Apr 3, 2011

Bad Pre-K Policy Gone from House K-12 Bill! Now to Work on Spending!!

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Great News on Preschool Policy

HF 934, the omnibus K-12 education finance bill was passed by the House at about 3 AM on Wednesday, March 30th.  Thanks to all of your calls and emails, an excellent amendment by Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan), support from Rep.  Pat Garofalo (R – Farmington and chairman of the House Education Finance Committee) as well as strong speeches by Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe), Rep.  Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), and Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria), the very concerning language that would have taken the bureaucratic, freedom robbing, ineffective quality rating system statewide about which we warned you is  GONE!!

The amendment to get rid of the Parent Aware quality rating system was supported by the vast proportion of Republicans and one Democrat who were concerned with the expansion of preschool spending and policy at a time when there is no money and when there is no evidence that either preschool or quality rating systems work and evidence that there is harm.  The vote on the amendment was along party lines with the following exceptions:

VOTING YES66 of the 72 Republicans (see exceptions below) and Representative Kerry Gauthier (D-Duluth).

VOTING NO:  All of the Democrats except  Rep Gauthier and Republican Representatives Representatives Jim Abeler (Anoka),  Sarah Anderson (Plymouth), Connie Doepke (Orono), Jennifer Loon (Eden Prairie), Carol McFarlane (White Bear Lake), Branden Petersen (Andover), and Steve Smith (Mound)

NOT VOTING: Atkins, John Benson, Hausman, Huntley, Laine, and Ward (All D) and Murdock (R).

Education Liberty Watch is extremely appreciative to the House Republicans and Rep. Gauthier that voted yes for this work.  To thank them yourself, especially Representatives  Buesgens,  Garofalo, Gruenhagen, Franson, Drazkowski, and Gauthier you may click here for phone numbers or email addresses.

Spending Still a Very Important Issue – Need to Demand Fiscal Sanity

Republicans in both chambers are still operating under their budget targets set by the leadership that spends $34 billion (14% higher than last biennium compared to the governor’s desired 22% increase in spending) for the whole budget that includes $14 billion dollars for K-12 education.  That comprises $1 billion of new education spending overall and $10 million of new early childhood spending.  This is very concerning when academic achievement is either stagnant or declining and the achievement gap remains in the face of staggering increases in both state and federal education spending over the last several decades (There has been $2 TRILLION of spending on the federal level with no improvement in achievement.  See 2/11 congressional testimony here with startling graphs on pages 3, 4, and 5 for details).

Rep. Mark Buesgens made a brave effort to try to deal with some of this runaway education spending. He offered an amendment to take $26 million of education spending, including $4 million more for early childhood scholarships that was added to the bill in Ways and Means AFTER it left the Education Finance Committee and divert it toward flood relief after a very bad winter. Chairman Pat Garofalo spoke against the amendment, describing the $26 million as an accounting “:mistake” that was adequately explained in Ways and Means and that supporting the amendment would “gut” education spending by $26 million. [Note:  Rep. Buesgens is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and Dr. Effrem attended that meeting, and in their opinions, that $26 million was not adequately explained].   Sadly,  only 15 other courageous Republicans supported Rep. Buesgens to repurpose a mere 2.6 percent of that overall $1 billion of new education spending.   Here is the list of House members who should be thanked for this vote:

Bruce Anderson, Bob Barrett, Mike Benson, Kurt Bills, Mark Buesgens, Steve Drazkowski, Mary Franson, Glenn Gruenhagen, Bob Gunther, Tom Hackbarth, David Hancock, Mary Kiffmeyer, Ernie Leidiger, Kathy Lohmer, Duane Quam, and Ron Shimanski

In the end, three Republicans had the courage to vote against their leadership and stand against increased spending as they were elected to do by voting against the entire bill:  Rep.  Mark Buesgens, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, and Rep, Tom Hackbarth.  They should very definitely be thanked.

Because the budget is very large and complex and the fight against Governor Dayton’s desire to tax and spend so much more money and the mainstream media is so difficult, it will be very important to encourage the Republicans in the legislature to boldly stand against more spending.  In fact, since they are already taking so much heat for the reforms that they are doing, they should have spent much less at the beginning and made their case from there.  They would have had great public support to do so.  Hopefully they will take this tack as the process continues.

Mandates on Private Schools Still in Voucher/Scholarship Language

Regretfully, the mandates on private schools that we described in previous alerts (HF 273 Woodard),  including public school testing, submitting to the public school report card system and other supervision by the commissioner of education, the Americans with Disabilities Act, bullying, non-discrimination in sports, etc. that were put in the bill in a vain attempt to appease Democrats and the big business backers still remain in the bill.  Sadly, they were actually bragged about by Rep. Connie Doepke, (R-Orono) during the floor debate.  It will be important to make our voices heard about this section of the House  bill during conference committee.  Ultimately tax credits are probably much safer for the private schools to keep them as a viable alternative to the public schools.

Senate Bill Passes with Little Controversy – Great Policy, but Spends as Much as House Bill

SF 1030, the Senate omnibus education bill passed on Thursday, March 31st.  As in the House bill, there are a number of good reforms that will save money in the long-term.  Unfortunately, the bill still spends $1 billion more than last biennium.  The benefits of the Senate bill may be found in our last alert. Here are a few of the important differences especially after both bills have now passed the floor:

  • There is no new early childhood spending in the Senate bill.  It is disappointing that there are no cuts to existing preschool spending given the lack of evidence of effectiveness and the evidence of academic and emotional harm, but we are grateful that they did not add new spending and cutting will be encouraged as the budget process continues.
  • The Senate bill now contains the following language after an amendment by Senator Michel:

“An increase in state appropriations for the purpose of improving school readiness
outcomes must be made in research-based programs of known quality consistent with the framework
under section 124D.142.”

It is not yet clear whether this is merely flowery comfort language or a back-door means to implementing the larger bureaucratic, unpopular, ineffective system that we have been describing to you all along.  We will watch this carefully as the bill proceeds.

  • The Senate bill does not now nor ever did contain the bad pre-K policy of the House bill found in SF 331 (Michel) or HF 669 (Loon) that was creating a new statewide bureaucracy and imposing mandates, including subjective standards and assessments on private entities that took children with the scholarships.  The Senate Republicans stood strong, including Senator Michel, in fighting off an amendment by Senator Bonoff that tried to re-insert the whole big bureaucratic bill.  The Senate Republicans should be thanked for this vote. (Please click here for contact information.)  The Senators, particularly those on the conference committee yet to be named, should be encouraged to remember that there is NO EVIDENCE for effectiveness of early childhood programs or quality rating systems.
  • There is no school choice language in the Senate bill at all.  There is some movement on education tax credits in the Senate tax bill.  If there is a move towards vouchers/scholarships in the conference committee, please support the Senate version of that school choice bill authored by Sen. Sean Nienow considered in the Education Committee that allows for choice without the mandates on the private schools.
  • There is a much greater emphasis on reading and literacy in the Senate bill, which is important because reading is the most fundamental academic skill and is at the heart of both the achievement gap and the skyrocketing special education costs.

For all of these reasons, Education Liberty Watch strongly supports the Senate bill.  As soon as conferees are named, we will notify you so that you may make your voices heard on these issues as well as the overall spending.   Please help your elected legislators remember that the very clear  mandate of the last election was to cut spending and decrease the size and scope of government.  If we cannot cut spending now when the state and federal governments are BROKE, when can it ever be done?  Thank you for your involvement thus far.  Keep up the great work!! “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!”






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