Update for January 30, 2015—the Game is On

/ 30 January 2015 / Shawna

It should not pass us by that the United States achieved a stunning milestone this week. For the first time in US history more than half of our public school students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Translation? They are poor. It is estimated that on any given night in this state, 850 infants and toddlers are homeless.

In Minnesota’s schools 37% of our students in poverty. 10 years ago 20% of Minnesota Kindergarteners lived in poverty–today it’s over 50%.

Some believe that talking about poverty is just an excuse for a school’s inability to succeed with all children—that holding high expectations of all is the answer. Would that were so. The multiple stressors placed on a child living in poverty have an extraordinary impact on their development. Not to see poverty as an issue to be confronted is hiding from the truth.

Dealing with poverty as a factor in a child’s education is NOT an excuse for their struggles but a necessary addition to helping our most vulnerable children.

It is a universal belief that education is the way out of poverty. If we truly believe that and commit to 100% of children learning, we need more than high expectations. We need to admit that children living in poverty need more from us and deal with the unbelievable issues our little ones have when they come to the school house door.


This week at the Capitol

 In the House

The Education Policy Innovation Committee learned more about two deeply significant education issues this week: Early Learning and Statewide Assessments. They also invited education organizations from state agencies to nonprofits to introduce their “innovative ideas,” which kicked off the liveliest discussion this committee has hosted so far!

Mr. Devin Foley from Better Ed was the first to present, urging lawmakers to decentralize schools in a thinly veiled ploy for a “voucher system.” Rep. Barb Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview), asked her fellow members to “recognize it’s not the fact of choice that makes a school successful, it’s the quality of the school’s program,” and the sentiment seemed shared.

Further presenters raised topics ranging from teacher diversity, teacher retention, and teacher evaluation to dual credit programs, achievement gap solutions, and paperwork reduction for special education.

Early Learning presentations focused squarely in two camps: scholarships v. public school-based pre-K. Among other organizations, Minneminds highlighted the significance of scholarships following early learners to the private or public program of their parent’s choice. St. Paul Schools spoke about their waitlists for in-school programs. Early education, no matter the means, is a priority this year. The MN Licensed Family Care Association asked representatives to oppose the law for universal pre-K, citing concerns that the change in the market would force increases in childcare costs and decrease choices, especially in greater MN.

On Thursday, testimony was provided on the Minnesota Assessment System from Jennifer Dugan (Assessment Director, MDE) and interestingly, Pearson Assessments itself. Dugan gave an overview of federal and state requirements and then followed with a vast array of standardized tests used in each district. The philosophical and practical question at the heart of the committee’s concern was expressed by Rep. Urdahl (R-Grove City): are we in a “testing frenzy?” Chair Erickson was quick to remind all committee members, “We only have ourselves to point to in what we’ve learned today.”

Many representatives asked on behalf of parents, students and teachers if standardized testing effectively informed instruction for an individual student? A 30-year teacher, Rep Urdahl said “tests should be an instrument to learning.” Dugan made it clear that the priority of the state’s assessment system is accountability.

On February 9th they will hear from the Task Force on Reducing Testing.


This week House Ed Finance heard from public charter schools, traditional public schools and districts that have demonstrated success at closing gaps. Testifiers passionately recounted factors they believed made the difference. Common factors were nurtured relationships with invested adults; quality research-based, standards-based curricula; team teaching; and flexibility at the site level. An almost universal claim was the fundamental belief in every child’s capacity and involvement with children’s families. Sondra Samuels of Minneapolis’ successful Northside Achievement Zone said it best, “Families don’t come as individuals, but our supports as a society have always been very silo-ed.” The message to lawmakers was clear–increase flexibility, local control, and funding.

After the Governor’s Budget (see Over in the Senate) was presented the committee heard responses from education stakeholders. All groups spoke to the importance of early childhood education and Representatives from both sides of the aisle seemed genuinely concerned for the well-being of the most vulnerable learners in Minnesota and believed early learning research was convincing. A couple of groups spoke in favor of focusing funding dollars on early learning scholarships rather than spending on universal 4 year old pre-k.

Most stakeholders were pleased with an increase on the per pupil formula but were concerned that the Governor put only 1% on the per pupil formula–most were asking for 4% or 5%. They were also unhappy that recommendations from a multitude of state-level task forces convened this past year were not mentioned in his budget.


Over in the Senate

Governor’s Budget: “Investing in our most vulnerable”

The overall commitment to Minnesota’s most vulnerable kids is a well-defined priority in the Governor’s 2-year budget proposal and is setting the tone for how it will directly support and focus on kids who need it most.

With the recommendation to spend over 50% of the budget surplus on kids birth-18, Management and Budget Commissioner, Myron Frans summed up his remarks at Tuesday’s press conference, stating, “There are values behind this budget.”

Speaking for the governor, education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said, “This budget proposal sets a vision.” Totaling $371 million over the biennium, the governor’s budget reflects the Minnesota Department of Education’s goal to reduce the achievement gap by 50% in 2017 and to have a 90% graduation rate by 2020. Their mission is “Leading for educational excellence and equity. Every day for every one.”

It was very interesting – in fact caused a bit of whiplash for those of us who have been at the Capitol for over a decade – that the push back to the governor’s budget was that he wasn’t spending enough to make up for the decades of underfunding schools. Sen Pratt (R-Prior Lake) made several statements about school funding not having kept up with inflation since 1990. He mentioned that 80-85% of a district’s funding pays staff whose costs are increasing at 2-3% annually. He reiterated that “1% is not enough! Schools need stable and reliable funding. We need to “fund our commitments!”

Commissioner Cassellius’s response: We have “a lot more work to do to get schools the resources they need.” She intimated that more could be done if the February forecast was solid. She clarified, “In this budget we focus on vulnerable kids.”

Caution: Editorial comment ahead…

I say whiplash because Parents United has argued that school funding has not even kept pace with inflation for decades, since our formation. We have been repeatedly shut down. Interesting times we live in…

Link to the entire Education Budget Document:


Link to MDE power point presentation on Governor’s Recommendation FY16-17 Education (MDE) Budget, January 28th, 2015 


So, give me the numbers

Here are the big pieces of the Governor’s Budget for E-12:

For Every Child

• A 1% increase to the per pupil formula (basic $ schools get for every pupil) in both FY16 and FY17 with a total of $174.4 million and an increase of $117 per pupil from $5,831 to $5,948

Early Childhood Education:

• $109.1 million to a Statewide Public Pre-Kindergarten so as to serve 31,000 kids

• Expand early learning scholarships to ages 0-5 with for about 9,000 kids total

•19.4 million to eliminate the Head Start waiting list of 2,485 children currently

• $99.9 million to Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (increasing qualifying income thresholds)

Reading Well by Third Grade:

•$10 million to Reading Corps to increase number of children being served to 14,000

Support Teaching for Better Schools:

  • $6 million to the Regional Centers of Excellence to better serve and build capacity for 200 more schools

Raise the Bar-Close the Gap:

•$28.1 million for all students pre-K to grade 3 to obtain free breakfast serving an additional 83,000 children

•$7.9 million to extend EL services from 6 to 7 years serving over 68,000 children for

whom English is not their first language


Download the full education budget summary 2015 from MSBA

Link to MDE power point presentation on Governor’s Recommendation FY16-17 Education (MDE) Budget, January 28th, 2015


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 Bill Introductions

2015 Senate Bill Introductions


A look ahead

Of interest in Senate E-12 next week, they’ll be hearing a bill that would fund Teacher Development and Evaluation on Wednesday.

In House Ed Innovation Policy, a couple of bills that allow districts to start school before Labor Day will be heard. There will also begin conversations on career and tech education – post secondary pathways seem a priority topic this year.

In House Ed Finance, the MDE will present on Assessments on Tuesday, and on Wednesday will meet jointly with Health and Human Services Funding to hear more detail about the Governor’s Early care andEarly Learning budget components – the room will be packed.


Worth a second look

imagesWhat is “success?”  In 2013, it was written into state law that Minnesota’s public education system would set the goal to graduate 100% of its students. Kent Pekel from Minnesota’s Search Institute is asking the question, “What do kids need to succeed?” He is also asking the question, in particular for learners at the lowest level, what skills will they have when they have succeeded? Are career and college readiness equivalent markers of “success?” We recently asked our statewide advisory, is college for all? Read more under “Parents: What We Hear You Saying”…

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.