africans to America in the 1700s. When we objected strenuously to this hideously absurd image of slavery, she told us that we supported social studies standards that exhorted a “hate America agenda.”

A Look Ahead

Bills are being introduced and bill hearings are being scheduled. The first one is SF2 on Thursday, January 31, a bill to fund voluntary All-day K.

If you are planning a Capitol visit, it is always a good idea to check the House/Senate schedule the morning of your visit. Hearings and agendas are often changed.

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