Mar 28, 2011
ELW

Urgent Update on Minnesota Education Spending Bills

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SUMMARY:

Although there are some good reforms in the House education finance bill (HF 934 – see below for details), because of the increased overall education spending, the expansion of early childhood spending and bad policy, and the mandates on the private schools in the school choice bill, Education Liberty Watch opposes HF 934, which will heard on the House floor TOMORROW (3/29/11). It is quite likely to be vetoed anyway and it would be very bad if some of these provisions would become the House position going into further negotiations.  We hope that all of the Republicans will join conservatives, both new and already there, in voting against this bill and instead, produce a bill that cuts real spending and decreases the size and scope of government involvement in education and families as representatives were elected to do.

If you wish to contact your representatives to make your views on this issue known, please call or email as follows:

House Speaker Kurt Zellers –

651-296-5502  rep.kurt.zellers@house.mn

House Majority Leader Matt Dean –

651-296-3018  rep.matt.dean@house.mn

To Contact Your Individual House member by phone or email, click:

http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/members/housemembers.asp

The Senate education bill (SF 1030), although still spending way too much is far preferable from a policy perspective.  We will update you when we have information on when it will reach the Senate floor.

Introduction

The Minnesota House and Senate education committees passed their large education spending bills this last week, also called omnibus bills.  Although there are some good efforts at reform in both bills (see below), each spends too much, both overall, and especially on early childhood. Overall education spending increases by approximately one billion dollars from last biennium, and there are no cuts to anything over current spending in early childhood. This is especially concerning given the fiscal crisis that Minnesota is facing, that education consumes 40% of the Minnesota budget, that many of these programs are ineffective and sometimes harmful,  and that achievement is so stagnant or declining, especially for poor and minority children. This stagnation is despite massive increases in spending over the last 30 years at both the state and federal levels.  Yet, Dr. Karen Effrem was the only one to her knowledge of the dozens of people who testified about these bills that asked for cuts of any kind.

Even worse, the House increases early childhood spending by incentivizing poor families to put their children in preschool instead of educating them at home with early childhood scholarships and takes the ineffective and controversial Parent Aware quality rating system (QRS) statewide.  (Testimonies may be accessed here).

[Written testimony prepared for the MN House Education Finance Committee’s consideration of the omnibus education finance bill is available here (HF 934).   Audio of what was actually presented is available here by following the link for the March 21st hearing beginning at 6:37:35]

Increased Spending and Preschool Changes in Ways and Means

Worse yet, after passing the House education spending bill out of the Education Finance Committee, Chairman Pat Gorafalo (R.-Farmington) added $26 million more spending to the bill in the Ways and Means Committee, including $4 million in more spending to early childhood for these scholarships.  (The spreadsheet is available here).

Rep. Garofalo and Rep. Jim  Abler (R-Anoka) were able to come to some understanding about the turf battles related to education vs. child care and policy issues of the quality rating system. They were aided by the strong work and advice of Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria), a child care provider who understands the dangers of this quality rating system on private home providers.  The chairmen are both to be strongly commended for agreeing to not impose the mandates/bureaucratic burden of this “voluntary” system on private family child care providers. Rep. Garofalo should also be thanked strongly for the part of the amendment prohibiting state interference in curriculum.

In exchange for that however, Rep. Garofalo kept the statewide ramp-up of Parent Aware in his bill using the bureaucratic, central economy promoting governor’s economic development regions. The amendment also redefines preschools as both public and private for the purposes of the bill.  This means that the government controlled QRS system is imposed on private preschools instead of just public school readiness or Head Start programs as we had been led to believe was the case  This is the equivalent of giving the commissioner of education jurisdiction over private K-12 schools that accept scholarships for poor children.  This is completely unacceptable!!

Rep. Mark Buesgens saw the problems with the amendment and was the only “NO” vote on the amendment (as heard in the voice vote).  Due to the spending, both he and Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) were the only Republicans who voted against the whole bill on the final roll call vote in the Ways and Means Committee.  All of the Democrats voted against the bill for completely different reasons  HF 934 is now headed to the House floor.

Important Differences with the Senate Bill:

In the meantime, although the Senate bill (SF 1030) also spends too much on education, there are some important benefits of the Senate bill compared to the House bill:

  • Senate Education Committee Chairwoman, Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) is to be thanked and strongly commended for not putting the quality rating system and the extra early childhood scholarship spending of $10 million in the Senate bill.
  • School Choice – Senator Sean Nienow’s (R-Cambridge) bill on scholarships for poor children to escape under performing schools. (SF 388) received a hearing in the Senate committee earlier this month. It was MUCH better than the House version (HF 273 Woodard) because there were almost no mandates on the private schools and the accountability was obtained through a nationally norm-referenced test, therefore not imposing the public school standards and tests on the private schools. Education Liberty Watch testified in favor of the Senate version and against the House version due to the mandate and testing issues. The concerning mandate language remains in the House omnibus bill, but there is no scholarship language at all in the Senate omnibus bill. If the House language remains unchanged, this would seriously compromise the autonomy of private schools and would render them far less effective as alternatives to the public schools.

Benefits of Both Bills:

  • No Funding for All-Day Kindergarten -This is excellent given that research shows no improvement in the achievement gap and longer term problems with math and behavioral issues in the fifth grade in students that had all day kindergarten versus those that had the traditional half-day program.
  • Reform of Integration and Compensatory Aid – This is race based and economically based extra funding in the amount of about half a billion dollars for Minneapolis, St.  Paul and Duluth to supposedly close the achievement gap, but does not work
  • Early Graduation Scholarships – This provision by Rep. Kurt Bills ( takes a portion of the per pupil funding for kids who do well and graduate early and gives it to those students in the form of a college scholarship while still saving the state and school districts money.
  • Teacher Evaluations, Collective Bargaining, and Tenure Reform – There are multiple provisions in both bills dealing with these each of these areas that comprise the largest proportion of education spending.
  • Removing Mandated Funding for School Psychologists, Counselors, etc. – The funding for these comes from the Safe Schools Levy.  Current law requires that a certain percentage be used for only these school staff instead of allowing schools to decide how to allocate these funds between these staff or police and other safety issues.  Removing the mandate (Erickson- R Princeton) increases local control and prevents the over-emphasis on mental health issues instead of academics.

Additional Benefit of the House Bill Only:

  • Delaying the social studies standards and requiring legislative review of the standards as they are renewed – The new draft social studies standards being developed through the department of education are a politically correct disaster and need to be monitored by the legislature. This provision accomplishes that goal.

Additional Benefits of the Senate Bill Only:

  • Teacher Wage Freeze – The Senate bill contains a provision by Senator David Thompson (R-Lakeville) to freeze teacher salaries.  Families and individuals in the private sector have seen their wages and benefits not only freeze, but fall to a significant degree if they have jobs at all. At the same time, employment wages, and benefits have been rapidly increasing in the public sector.  Given that salaries and benefits are the largest drivers of education costs, this is important to stabilize education funding for needed academic improvements and will prevent more teacher layoffs.  This provision is not in the House omnibus bill.
  • Emphasis on Reading – While revamping compensatory and integration revenue, the Senate bill places a much greater emphasis .on using that money to teach reading, which is the fundamental academic skill and biggest component of the achievement gap.
  • Stopping National Standards -The Senate bill contains a provision by Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) to prohibit the implementation of the common core national standards as Minnesota’s academic standards are revised.  Given the move to national standards, a national curriculum and national assessments, this is very important.  This is not in the House bill yet, but hopefully will be added in the policy committee chaired by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) or amended on the House floor.
  • Reduces Mandates on Home Schoolers – Senator Gen Olson authored a provision.to decrease mandates on the paperwork and reporting requirements that home school families need to do.  Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer authored the same legislation in the House that is not in the House omnibus bill, but is traveling separately.

This is an important time to remind legislators why they were elected: CUT SPENDING AND CUT GOVERNMENT INTRUSION!!

 

 


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