Our crystal ball – Update for Feb. 21, 2014

If you want to keep up with happenings at the Capitol during the legislative session that starts on Tuesday, make sure to bookmark our site! Some folks, believe it or not, have asked me to link them to the action from last session: you can easily find our legislative updates from 2013 – as well as those for all the years we have been around at our At the Capitol page.

Our Crystal Ball: Session 2014

On Saturday, February 8, we held our annual legislative kick-off – my favorite conversation of the year, since we have the chance to hear from so many informed people! Let me summarize what was said.

The 2014 session will be quick. It’s slated for 13 weeks but rumor has it that legislators may finish long before that. However, this is a perennial rumor! By September 9, 20 bills had been “pre-filed;” by January 13 there were close to 300. Judging from all these interim introductions, expect hearings to be fast and furious!

So what should we expect from the next 13 weeks?

  • The overarching issue for the 2014 legislature is the November 2014 election. Every constitutional office, every state representative and every senator will stand for election. It can be argued that this is the session voters will remember and is therefore a last chance for elected officials to provide good talking points for door-knocking campaigns.
  • A decade of state budget deficits followed, finally, by a budget surplus will no doubt create a robust debate on the use of those dollars.
  • Governor Dayton has made clear his desire to streamline government and has been direct with his commissioners about making that happen. Whether legislation may be required to accomplish his goal is yet to be determined, but expect debate on repealing the business-to-business tax passed last session.
  • The job of the legislature in the second year of a biennium has traditionally been to produce a bonding bill. Many infrastructure projects have been put on hold over the last decade and a bonding bill can deal with these projects while creating jobs. The size of the bonding bill and which projects it supports will be the debate.
  • Minnesota has one of the lowest minimum wages in the country and a great deal of work has been done over the last several years to bring this issue to light. It will be a centerpiece for the session.
  • For schools, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act (HF9) will be front and center. As often reported, current bullying legislation in Minnesota is 37 words long. HF9 is more comprehensive and based on recommendations from the Governor’s Prevention of Bullying Task Force.

While Senate rules prohibit pre-filed bills, the House has accepted 300 interim introductions, many education-related. While there is no way to know if any of these will receive hearings, it is interesting to see what might be considered. Education bills dealing with universal pre-school for 4-year olds, statutory change to reverse local referenda, a requirement for aquatics instruction in school, language to cap counselor-pupil ratio and a bill calling for the removal of funding to non-public schools are some that stand out. We will be tracking all of it.

If we have learned one thing in the 11 years Parents United has been in operation, it is to dig beyond the surface, go beyond the name of the bill, consider intended and unintended consequences. This is our work for the next three months as we attend hearings, analyze bills and present what we learn in our weekly updates to members in all 134 legislative districts in the state. Join us!

Other issues on the agendas of lobbying organizations:

  • Closing the “donut hole” of funding
  • Repealing MTLE (MN Teacher Licensure Exam)
  • Expanding equalization
  • Dollars to implement teacher evaluation
  • Technology funding streams
  • Improved transition from high school to post-secondary
  • Alternative teacher licensure programs
  • Teacher licensure flexibility
  • Repeal school start date
  • Local control vs. state unfunded mandates
  • Facilities funding
  • District flexibility in use of funding streams

State level task forces and working groups have provided recommendations that may see legislative action:

  • Career Pathways and Technical Education
  • Schools Facilities Financing Working Group
  • Special Education Caseloads Task Force
  • Standard Adult High School Diploma Task Force
  • Teacher Licensure Task Force
  • Integration Rule and Statute Alignment Work Group

Not to be forgotten, there are several provisions from the 2013 E-12 Omnibus bill (pdf) that are in the implementation phase and we will track that as well:

  • Teacher evaluation
  • Achievement and Integration for Minnesota (AIM)
  • World’s Best Work Force (WBWF)
  • Regional Centers of Excellence
  • New suite of assessments

At the Website

This week those of you with students at immersion schools may have received a letter from your school district that stopped your heart. Several teachers who have yet to pass the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam (MTLE) are being removed from teaching. This is a train wreck that has been in the making for the last few years. The MTLE is mislabeled as a “basic skills test.”

Was there a problem with the old test? The former membership of the Minnesota Board of Teaching was not content to use a national test to determine teacher skill level, but paid – a lot – for one to be developed specifically to test Minnesota teacher candidates. Passage of this test is more difficult if English is not your first language, so we may see the effects first at immersion schools, but understand that it doesn’t stop there.

What about the new test? In testimony last session MTLE was lambasted for everything from a lack of validity to racial bias. A state level task force was formed and has recommended the elimination of this test, but session doesn’t begin until February 25 – and teachers are being laid off now. If you want to sound off about this, make sure your legislator knows how you feel. To learn more, review the recommendations of the Teacher Licensure Task Force, established through legislation in the 2013 E12 Omnibus Bill.

Who funds Parents United?

There are many education advocacy groups in or moving into Minnesota, each professing to speak for Minnesotans. It can be hard to keep track of who is who and even harder to know who to listen to and trust. My mother taught me to “consider the source” whenever I heard a story; knowing the source of funding for an organization helps me make an informed decision about the information they provide and/or the positions they take.

We are proud to fully disclose the funding sources for Parents United.

Parents United for Public Schools is a Minnesota-born, parent-led, grassroots organization that exists to unite and empower those who value public education in Minnesota to be strong advocates for excellence in our public schools. Three-quarters of our funding comes from individual Minnesotans interested in supporting an organization that provides information to citizens and encourages their participation in the legislative process. The remainder comes from fees we charge for services and from local foundations that support civic engagement. We are not corporately funded, nor do we take money from unions. Our acceptance-of-funding policy is proudly displayed on each and every one of the hundreds and hundreds of thank-you letters we send each year.

We’re often asked if we’re lobbyists. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we are restricted to spending no more than 20% of our time lobbying, and we do far less than that. We use research, equity and sustainability as a lens with which to look at proposed laws and occasionally, when stakes are high, we weigh in. Full disclosure: In order to ensure that Parents United is in full compliance with campaign finance laws, I have for the last 10 years used my own funds to register as a lobbyist with the state of Minnesota.

Our agenda is simple: we don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the process by which it is made so parents can speak for themselves. Truth be told, Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications as well as a navigation guide for a legislative process that is often oblique to the public.

Thank you to the many Members and Investors who make the work of Parents United possible. Simply put, we wouldn’t exist without you!


Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools

mary@parentsunited.org
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391; www.parentsunited.org