Update for March 27, 2015: Much Ado About [Next to] Nothing

This week at the Capitol

This is the week when each body lays its cards on the table and we see what they intend to spend on education over the next two years.

The House GOP released its target and simply put, they propose to spend $156 million new dollars for all of E-12 education. The Senate’s target is $350 million new dollars. Both of these targets were met with stunned silence. The House and Senate have been hearing multiple bills that require significant investment and these targets just don’t allow for much. These low targets are incredibly problematic. Unless these targets are raised, it will be no surprise to see very real cuts in our classrooms.

House and Senate leadership are responsible for determining these targets and they are the ones who need to hear from us who see this as a less than acceptable investment in our children. During the legislative recess, legislators will be in their home districts. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to spend a few minutes telling your elected official what you think.

In contrast, the governor’s proposal is $695 million for education. While he spends a great deal of those funds for universal 4 year old pre-K, he has made it known that providing Minnesota with an educated populace is his priority. As the House and Senate committees craft their education bills, it will become apparent what they believe is the priority.

Though your eyes may glaze over—this is a convoluted process—we are providing you more information about the budget targets.

On budget targets in general from the Republican House and the Governor

On the deep rift in budget targets

On the process of establishing budget targets

Don’t like these targets? This is absolutely the time to email your legislators and let them know what you think!

 

In the House

The week before the Legislature takes their spring break, the Senate E-12 Budget Education Division Committee and both House education committees had full agendas hearing last minute bills to be considered in the education finance omnibus bill.

The policy bills introduced now are clearly not a part of the current education policy omnibus bill. So why introduce them? There are still great ideas out there that could be amended into the omnibus as it winds its way to its final version.

 

In House Finance

Parents came to testify twice this week in House Ed Finance, and it’s always good to highlight what they came to support or oppose. One of those parents was Sheryl Hill, on behalf of HF1542 (Selcer, D- Minnetonka). Hill’s fifteen year old son Tyler was killed in 2007 on a study abroad program. Before she testified, I confess I thought the bill unnecessary. This bill would require study abroad programs that recruit through schools to register with the Secretary of State and provide information on student deaths and hospitalizations among participants.

However, Sheryl’s testimony was both poignant and enlightening, not only for the lack of oversight for many program, but also for the vast differences in program quality, preparedness and honesty. Her foundation, Clear Cause, works to bring more accountability, accreditation and transparency to the industry of study abroad programs, and looks like a very helpful tool for anyone considering sending their child for an educational experience outside the US.

HF332 (Runbeck) also came to House Ed Finance with parents. The bill provides a definition for dyslexia as a specific learning disability. Two very articulate parents of students with dyslexia (one a volunteer with Decoding Dyslexia MN, the other a teacher and psychologist) made the case for transparency of local literacy plans, a statutory definition of dyslexia and better teacher training to provide effective interventions. It is estimated that 20-25% of all learners have dyslexia, an argument that all teachers need more tools to help these students.

It’s always great to have parents at the Capitol. Let us know if you’d like to join us!

Other interesting bills included several that would provide some loan forgiveness for teachers willing to teach in hard- to- fill subjects and regions of the state. Discussion challenged the authors to broaden their bills to include hard- to-fill positions in urban areas as well.

Paul Winkelaar from Education Minnesota urged the committee to consider why these positions are so hard to fill. Parents United thinks it would be compelling to do exit interviews with teachers who are leaving the profession, as well as with those who hold licenses but aren’t currently teaching.

Chair Loon told her committee to expect more last minute bills the week of April 6, with a Finance Omnibus bill out sometime the week of April 13.

 

In House Policy

Rep. Jeff Howe (Rockville R) introduced HF 704 with the intent of regulating the quality of concurrent enrollment course syllabi and exams. Kay Sebastian from St. Cloud State University testified to the quality control measures already in place at each institution offering concurrent enrollment. Rep. Jim Davnie questioned whether college professors, who are not required to have training in pedagogy and assessment, are actually better qualified to produce high school students’ syllabi and exams? The bill was laid over—likely we won’t hear of it again, but it raises a philosophical question: what should be regulated in state law? One of the most interesting points brought up in testimony was that PSEO, for which Minnesota has been a national forerunner, is now the 2nd largest “university” in Minnesota!

HF 809, introduced by Rep. Bob Gunther (Fairmont R), aligns with the World’s Best Workforce Legislation by bringing the Minnesota Youth Program into high schools. The intent is to address our current skills gap and workforce shortage in MN. The bill would place job-counseling staff in high schools. Anne Kilzer, Director of MN Workforce Council Association, pointed to the current shortage of counselors in MN public schools they could reinforce. Rep. Barb Yarusso questioned putting “counselors” into schools that were not licensed, saying, “We guard the border of the school rather religiously.” Also, we do not have a counselor shortage, we have a shortage of education funding to pay for adequate counseling. Rep. Gunther offered that this would be paid for through the workforce development budget, not the education budget. The bill was sent to Education Finance.

Rep. Bob Dettmer (Forest Lake R), a veteran PhyEd teacher, introduced HF 498, which, among other provisions, directs MDE to adopt statewide physical education standards based upon the K-12 National Association of Sport and Physical Education. The intent of the bill is to ensure that students have high quality physical education during school hours based upon evidence that moving promotes learning. Testifying gym teacher, Joe McCarthy, from Meadowview Elementary in Farmington, gave a great example. He ran a program at his school for the kids that scored lowest in reading on the MCA’s in November. For 15 minutes a school day over 12 weeks, he integrated movement and games into reading lessons. Many of these students out-performed their peers on March MCA’s. The bill was sent to Education Finance.

Rep. Tim Kelly brought an interesting bill to the committee: HF 1676. This bill would establish a 3-tiered grant, The Educational Partnerships Fund, for community partnerships to help close achievement gaps. Leading this statewide effort is a coalition of education and community partnerships. Growth and Justice testified along with some of the potential applicants for the grant: Every Hand Joined out of Red Wing, the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, and the Northside Achievement Zone. 17 parents from the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood attended. No one could disagree that these groups are doing amazing work. An ex-superintendent supported the initiative, recognizing that schools appreciate the help of community partners. Rep. Ryan Winkler pushed back, suggesting that carving out $6 million per year to this project would be great, if public schools were currently sustainably funded. They are not. The bill was sent to Education Finance.

Rep. Carlos Mariani offered a delete-all amendment to HF 1838 (meaning they started over)! Agreement was reached between authors and stakeholders that authorizing authority law for Charter Schools needs statutory change by Feb 15, 2016. Eric Celeste, a Parents United Board member, offered his support as parent of a student who had attended a public charter school going through a change in authorizer. Eric wholeheartedly agreed a process change could potentially reduce the negative impact these transitions have on students. Great job, Eric!

HF 1709 by Rep. Mary Murphy (Hermantown D) is the companion bill to SF 1206 by Sen. Alice Johnson (Blaine D) to increase funding and support for public community schools. These schools provide full wrap–around service schools that integrate preventive health measures, nutritional services, after-school activities, parent involvement, and more to support the whole child. From Session Daily, “The bill would allocate funding annually for eligible schools to create and maintain a full-time site coordinator tasked with assessing the needs of the school community and managing partnerships with public and private organizations that would provide a number of integrated services in the school.” Presently, Duluth and Brooklyn Center offer these unique school communities. Education Minnesota President, Denise Specht states, “The obstacles facing students in poverty are complex and go way beyond the classroom, it’s time for a real solution that meets all the needs our students bring to their schools everyday” The bill was sent to Finance.

HF 1428: Rep. Rena Moran (St. Paul, D): this bill amends the definition of disability to include children living with diagnosable and environmental conditions likely to result in developmental delays, such as homelessness. Peggy Flannigan from the Children’s Defense Fund summarized evidence that homeless students have a disproportional amount of developmental delays. This change would help identify invisible children and ensures they receive an “at risk” label that qualifies them for screening and services. Their environments often include poverty, a parent with mental illness, unstable housing, and witnessing domestic abuse. Ann Masten, from the Institute of Child Development at U of MN, spoke to how this would empower parents to access resources for their children.

As a teacher who worked for years with adjudicated youth and students at high risk of dropping out, if there is anything I have witnessed this session that I believe has more potential to influence the achievement gap, Community Schools and Rep. Moran’s work with the Children’s Defense Fund are the bills. –Shawna Hedlund, policy fellow

Over in the Senate 

Some highlights this week include Senator Pappas’s (DFL- St. Paul) SF1781 which would provide an early childhood educational outreach coordinator to our various Southeast Asian communities.

SF1017 Dahle (DFL-Northfield) proposes an after-school learning grant program that would support high quality opportunities to Minnesota kids; promoting attendance, positive behavior and high academics. SF441 Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) also addresses an increase in youth after-school enrichment revenue.

Read more: An Ed Week article stressing the benefits to after school programs and the link to a decrease in crimes involving young people.

Senator Nelson (R–Rochester) presented SF1482, which would increase the revenue to teacher evaluations in a program that is incredibly important, but has had very little financial support.

Mary Gilbert of St. Paul Public Schools states, “Any step forward to help districts who don’t have a Q Comp plan with the very robust evaluation process of teachers is beneficial.”

Senator Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) introduced SF1124 to a very receptive crowd. As Senator Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) exclaimed “ This may be the most important finance bill we have heard.” In a nutshell, since only a certain number of districts have QComp money that can be used for teacher evaluation, the vast majority of districts do not have access to those funds. This has created a huge inequity in our state because districts who lack this funding have to dip into their pockets to fund teacher evaluations. An example: Lakeville has 0% funding to address its 11,000 students.

Editorial comment from Heidi Huelster:

As a parent I am thrilled to see Senator Kent’s (DFL-Woodbury) SF1364 presented. It delivers a common sense, creative solution to a long-term problem. Minnesota ranks 48th out of 50 when it comes to student/counselor ratio. Let me repeat myself…48th.

By adding this grant program, districts can opt into this team-based service that includes a school nurse, counselor, chemical dependency professional, social worker and school physiologist. This approach addresses a real change that can make the biggest difference, not only with our kids, but our families and our schools. It will also add over 800 new jobs in Minnesota. I truly think it’s one of the many bills I’ve heard this session that would have immediate, and powerful impact.

 

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

 

Bills to watch 

SF1206 (Johnson DFL-Blaine) and HF1709 (Murphy DFL-Hermantown) Full service community schools established and appropriations

HF1170 (Bennett-R Albert Lea) and HF880 (Anderson-R-Starbuck) Both address loan forgiveness for teachers

SF1124 (Stumpf-DFL-Plummer) Teacher development evaluation revenue and equalized levy funding and appropriations

SF1364 (Kent-DFL-Woodbury) Student support services

HF332 (Runbeck-R Circle Pines) and SF278 (Chamberlain-R Lino Lakes) Childhood literacy provisions modified; dyslexia defined.

 

A look ahead

The Legislature is on Spring break until Monday, April 6th. The Senate Education committee will meet on the 8th. When the legislators return we can expect Education Finance Omnibus bills and then the formation of a conference committee to reconcile two very different education bills.

 

Worth a second look

MCA testing season has begun. Here are divided opinions on the effectiveness of standardized testing to measure students’ growth and hold schools accountable for student achievement.

Pioneer Press editorial on over-testing (written by teachers)

Education Post editorial promoting standardized testing (written by teachers/moms)

Education news blog from a Twin Cities writer and mom: “we need to reveal the racist origins of standardized testing”

 

What Can I do?

Talk to your Legislators. Remember they are just your neighbors. If you see them you’re your Spring Break and their recess next week, tell them what you think! Send an email. Speak up. It’s their job to listen.

Many Minnesota and national organizations exist in education that inform, prepare and alert parents to advocate. Many of these organizations have political agendas whose extent may or may not be readily apparent. We encourage you to make sure, before you join them, that you not only appreciate what they provide, but also agree with their agenda.

Our agenda is serving you—that’s it. Please take a look at our principles. If you agree–join us! Join our policy fellows at the Capitol. Call us with your questions and concerns. We are here to help you advocate for the things you care about.

 

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.