Update for February 6, 2015—The Curtain is Rising

This week at the Capitol

It’s show time at the Capitol, and everyone’s priorities were revealed this week in response to the Governor’s Education budget. The stage is set for the debate — how best will we use limited additional resources for Minnesota’s children? Myriad opinions are starting to surface in bill form, and the first act begins.  

 

In the House

House Responds to Governor’s Education Budget

Leaders from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and Health and Human Services (HHS) shared the Governor’s education priorities with House members this week. They began with the startling picture of the status of kids in our fair state that underscored Governor Dayton’s emphasis on early childhood, including the fact that:

• on any given night in Minnesota, some 3,546 children are homeless (along with another 7000 adults)

• some 78,000 of Minnesota’s 1.27 million kids live in deep poverty, defined as half the Federal poverty rate. (Fed poverty rate for a family of 4 is $24k). Child poverty is increasing, and it exists throughout the entire state.

In addition to the components for schools, the Governor’s budget provides for aspects of kids’ health that affect their learning. Some of these include free breakfast, increases to mental health services for at-risk kids, and better child protection oversight. Leaders voiced their commitment to coordinate these services across agencies. Office of Early Learning Director Melvin Carter acknowledged that the early childhood system will “only be as strong as the weakest link.”

In their response to the budget, both parties seemed pleased with the priority on the state’s most vulnerable kids. It’s clear, however, that the rub will be whether to expand early learning scholarships even more than the Governor’s budget suggests, or implement a universal, school-based pre-K program for 4-year olds. The Governor’s budget attempts to fund both, but in that case neither seems to have enough funding. Concerns about the balance were echoed from both sides of the aisle. Several key Republicans, including Chair of HHS Rep Matt Dean (R-Stillwater) asked how schools will come up with all of the dollars needed to have school-based 4-year old programs. Rep Erin Murphy (D-St. Paul) urged if universal pre-K rolls out, that we not jeopardize the many existing in-home and center based preschool programs.

Quote of the week? Commissioner of Health and Human Services Lucinda Jessen wins the prize. “Anything we do – if it’s not in partnership with families, it’s not going to work.” (Harvard University would agree.)

 

Testing, testing, 1,2,3…

Testing has become a hot button topic across the state and nation. With increased pressure to close gaps and assess teacher performance, the use of summative tests is required in state and federal statute. In testimony in both House Ed Finance and Ed Innovation Policy, Minnesota Department of Education explained Minnesota’s use of MCA’s. Minnesota’s Teacher Development and Evaluation laws rely on data about student performance. Likewise, in our bargain with the Federal government for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, we agreed to use MCA’s as part of a Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR) system. Federal Title 1 money for Minnesota is tied to this.

MCAs are summative tests but it is interesting that 98% of schools use additional tests as diagnostic tools. Tests like NWEA and MAP provide teachers information on where students are in reading and math throughout the year. (Interesting tidbit – Chair Loon (R-Eagan) asked House research staff to provide numbers on the cost to districts both of the MCAs and the other tests they’re giving. We’ll share this information when we get it.)

It is also interesting that both Republicans and Democrats showed equal concern for the limitations of the MCAs. Questions were asked about the test’s timeline–the fact that teachers don’t get student results until very late in the school year and parents don’t see them until August. Many expressed concern about over-testing. Representative Mariani (D- St. Paul) credited the MDE for trying to “squeeze out something more useful to the individual student” from the MCAs but argued that we’re seeing so many more tests because the most useful and timely ones for our kids and families are not the MCAs but others.

Stay tuned on the testing questions. A state Testing Reduction Advisory Group will make their recommendations to the Legislature next week.

Find the issue of testing confusing? Read our testing glossary to learn more.

 

When Should School start?

On Tuesday, House Innovation Policy heard the perennial argument on school start time. Years ago, in a nod to the State Fair and tourism industry, a deal was struck that Minnesota schools could not begin school until after Labor Day.

HF 100 Norton (DFL–Rochester) repeals the post-Labor Day start date. Rep. Norton argued in favor of locally-made decisions about start date, saying “it’s a matter of student achievement.”

HF 466 Kresha (R–Little Falls) allows schools to start on September 1 for 2015-16 and according to the author is “not nearly as controversial.” Rep. Bud Nornes (R–Fergus Falls) revealed that this bill is likely a compromise for lawmakers caught between their local superintendents’ recommendations and tourism businesses–the 3rd largest grossing industry in the state of MN.

Caution, Editorial Comment Ahead…HF 100 holds the requirement that students are off the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day and as a parent, starting the school year and then needing 3 days of childcare a few days later presents a potential conundrum).

Representatives identified concerns on both sides, asking questions about air conditioning and facility costs, reductions in the resort industry’s 10-week summer, the potential for the State Fair to operate at a loss, benefits for student achievement, and reductions in the “micromanagement” of school districts.

Perhaps one of the most significant assumptions made during testimony was that parents across the state must support HF100, as demonstrated by the lack of dissenting parents in the room that day. Parents, whether you support this bill, others, or maintaining the post-Labor Day school start date law, consider this an invitation to show up at the Capitol!

 

4-Day school weeks?

Freshman Rep. Tim Miller (R- Prinsburg) introduced HF197 in great spectacle. Not only was his bill supported by a full spectrum of testifiers, from parents to administrators to high school students, he brought chocolate chip cookies that were baked by his daughter Laura, for committee members, inviting bipartisan support of his bill.

HF197 allows districts to choose flexible learning-year programs without the Commissioner’s approval. The testifiers from Maccray, Blackduck, Lake Superior and Ogilvie all earnestly spoke on behalf of the benefits of a 4-day school week for students, families and their communities.

 

Teacher evaluation and QComp- how do we do both?

A task force with an unwieldy title, the TDE/ATPPS Alignment Work Group, presented their findings to the House Finance Committee this week. The work group is comprised of teachers, administrators, lawmakers, parents and teacher coaches who put months of work into recommending an evaluation system that combines the best of the 2 current state laws that regulate teacher evaluation: “QComp” and “TD&E” (teacher development and evaluation).

The task force had a list of 11 recommendations and stressed three principles: 1) the teacher evaluation laws are research-based; performance pay can continue to be an option but research does not support that it increases student achievement, 2) the recommendations should be taken as a package, and 3) the legislature should supply adequate and equitable funding.

Representatives asked probing questions about the costs and provisions, and the work group chairs had well-prepared responses rooted in the quality of the group’s work and their deep understanding of what is in the best interest of teachers and students. The fate of these recommendations is iffy. Will there be enough money?

 

Over in the Senate

“The $500 million education request”

In a press conference held by Senate E-12 Budget Committee Chair Senator Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), he outlined the Senate DFL education priorities for this session. The budget request for the list is $500 million—more than Governor Dayton’s proposal of $394 million. It includes universal 4-year-old pre-K, free breakfast statewide, increased funding for rural broadband, growth for dual credit programs like College in the Schools and PSEO, and more. It also includes adoption of Facilities Task Force recommendations to handle maintenance problems facing many schools around the state. Wiger commented, “It is shameful and embarrassing to attend a substandard school; it affects our teachers’ morale and everyday learning.” There was no mention of increasing dollars on the basic education formula.

Now that we know the priority list we wait to see what falls into place.

Caution: Editorial Comment ahead…

The question was asked at the press conference, “Why should the state pay for all children to get a free breakfast?” As a mom who can find the time and money to give her children breakfast before school, that is certainly not the case for all families. The fact is that one in five kids goes to school hungry in Minnesota.

 

“Testing teachers out of classrooms”

It was an emotional atmosphere in the Senate when Stumpf’’s (DFL-Plummer) S.F. SF 298 was heard. The bill grants temporary teaching licensure extensions.

“There is a perfect storm brewing in the state of Minnesota regarding teacher supply and demand,” testified Denise Dittrich (MSBA). How do we attract and retain our best and brightest to the teaching field and make sure that the obstacle course they face to become licensed is reasonable and unbiased?”

The fact is, we don’t have enough teachers. “We’ve been talking about teacher shortage for 10 years, and it is here,” exclaimed Superintendent Joseph Brown from Fairmont.

Currently, the greatest obstacle to licensure for many teachers is passage of the MTLE (Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam.) Called a “basic skills” test, the test assesses at mid-college level rigor and has been controversial for years.

There was strong and moving testimony from Dan Devine, art instructor in the Pillager School District for 7 years. “Does this test help teachers reach students and impact them? Does this test prove I am a good teacher?”

Kindergarten teacher Kami Van Hall brought tears to the room stating, “This test continues to say I am a failure. I know I’m a good teacher that has high test anxiety.”

It’s obvious that we don’t have enough diversity in our teaching force, yet for years questions have been raised about the racial bias in the MTLE.

One may argue that the existing process is creating a roadblock that teachers can’t get around, and while we wait, incredible people who want to teach our children are leaving our state and our classrooms.

 

Bill Introductions

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.

2015 House Education Bill Introductions

2015 Senate Education Bill Introductions

 

A look ahead

Next week, the Senate E-12 Budget committee will be hearing bills addressing statewide free breakfast SF344 Johnson (DFL-Blaine) and a handful of bills regarding change in school start time. MDE will report on testing and teacher evaluations.

In the House we’ll hear HF2 Loon (R-Eden Prairie) on Tuesday the 10th. It has many provisions about teacher licensing, teacher seniority and unrequested leaves of absence, and teacher effectiveness. This bill is sure to be the most contentious of the session.

House description of HF2 : “Teacher licensure and employment conditions clarified; alternative teacher licensure amended; teacher licensure reciprocity with adjoining states provided; license via portfolio, exemption for technical education instructors, teachers’ unrequested leaves of absence and teaching assignments decisions, and teacher examination requirements clarified; and placing students with ineffective teachers prohibited.”

 

Worth a second look

Brenda Cassellius, Commissioner of Education, writes about Governor Dayton’s multifaceted commitment to early childhood education.

Know your Better Ed: they are leafleting. Be wary of organizations who do not reveal their funding sources, board members, and self-governance structure. They are affiliated with Intellectual Take Out and the Center of the American Experiment. Read more about their pressure on Minneapolis Schools. And before their postcards reach your mailboxes, prepare yourself with this article by Joe Nathan.

What’s it like to be a legislator? MPR’s Tom Crann captured it in a candid interview with two legislators on Wednesday.

 

What Can I do?

  • We know that parents may feel powerless in this education policymaking arena, but we’re NOT!
  • We know knowledge is power and action plus knowledge equals change.
  • We know your voice matters! Time and again we have seen one parent influence an entire committee vote.

If you read something in our updates that causes you concern or interests you, speak up! Your locally elected representatives want to hear from you! An email or a phone call to ask your Senator or Representative how s(he) feels about an issue is very much appreciated! A hand written letter explaining your ideas is gold!! We elect our friends and neighbors to represent us and they care deeply what you think.

Check out At the Capitol, where we will keep you updated on committees, bills and opportunities to get involved at the Capitol this session.

The Capitol is under construction! Before You Visit Today is a helpful resource with restoration updates, parking information, accessibility.

 

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 fora legislative process often oblique to the public.