Parents United Update 2/22/2013

Fewer bills, greater deliberation – Update for Feb. 22, 2013

It appears that committee chairs are hearing fewer bills but taking more time to deliberate issues surrounding those bills. The history and intent of a bill, the research and evidence as to its efficacy, and the trend data of outcomes are being unveiled and debated.

Governor’s education budget draws kudos and concerns

Multiple committees spent the majority of the week pouring over the Governor’s budget HF630/SF453 clarifying his proposals. While the current focus has been on dollars, several provisions in the Governor’s education finance bill have policy implications I expect will be thoroughly vetted in House and Senate Policy. This bill will more than likely be the basis for the 2013 Education Omnibus Bill.

Testimony from education organizations brought kudos and concerns. The priorities of the budget garnered the most compliments—increased dollars for pre-school, All Day K, reduction in cross subsidy for special education, providing dollars to implement the new teacher evaluation system and a 1% increase on the per pupil formula.

One of the greatest concerns continues to be for stability and equity. Many groups referred to theEducation Finance Working Group recommendation to reinstate the general education levy as a mechanism to provide those components and were troubled by its absence.

However, as one testifier put it—these are wonderful placeholders, but the increases are too little. Another was worried that a change in the method the state uses to counts students will give the appearance that the formula increases by $500, when the actual increase is $52. A very interesting statement came when the Minnesota School Boards Association raised the issue of the impact of sequestration. That federal action—or inaction–will cause school cuts of 5.8%.

Another perspective….

Our intern, Tom Anderson, will begin working on his Master’s in Education at the University of Minnesota in June. This legislative session, Tom decided that spending time at the Capitol observing the work of education committees would be a wise investment of his time. Since he has been tracking House K-12 Finance since the first day, I asked him to share his perspective on the Governor’s Education Budget. It is always great to have a second viewpoint.

Increase Local Control or Preserve Program Specific Funding?

This week, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) met with legislators to explain the details of the Governor’s K-12 Education Finance Bill. One of the main points of MDE’s presentation was that their bill would give more control and flexibility to local school boards. At first glance, it seems reasonable to assume that local school boards should have more flexibility in how they spend the money they receive from the state. After all, who knows their district better than they do? In the abstract, it sounds fairly uncontroversial, but both Republican and Democratic legislators have expressed concern over the specifics of this approach.

Extended time revenue is money which is often set aside for afterschool and summer school programs for children who are falling behind and need to make up credits in order to graduate from high school. The Governor’s budget would allow the funding to be given to the district to be used as they saw fit. With schools needing additional funds in many other areas, some legislators expressed concern that these programs would be lost or severely diminished.

The Early Graduation Achievement Program is repealed under the Governor’s budget. The Governor’s budget would allow districts to spend their money on programs aimed at early graduation but the funds are no longer set-aside specifically for this purpose. Some see this program as crucial to getting college-ready students out of high school and worry that funds will go elsewhere.

The Safe Schools Levy is another area where the Governor’s budget seeks to give more control to school districts. The Governor changes this program from a categorical levy to a part of the general education revenue program. With the renewed emphasis on making sure our schools are safe, some legislators questioned whether that money would be used to fill holes in local school budgets, at the expense of school safety.

I must note that there were other provisions that increased local control of money that generated little to no concern. However, I thought it was important to note this shift in how certain funds are allocated and the concerns that were raised regarding these changes. It is likely that amendments will be drafted to address these concerns but it is unclear whether or not they will make their way onto the final draft of the education finance bill.

School before Labor Day? A perennial argument

In HF261, again the question is posed: Who decides when school starts? Should local boards decide school calendars and begin when it works for their district—or should the state continue the prohibition against school starts before Labor Day? (Waivers have been granted for some schools to start early).

Minnesota is one of three states with this prohibition. School districts believe they need the additional time for learning and resort owners are equally adamant that beginning school before Labor Day would adversely affect their business. Unfortunately, the committee ran out of time and was unable to vote on the bill.

Integration aid—testimony that says it all

While introducing his bill to correct “inaction and take responsible steps to act,” Rep. Carlos Mariani, author of HF247 and chair of House Education Policy Committee, provided a historic view of integration/segregation issues in our country.

ISAIAH leaders who closely followed the progress of the Integration Revenue Replacement Task Forcecalled on “the legislature to follow the example of the Task Force, and come together across partisan lines.” They shared their belief that “practices and people must be aligned and accountable, not only to standardized test scores, but to progress on measures of equity and opportunity.” Read more

In another twist, columnist Katherine Kersten was a member of the Integration Revenue Replacement Task Force and one of two members who voted against the recommendations. Last session, before bill deadlines, education chairs didn’t have time to hear the recommendations of the task force convened at their request, but I remember Ms. Kersten was allowed 45 minutes to read excerpts of her report, Our Immense Achievement Gap: Embracing Proven Remedies While Avoiding a Race-Based Recipe for Disaster” in both House and Senate hearings. I just found out the report was recently given a Bunkum award from theNational Education Policy Center, which gave a deeply critical review of the report:

The author relies heavily on selected research literature to make the report’s arguments but ignores dozens of the most important peer-reviewed research studies that suggest strong relationships between racial, ethnic, and economic diversity and desegregation and academic gains. It also relies heavily on anecdotes about desegregation policies and funding-equalization efforts in several states. While endorsing accountability-based reforms of the sort implemented in Florida, it fails to fully explore what is actually known about the results of such policies. Investigations into the programs in Florida strongly suggest that claims of success about the state’s accountability measures and teacher-accreditation practices are often unsubstantiated or exaggerated. In attacking the wrong targets, the report distracts rather than focuses the attention of policymakers seeking to close the achievement gap.

Senator asks, “Can we admit a mistake?”

Last week’s Update highlighted the consequences of a new, exclusively Minnesota teacher test—the MTLE. Tuesday, SF429, a bill to repeal that test was heard in Senate Education. Senator Kevin Dahle Northfield, chief author of the bill said “I think it’s OK to admit that a mistake has been made in terms of this legislation, in terms of language barriers, learning disabilities, validity of the test, cultural bias, and the cost in really determining what makes a good teacher in the classroom.” (Related Pioneer Press article)

Risks to Inertia

Tuesday night brought another first for me when a joint House Education Finance and Education Policy meeting drew perspectives from cross sectors focusing on building the “world’s finest workforce.” The state economist laid out future challenges, data showed Minnesota students perform at the very top on international math tests, business expressed the need for innovators and team players and testimony fromthe President of the Blandin Foundation focused on the risk of not making significant investments in education necessary to produce this new workforce.

Intensive Work with the Guru of Family and Community Partnerships

This week, three Parents United staff trained with Dr. Joyce Epstein of the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Epstein has been a family engagement researcher for 30 years and her work has made her the number one expert on this issue in the nation. Her nested leadership model supports schools in building their capacity to work with their own families to improve student outcomes. It was time well-spent and we are intrigued to share our new knowledge!

Dr. Epstein’s most recent results on the effect of family engagement to improve student success are compelling. According to Johns Hopkins Research, what well-designed and implemented family and community involvement activities do:

For students

  • Higher grades and test scores
  • Better Attendance
  • Improved behavior at home and at school
  • Better social skills and adjustment to school
  • More classes passed and credits earned
  • Increased enrollment in more challenging academic programs and graduation on time

For Parents

  • Stronger sense of support from school and other parents
  • More awareness of student progress and effective responses to problems
  • Increased self-confidence about guiding student through school
  • Appreciation of teachers’ work and skills
  • Increased feeling of ownership of school

For Teachers

  • Increased respect for families’ strengths and efforts
  • Increased understanding of families goals for their children
  • Greater readiness to involve all families in new ways
  • Use of community resources to enrich students’ experiences
  • Increased satisfaction with teaching

A Look Ahead

The February State Budget Forecast will be out at the end of the week and budget discussions will intensify. Once the forecast is unveiled, legislative leadership provides “targets” for each committee chair. (Targets are the dollar and levy amounts that chairs have to work within).

If you would like to plan a Capitol visit and need a little help—call us!!!

It is always a good idea to check the House/Senate schedule the morning of your visit. Hearings and agendas are often changed.

Bills heard this week

House Education Finance
HF630 (Marquart) Governor’s E-12 education budget bill

House Education Policy
HF247 (Mariani) Integration Revenue Replacement Advisory Task Force recommendations implemented, and integration revenue repurposed by establishing the “Achievement and Integration for Minnesota” program to increase student performance and equitable educational opportunities and prepare all students to be effective citizens.
HF261 (Newton) School districts allowed to begin the school year before Labor Day.

House Early Childhood and Youth Development

HF698 (Halverson) Runaway and Homeless Youth Act modified, and money appropriated.
HF220 (Fritz) Childcare licensure requirement regarding infant sleep position modified.
HF358 (Loeffler) Electronic survey of providers required for pediatric services and children’s mental health services, and new mental health services covered under medical assistance.
HF353 (Davnie) Children’s school-based mental health grants funding appropriated.
HF359 (Laine) Children’s mental health; case management services modified; and awareness, training, and services money appropriated.

Senate Committee on Education

S.F. 547 (Bonoff) Teacher licensure testing requirements clarification.
S.F. 429 (Dahle) Teacher basic skills examination requirement repeal.
S.F. 262 (Johnson, A.) School districts safe schools levy proceeds use authority for mental health professionals’ collaboration and appropriation.

 

Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391; mary@parentsunited.org

 

 

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