Update for February 20, 2015—A Wintry Mix
Much like Minnesota weather–a little bit of this and a little bit of that! The Capitol was busy this week with a flurry of bills making the rounds. It is usual for most bills heard at this time to be “held over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.” Each chamber develops its own education omnibus bill, then the two bills are reconciled and head for the governor’s desk. It is worth our time to understand the ins and outs of these individual bills, because chances are good that we will see variations of them later in the session in that larger education omnibus bill.
One highlight was the Voices for Racial Justice rally held to release their 2013-14 Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity. If you haven’t read this report card in the past, take time to read it now. The organization, formerly OAP, is working to advance racial, cultural and economic justice in Minnesota.
In the House
Tax credits for education?
As a former teacher, Rep. Dean Urdahl (R Grove City) proudly introduced HF245 this week: “This is just a simple little bill to elevate the profession we so value in Minnesota.” The bill creates a tax credit of up to $2,500 to defray tuition for K-12 teachers who complete a master’s degree in a content area directly related to their licensure. It met with little opposition: its intentions were clear and the means agreeable.
Four other tax-credit bills provoked partisan politics and heated debate. Interesting philosophical arguments surfaced in these discussions that warrant some attention. For example: How well do tax credits work for families living under the federal poverty line?
Rep. Sarah Anderson (R–Plymouth) introduced HF667 and HF72, both modifying the current education-expense reimbursement system for low-income families through tax credits. Read more from Session Daily. Both were sent to the Education Finance Committee.
Rep. Jim Knoblach (R–St. Cloud) introduced HF798, which offers tax credits for lower income families who pay for private school. The primary testifier, Mitch Pearlstein, Ph.D., hailing from the Center of the American Experiment, used data on school voucher systems as a proxy for data to support tax-credit’s ability to close achievement gaps (because there is none). Chair Sondra Erickson (R—Princeton) attempted to squelch discussion questions raised by some representatives, agreeing with Rep. Knoblach’s claim that “this is not a voucher system.” Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL—St. Paul) retorted, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
Rep. Knoblach argued, “This tax credit covers at best 25% of the tuition for the cheapest private schools in Minnesota—that is not a voucher.” He was also not willing to concede to compromises that would hold private schools accountable to achievement measures like public schools. Rep. Barb Yarusso (DFL—Shoreview) highlighted the murkiness of the bill’s intention when she asked and if he could state how many students of color and low income would be aided by HF 798. He could not.
Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL—Golden Valley) suggested that the actual intent of the tax credit bill might be to incentivize things we believe low-income families should want, such as tutoring and private school access. He argued they might actually prefer; “a better car, more stable housing, or drug counseling,” and called the bill, “low-income micromanaging.”
Warning: editorial comment ahead…
When poverty, housing, hunger and addiction issues were raised in committee, Chair Erickson cut the conversation short, reminding them, “We are the education committee.” Though a necessary time-management suggestion, herein lies some trouble. Life is not, poverty is not, and learning is not segmented into committees. Unless there is a joint committee, or until the bill is debated on House floor, the system seems to make it difficult to have well-rounded discussions about the full spectrum of things that deeply affect students’ ability to learn. -Shawna Hedlund, Parents United Policy Fellow
Rep. Mariani also sprang upon an opportunity raised by the tax credit bills. Each bill provided yearly inflationary increases. He pointedly asked Rep. Anderson if this indicates she would vote to permanently increase education funding at inflationary rates? Her response was to remind him that they are not supposed to question each other’s motives or how they will vote on legislation. When he retorted that she had very important principles at work with this piece of legislation, she chose not to respond.
Why a tax credit?
Finally, Rep. Linda Runbeck (R–Circle Pines) offered HF359, supported by Decoding Dyslexia of Minnesota, a bill to modify last year’s “reading tax credit.” It’s unfortunate that this well-intended bill could get caught up in the rift over tax credits. HF359 reimburses families for some of the out-of-pocket resources it takes to help dyslexic children learn that are not provided in public schools. Though the tax credit passed last year, it was amended when rolled into the omnibus bill in such a way it rendered the credit inaccessible to the very people it was intended to help. The companion bill (SF278) will be heard in the Senate Education Policy Committee on Wednesday, February 25th. Come support them!
How long _should _kids go to school?
Days later, Rep. Mariani introduced another duck to the pond: HF15. The intention is to increase the age students are compelled to attend school from 17 to 18. Superintendent Silva from St. Paul Public Schools spoke to the merits of the bill. They highlighted that 20 years ago, manufacturing and agricultural jobs existed for young people without diplomas. That is very much not the case in today’s economy. In fact, Mariani cited research that students in MN decrease their potential earning power over a lifetime by an estimated $800,000 when they choose to drop out.
Concerns surfaced from a number of representatives, the Minnesota School Boards Association, and Big Lake High School Principal, Bob Dockendorf, that the unintended consequence would be behavior problems among 17-year-olds who no longer wish to be in school.
Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL—Minneapolis), interestingly a high school drop out, and Rep. Rena Moran (DFL—St. Paul) contended that as adults, it is our responsibility to regulate kid’s decisions. Research demonstrates that there is a higher rate of unfortunate incidents among young people without 18 years of education. Rep. Davnie argued that part of the purpose of a law is to challenge the educational system to engage students and provide them an environment in which they want to stay in school.
On the other end of the school-age range, Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL—St. Paul) introduced HF46, which establishes and funds a state wide universal all-day preschool program for four-year olds not receiving an early learning scholarship. Author, Rep. Murphy, told us today that she believes voluntary pre-K should be available for four year olds across Minnesota. If we choose to invest in early education, pre-K is proven and its reach is greater than scholarships alone. One of the strongest arguments in favor of universal preschool was illustrated by an example. Some new immigrant families do not choose to use daycare for their children. However, many of these kids are English language learners who would benefit greatly from pre-K. These children’s parents are much more likely to put their children on a bus with siblings to attend a 4-year-olds’ program than apply for a scholarship to attend preschool. Read more about the merits of scholarships and universal pre-K…
Back to HF2
HF 2 (Loon, R-Eden Prairie), summarized in last week’s Update, passed out of House Ed Finance on a straight party line vote and is heading for a full floor vote. This is an unusual track for a controversial bill of this proportion. The usual track would be to hold this bill over for possible inclusion in a larger education omnibus bill unveiled later in the session.
An author’s amendment was accepted with unanimous support. The modifications were important because they addressed some of the concerns heard last week:
- Allows new teacher candidates, including those from out of state, to take either the teacher exam called the MTLE or use an ACT/SAT equivalent score to get their license. This is consistent with current law.
- Delays the use of teacher evaluations in Unrequested Leave of Absence layoff decisions until the 2017/2018 school year. This was in response to those asking to let the new evaluation process have time to work. How much evaluation is used is up to each district, to be negotiated into the teacher contract by their school boards and teacher unions.
At the request of the Board of Teaching, an amendment from Rep. Bennett (R–Albert Lea) passed denying licenses, without need for a hearing, to applicants or current teachers convicted of crimes against children.
Editorial comment ahead…
Many of the same concerns about HF2 that were aired last week in House Policy were repeated with some of the same testifiers. There’s a lot of energy around this bill. As we peel back the onion on this one, I couldn’t help notice a couple of things.__
- Articulate and passionate testifiers bemoaned the difficulty for teachers from other states to obtain a Minnesota license, yet the Board of Teaching reported that a) 39% of the licenses awarded in 2013-14 went to out of state candidates, some 3600 individuals, and b) 99% of teachers from out of state were awarded a full license.
- __If people are truly concerned about teacher effectiveness, it might be wise to fund Teacher Evaluation and Development. It’s current law. It’s collaborative. It’s useful. It helps teachers grow. And ultimately, it identifies those who shouldn’t be teaching. This is where the state could have an impact. Focusing on keeping good teachers in lay off situations is a whole lot of energy focused on a very small percentage of the teaching force. –Ann Hobbie, Parents United Policy fellow
So many important things!
House Finance wrapped up the week with some easy-to-digest bills that sailed through the committee process and will be considered in a larger omnibus bill later in the session. These bills better fund school libraries and internet capacities around the state. Others were heard to expand equity aid—a state process trying to equalize school funding between low property and higher property wealth districts. All of these will cost money, and we are reminded that there are still many needs that both parties acknowledge with limited dollars to fund them.
The Governor’s bill
This week, Commissioner Cassellius presented the Governor’s Bill to both House and Senate. The bill outlines the policies that align with the Governor’s budget that invests a third of the state’s surplus billion in education. Commissioner Cassellius stated “these are the priorities we have set as a starting place.” Indeed, we predict a lot of negotiations in the end, particularly since the Governor and Senate leadership, who have traditionally not always shared priorities, aren’t getting along.
Vocal disappointment was expressed in the Senate, but both committees had questions. The desire for more money on the per pupil formula, concerns over implementation and ongoing cost of universal pre-K and the need for money for teacher evaluation were voiced. There was also conversation about providing breakfast for all children if only some districts saw it as a priority.
The Senate focused a lot on the Help Me Grow component of the bill, promoting this interagency initiative the help parents understand developmental milestones for their children.
Also Over in the Senate
In the E-12 Budget Committee, Chair Wiger (DFL–Maplewood) has a prevailing interest in career and college readiness. On Tuesday, it was evident when we heard the MDE Report on Career and Technical Education.
Among other things, the report created buzz about the shortage of technical teachers statewide. Paula Palmer, Director of the Office of Career and College Success at the MDE asked, “Are we really creating pathways?” There were mutterings from many that this is a huge problem in meeting work force preparedness, and a seemingly frustrated Senator Wiger agreed, “Yes, it is!” Interestingly, the shortage of teachers licensed in technical areas is one of the components HF2 (above) attempts to address.
Bills to Watch
House Ed Finance heard HF663 (Baker, R–Willmar) today that would add equity revenue for many districts who don’t yet receive it. The idea is to equalize funds between districts with the lowest and highest property wealth. This bill made it into the conference committee last session but according to former chair Marquart, it died at the last minute. There is bipartisan interest, and we predict there will be continued interest in it later in the session.
- HF2(Loon, R–Eden Prairie) Relates to clarifying conditions for teacher licensure and employment. The companion bill is SF473 (Pratt, R–Prior Lake)
- HF46 (Murphy,E., DFL–St. Paul) Universal pre-K program. Its companion bill in the Senate is
- SF6 (Hoffman, DFL–Champlin)
- SF298 (Stumpf, DFL–Plummer) addresses temporary teaching licensure extensions
Thousands of bills are introduced each session. Each week in this section you will be able to read through newly introduced bills that deal with education. No bill can be heard in committee that has not first been introduced on the floor of the House or the Senate, so unless it is on this list, you won’t see it in committee. Conversely, the chair of each committee is charged with deciding which bills will be heard. Reading through these bills gives us a better understanding of what our elected leaders are thinking.
A Look Ahead
- Senate E-12 Budget Committee will be hearing SF155 (Wiger DFL–Maplewood) that addresses an increase in school readiness aid.
- MDE will present their report on the Indian Education Working Group and both SF163 (Hoffman DFL–Champlin) and SF541 (Clausen DFL–Apple Valley) ask for an increase in the formula allowance.
- House Education Innovation Policy will be hearing bills on post-secondary enrollment options and credit requirements in both HF727 (Wills R–Apple Valley) and HF982 (Urdahl R–Grove City)
At the federal level
“The White House released a report showing a $7 billion cut to schools that educate low-income students over six years as part of Republicans’ efforts to overhaul the federal No Child Left Behind law. The special funding stream, called Title 1, has become critical federal poverty aid that, among other things, supports efforts to close the achievement gap between white and minority students across the country.” —Minnesota schools lose $74M under GOP plan, White House says
Worth a Second Look
Decoding Dyslexia of Minnesota is sponsoring Voices of Dyslexia Day on the Hill on Wednesday, February 25th. If you are a parent, student, teacher, grandparent or friends of kids affected by dyslexia, please attend the rally from 1pm-3pm! Kids are welcome and encouraged to attend!
Minnesota already has all-day kindergarten. Is all-day pre-K next?
Minnesota’s high student-to-school counselor ratio came up in many discussions at the Capitol this week. Should the legislature mandate the hiring of more counselors?
What Can I do?
Check out At the Capitol, where we will keep you updated on committees, bills and opportunities to get involved at the Capitol this session.
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What is Parents United’s agenda_? ****_Our agenda is 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.