Update for May 8, 2015: Rub a Dub Dub!

Thank you to the nearly 150 people who showed up for the May 4 press conference. It meant a lot, and was the beginning of the last lap. These are the final hours to influence the targets and your voices are instrumental. Don’t jump ship now! Make that call today!

At the Capitol

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New spending targets are expected Monday. Governor Dayton, Majority Leader Bakk and Speaker Kurt Daudt will be fishing together at this weekend’s opener. Let’s give them something to talk about other than walleye–make your calls today!

And while we’re talking about our phone calling, one of our parents shared this story:

I just took care of my calls/emails regarding ‘raising the spending targets’ and wanted to let you know the assistant in Speaker Daudt’s office asked me, ‘how much money would be enough?!’ Clearly trying to put me off.“

While this parent was not easily put off and handled it beautifully, I would refuse to have that conversation with anyone except the elected officialwhom I called and would suggest I would be happy to answer that question for the representative if he/she would like to call me back.

 

We see the bills side by side.

5 members of the Senate (4-DFL and 1-GOP) and 5 members of the House (5-GOP) have been charged with reconciling the bills into one acceptable bill. The committee sits with two chairs—Chair Loon from the House side and Chair Wiger from the Senate. The gavel passes from one Chair to the next–meeting to meeting–until the process is complete.

In the first meeting of the Education conference committee, both Chairs spoke highly of their bills. Both pointed out that the lion’s share of funds went to the per pupil formula and early childhood.

While the House and Senate have produced two very different education bills, there are a few provisions that are the “same” or “similar.” It is usual for these types of provisions to gain early acceptance and make it into any final reconciled bill.

Areas of some common ground in the House and Senate omnibus bills:

  1. Compensatory Education Funds – both Senate and House give flexibility for districts to use compensatory education dollars (funds that are given to a district for children of poverty and for the concentration of children of poverty). Allows districts to spread these dollars out among schools, rather than to follow an individual student. (Senate allows for a 50% split, the House allows districts 100% flexibility).
  2. Seals for Foreign Language proficiency
  3. Alternative Teacher Licensure for non-profits working with a college or University
  4. Restrictions on student placement in “less effective” teacher classrooms – may not be placed two years in a row, as determined by teacher performance measures, unless there is no other option (e.g. limitations on sections or subjects)
  5. Incentives to attract teachers to hard-to-fill positions
  6. 9th and 10th graders allowed to take College in the Schools offerings, per discretion of school district
  7. Similarities for expanding science/math requirement options: Ag science courses may fulfill science electives where standards are met; computer science courses may fulfill math credit
  8. Not much in the way of testing reduction in either bill; Senate requests Commissioner to research possible replacement of MCAs with MAP tests, as well as limits amount of hours allowed for testing
  9. Defines dyslexia in statute
  10. Allows rather than requires online reporting for special education
  11. Allows charter schools to offer fee-based pre-K
  12. Defines requirements surrounding the closing of charter schools

For those who love details, check out these links to the side by side comparison summaries!

Side by Side of Education bills

MSBA’s article Education Conferees Begin Walkthrough on Differences in House, Senate E12 Plans

Side by Side of Tax bills The Tax bill has major implications on education funding

 

Sideline Surprises

This question, “How much will be enough?” is being carefully iterated throughout the conference committee by the Republican conferees. In a particularly interesting exchange, Rep. Ron Kresha (Little Falls) asked Brad Lundell (Schools to Equity in Education), “How much will be enough?” He requested Brad to place in order of priority: Q Comp equalization, local equalization aid, early education and facility maintenance. Brad masterfully responded, “That is the essential problem. We’re setting up difficult choices for everyone given the size of the targets.” He illustrated the analogy that this amount of money only allows for closing the holes in some boats while leaving others sinking. Brad’s preference? Save all the sinking boats: “I want more money on the formula. You are asking either/or in a year we should be saying both/and.”

We’re surprised by this push back on the need for more funding. At the start of the session, we saw an unprecedented acknowledgement among education committee members on both sides of the aisle that schools have been underfunded these last many years.

“Sen Pratt (R-Prior Lake) made several statements in committee in January 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. At that time, he stated, “1% is not enough! Schools need stable and reliable funding. We need to “fund our commitments!” We are experiencing whiplash: Parents United Update January 30, 2015.

And in March, the Senate GOP held a press conference calling for 3% on the formula in each of the next two years—with no mandates!

 

How you might respond to this new rhetoric:

Since this question, “How much will be enough?” appears to be the new rhetoric, we thought we’d try our hand at a few replies to that question!

  • When class sizes are manageable
  • When no achievement gap exists
  • When the per pupil formula is linked to inflation
  • When education funding is commiserate to the buying power of 2015
  • When districts are no longer working against each other for scarce resources
  • An example from a parent: I have seen Minnesota’s public education system given less and less every year for over a decade. Our budget has a surplus, yet our school budget is being gouged. My children’s grade school has 35 kids in each class. I agree, enough IS enough, but as the parent of a 4th grader, I have never seen ‘enough.’ I have only seen cuts. If a plan was enacted now to keep up with inflation ongoing, I would consider that ‘just enough.’ If they started with inflation and considered paying back schools what the government has cut from their budgets in this decade alone, THEN we could talk innovation.

 

Is this really the right analogy for our children?

In unusual move, conference committee took testimony on many items at issue in this bill – building facilities, funds for teacher development and evaluation, student testing, funding for extended learning time and early childhood scholarships. We heard testimony from many of these groups earlier in the session. Articulate pleas underscored the fundamental problem. Here we are at the 11th hour, with great reasons to fund each of these things, we find ourselves choosing among critical needs.

At one point, Chad Dunkley, CEO of the private New Horizon’s Childcare Centers, testified in favor of expanding early learning scholarships for our poorest students. “We need to throw life jackets to our neediest students before we throw them to the ones already in the life boat.” A lifeboat indeed! We understand his intention – and agree Minnesota should include our poorest pre-K kids in its focus. But the lifeboat analogy is ironic in a way that he probably did not intend. Indeed, these last 15 years have felt like a lifeboat – so much so that we don’t even realize we’ve settled for it. Don’t our students deserve a ship?

 

Share a LOUD Message NOW (don’t wait!)

In a year of surplus, neither the House nor Senate budget targets for schools are enough. We are tired of cuts – we are tired of lost opportunities and large class sizes. We are tired of raising money to fund necessities. We are tired of running levy campaigns in our districts just to keep things on an even keel. The kids who are in school right now get ONE chance to learn: Childhood has no rewind!

Your voice still has a role: email your legislators and House Speaker Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Bakk. Cut and paste and send the same letter to Rep. Jenifer Loon and Senator Chuck Wiger’s Committee Administrator.

Letter suggestions?

When you write your legislators, write in your very first sentence that you are their constituent.

Your personal experiences are gold, but you can start here–cut and paste or put this in your own words. Finish up with something from the heart.

Both the Senate and the House targets for education are inadequate. Schools around this state will be poised to cut more opportunities, including many arts and career and tech education programs. Class sizes will increase. We know that on average, over the last 15 years, funding to the basic per pupil formula has increased less than the rate of inflation. In my district…

 

Worth a Second Look

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Read about the Minnesota Teacher of the Year

The ACT: Is it the right test for all?

 

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.