We have a policy bill! Update for May 2, 2014

Special Education Workshop for Parents
A terrific event for Minneapolis parents whose children have special needs!
Saturday, May 10, 10 am-2 pm, at South High School
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This Week at the Capitol

Thursday was a big day! That evening, the HF2397 [pdf] Omnibus Education Policy bill conference committee finished its work. Staff will align all agreed-to positions and provide a conference committee report for conferees to sign. Then the report will go to the respective chambers for a floor vote.

The final report has all of the “same and similar” provisions that had been in each bill. Conferees agreed to include most of the provisions that had no comparable language in the other bill. A quick look at our original side by side [pdf] comparison will give you the highlights. These provisions were carefully debated and amended using language from both houses. I have come to admire this painstaking process. Fresh off the presses, here’s a link with the final language of the omnibus education policy bill.

Two long-standing issues were reconciled: the House language was agreed to for handling MTLE (Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examination), and language to provide greater awareness of PSEO (Post-Secondary Education Options) information to students in grades 10-12 was agreed to.

Leadership has decided on the long awaited new target for the Supplemental Appropriations Bill. The original House spending target was $322 million, with $73 million spent on education. The Senate had planned to spend $209 million, with $41 million going to education. And the Governor planned to spend $165 million, with $3.5 million to implement the school lunch bill.

The new deal announced Thursday evening allows $293 million total; how education fares in this new target will be determined in the conferencing of the omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill (HF3172). That conference committee, it was recently tweeted, was told to finish their work by this Sunday night, May 4. Rumor has it that the bonding bill will be seen on Monday.

Better Assessments – Fewer Tests

The number one question I am asked is, “What can we do about the irrelevant standardized testing that has become the center of our education system?” While there is a national “Opt Out” movement working across the country, and currently hundreds of parents in Minnesota are opting their children out of these tests, I believe the Governor outlined the best strategy – Minnesota needs better assessments and fewer tests – in his State of the State address this week:

“…from the beginning of their elementary school educations, we must teach our children how to think creatively. To learn how to learn. To learn to love to learn. Creative people develop new ideas, which start new enterprises, which provide new jobs. Creative people figure out how to do their work more efficiently and productively.

The excessive amounts of time and rote learning required by today’s excessive school testing are counter-productive. They stifle teachers’ abilities to not only impart information, but also to show kids how to use it. How to apply their knowledge to solve new problems in new areas. And to enjoy doing so.

This approach does not require abandoning testing, as a measure of each student’s progress. It does require more efficient, more effective testing.

Compare that approach to the high-stakes, anxiety-provoking testing, which is now imposed on children in third grade – or even younger. Many children come to school terrified on test days; then go home demoralized. What purpose does it serve to send a third-grader home believing she has failed life, because she may have performed poorly on a test?

I am asking our Department of Education to prepare for the 2015 legislative session an analysis all of the tests now required at each grade level. And to recommend which ones could be streamlined, combined, or eliminated. I urge next year’s legislators to work with state and national experts to reduce the amount of school testing and allow dedicated teachers to spend their time teaching students what they will need for their future success.”

Unsung Heroes

As the May 19 adjournment date approaches, it is not unusual to find many people working in the Capitol at all hours of the day and night. When floor sessions or committees adjourn, there is much work left to be done. Reconfiguring spreadsheets, researching statutes, working on bill language to accurately reflect the wishes of the committee, and crafting conference committee reports are all part of the work done late into the night.

The folks who do this work are the unsung heroes of the legislative process. These staffers are masters at understanding law and the making of law. If not for them, thoughts and ideas would be just that. They are some of the smartest people in this state. Unfortunately, you may never have the chance to meet them or know their names, but I can tell you, we have much to be grateful to them for.

What to expect in the coming weeks

Once the conference committee report is signed, the policy bill can be brought to the floor anytime leadership wishes; and we will know more about education funding provisions after the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations conference committee completes its work, ostensibly by Sunday night.

The legislative session must end by May 19 and we still need to see a bonding bill. Several conference committees are meeting trying to reconcile bills. They meet, sides recess to confer, come back to the table with offers and counter offers, then recess again until they have a bill.

If you’ve ever been involved in any kind of negotiation – buying a house, negotiating a contract, buying a car – you can understand how this process works. It is incumbent upon the 10 legislators in the room to craft a single bill that both houses will accept.

For the public, it’s very difficult to track the comings and goings at this time in the process, but the arrival of texting, Twitter and Facebook have all helped! It is a “hurry-up and wait” time for those watching. Parents United is focused on two conference committees – HF3172 Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations and HF2397 Omnibus Education Policy – and will continue to keep you updated on the happenings.

Worth a second look

Most days on our website, Parents United provides links to our Daily News Picks! These are education articles that catch our eye. If you haven’t done so already, read these pieces!

What is Parents United’s agenda? It’s simple: we don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the law-making process so parents can speak for themselves. Truth be told, Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications, as well as a navigator for a legislative process often oblique to the public.


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