May 15, 2011
ELW

Education Conference Committee Follow-Up

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The Education Finance Conference Committee reached a tentative agreement with language coming out late on May 11th.  Below  is an update and follow-up on the items that we have been following in that committee since our last alert.  Overall, the news is VERY good.  The education committee conferees, especially Senate Chairwoman Gen Olson and House Chairman Pat Garofalo, have done an excellent job instituting many great reforms and protections, including what they kept out of the bill. The deal is still TENTATIVE, because the conference report is not yet signed and negotiations with Governor Dayton are still happening, due to the fact that Governor Dayton refuses to negotiate on the final end of session compromise until the entire budget is before him. Also, because education comprises 40% of the budget and because there are a number of policy provisions in the bill that the governor opposes, negotiations are still ongoing. It will be very important to urge the governor to negotiate and to thank and commend the conferees and leadership about the great things in the bill, asking them to stand strong, and also respectfully warn them about the remaining danger of the voucher bill and request if anything can still be done.

EXCELLENT NEWS:

1)   Expansion of the early childhood quality rating system is OUT!! –  The last vestige of this bureaucratic, small business hampering system that would have been implementing state learning standards for 3-5 year old children statewide that Education Liberty Watch has been warning you and fighting against all session is out of the bill.  Congratulations to you for all of your calls and emails and to the conferees for their wise decision!!

2)  $10 million of new early childhood spending is GONE!! – This is also great news.  While well intentioned, this money for early childhood scholarships for poor children would have created perverse incentives to have parents have outsiders raise and educate their children.  If it was to be done, however, it should have taken funds from already existing, ineffective programs like Head Start or ECFE.  We are glad it is gone.

3) Awful social studies standards delayed and national standards prohibited!! – Given the extremely serious concerns about the social studies standards that we have outlined for you here and here, as well as the enormous dangers and problems with the common core national standards, the language in the conference report is fabulous!  Representative Sondra Erickson and Senator David Hann as authors of this legislation and the conferees deserve huge praise for that as well.

4)  Other Great Provisions – Elimination of the requirement for schools to fund psychologists and social workers, a great emphasis both in policy and funding on reading and phonics, early graduation/military scholarships,and various teacher reforms are all to be commended.

BIG DANGER FOR THE PRIVATE SCHOOLS REMAINS:
The conference report accepted the voucher language from the House bill.  Thankfully and wisely for the autonomy of the private schools and their ability to continue to function as a viable alternative to the public system, all of the mandates that we have warned you about are now gone, except the biggest one – the requirement to have private school students that receive the vouchers take the Minnesota’s state tests, the MCAs, in reading, writing and math.

Why does Education Liberty Watch run the risk of appearing inflexible and ungrateful by still making a big deal out of this last remaining mandate?  Because this language allows the federal curriculum via the national standards to intentionally or unintentionally gain an entree into the private schools.  The supposedly conservative Pawlenty administration adopted the common core national standards in English language last year while everyone was campaigning.  These national standards that have been described as “content and culture” free by expert Sandra Stotsky, one of the authors of the manifesto countering the national standards that we described in our most recent alert. These unconstitutional, academically weak standards that contain the elements of the federal/internationalist agenda will become the basis for the MCAs in reading and writing.  It is bad enough that these are required in our public schools, but highly dangerous that they will become a wedge for controlling the curriculum of private schools as well, eventually rendering them useless as an alternative for the public schools.  This mandate also seems to contradict the intent of the very good language prohibiting implementation of the national standards that are present elsewhere in the large finance bill and it is contrary to the intent of the counter-manifesto of which both Education Liberty Watch and Senate Education Chairwoman Gen Olson were original signatories.

Sadly, instead of advocating for free markets and economic liberty, big business, via the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Partnership, and the Business Roundtable, are the ones most involved in pressuring the Republicans to implement government control over the private schools. They are adamantly opposed to allowing any alternative to testing.  According to this story, they have been and are currently also heavily involved in promoting the quality rating system and the health insurance exchange. Not discussed in the story, but clearly evident was how they are involved in the stadium issues and the expansion of light rail, despite the high cost and need heavy government subsidy. It was discussed in the article that these business groups may well join with Democrats and moderate Republicans to pressure freedom minded conservatives to cave on tax increases or these other big government ideas.

Education Liberty Watch is not against academic accountability for the use of public funds for private school students.  We simply ask that the private schools students that receive the scholarship/voucher have the option of taking either the state test or a nationally norm referenced achievement test such as those taken by private and home schooled students.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1) Thank the Conferees (see below) and the Republicans (House and Senate) for all of the good in the Education Finance Bill and ask them to stand strong to keep these great provisions in and the bad ones like the quality rating system out.

LEADERSHIP:

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch 651-296-5981 sen.amy.koch@senate.mn

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

SENATE:

Senator Gen Olson (Chairwoman) 651-296-1282 sen.gen.olson@senate.mn

Senator Carla Nelson 651-296-4848 sen.carla.nelson@senate.mn

Senator Benjamin Kruse 651-296-4154 sen.benjamin.kruse@senate.mn

Senator Dave Thompson 651-296-5252 sen.dave.thompson@senate.mn

Senator Pam Wolfe   651-296-2556 sen.pam.wolf@senate.mn

HOUSE:

Representative Pat Garofalo (Chairman) 651-296-1069 rep.pat.garofalo@house.mn

Representative Connie Doepke   651-296-4315 rep.connie.doepke@house.mn

Representative Sondra Erickson 651-296-6746 rep.sondra.erickson@house.mn

Representative Dan Fabian 651-296-9635 rep.dan.fabian@house.mn

Representative Tim Kelly 651-296-8635 rep.tim.kelly@house.mn

2) Call or email the governor to be actively involved in the negotiations to come up with a budget deal that does not raise taxes or expand the government’s role in education.

GOVERNOR MARK DAYTON:  651-201-3400 or http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/

3) Respectfully warn the conferees and the leadership that the scholarship/voucher language will endanger the autonomy of the private schools and ask them for an alternative to the MCAs for testing and academic accountability or to promote tax credits over scholarships/vouchers if there are any further negotiations on this bill.

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