May 22, 2011

Final Regular Session Education Update! Big Government Warning!

Thank you for your support as the education bill has moved through the legislative process.  The conference report for the education bill that we discussed in our last alert has passed both the House and Senate without any changes since that update.  Please THANK the legislators that have put this bill together that contains so many great provisions as we have previously discussed and the very important ones that it does not contain, namely the quality rating system and all-day kindergarten.

Unfortunately, due to intense pressures that come from many different directions (See the whining in the Star Tribune due to the efforts of Senator Dave Thompson, Reps. Mark Buesgens and Sondra Erickson and Education Liberty Watch to stand against the QRS for an example of media pressure) at the end of the session, there are disturbing statements coming from reliable legislative sources that indicate that Governor Dayton and education commissioner Brenda Casselius are demanding the early childhood provisions, particularly the quality rating system (QRS) and all-day kindergarten and that the Republicans may agree in order to get the bill signed or in a special session.  One of the justifications for demanding the QRS is that now that there is going to be $700 million more for the Race to the Top program that will now include early childhood programs and will apparently require a quality rating system.

If you wish to make your voice heard on this issue, now would be an important time to do so as there is apparently a rush to try to get this signed before Monday’s end of session (May 23rd) deadline.   After thanking the Republican legislators (contact information below) that have held so strong, encourage them to continue their courageous stand by explaining why adopting the QRS would be such a bad idea and encourage them also to sign on to bills that remove the quality rating system framework from statute (HF 1019 by Reps. Mary Franson and Steve Drazkowski/SF 1299 by Senators Dave Thompson, Pam Wolf, and Roger Chamberlain):

1)      The QRSs are not effective in changing program or child outcomes, are not popular with parents or providers, impose subjective and controversial standards on young children, and are bureaucratic with state control of private preschools and childcare programs that “volunteer” to be rated.  (See Evidence on Effectiveness of Quality Rating Systems for details.)

2)       Adopting a QRS would make it easier to impose all of the other federal control of education that comes with Race to the Top, including the national standards, for which there was bipartisan opposition last year. There is actually a provision prohibiting adoption of the national standards in this current bill by Senator David Hann and Rep. Sondra Erickson that needs to be supported.

3)      The groups representing big business that should be advocating for lower taxes and free markets are demanding increased spending and expansion of government and are publicly undermining the Republican position of not increasing taxes.

4)      This will be an entrée for unions to expand both for childcare workers and preschool teachers.

5)      This will be a huge flip-flop after they have wisely kept the QRS out of both the education bill and the health and human services bills.

The Dayton administration also opposes the other provisions that Education Liberty Watch supports. Please consider letting the governor know that you oppose these big government education ideas.  Please also consider asking the legislators to continue standing firm to delay the adoption of awful social studies standards, the prohibition of the national standards, and ask for an alternative to the state tests in the scholarship/voucher program if that provision stays in the bill.



GOVERNOR MARK DAYTON:  651-201-3400 or


Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch 651-296-5981

House Speaker Kurt Zellers  651-296-5502

House Majority Leader Matt Dean 651-296-3018


Senator Gen Olson (Chairwoman) 651-296-1282

Representative Pat Garofalo (Chairman) 651-296-1069

Representative Sondra Erickson (Policy Chairwoman) 651-296-6746


Senator Dave Thompson 323 Capitol (651) 296-5252

Senator Roger Chamberlain (651) 296-1253

Senator Pam Wolf (651) 296-2556

Representative Mary Franson  651-296-3201

Representative Steve Drazkowski 651-296-2273

Representative Mark Buesgens 651-296-5185




May 15, 2011

Education Conference Committee Follow-Up

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.


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.

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.

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.


Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch 651-296-5981

House Speaker Kurt Zellers  651-296-5502

House Majority Leader Matt Dean 651-296-3018


Senator Gen Olson (Chairwoman) 651-296-1282

Senator Carla Nelson 651-296-4848

Senator Benjamin Kruse 651-296-4154

Senator Dave Thompson 651-296-5252

Senator Pam Wolfe   651-296-2556


Representative Pat Garofalo (Chairman) 651-296-1069

Representative Connie Doepke   651-296-4315

Representative Sondra Erickson 651-296-6746

Representative Dan Fabian 651-296-9635

Representative Tim Kelly 651-296-8635

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

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.

May 12, 2011

Imposing a Federal Curriculum on Private Schools – Why Voucher Programs that Require State Tests Are So Dangerous

On May 9th, a group of academics, think tank leaders and policy makers led by Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution, Sandra Stotsky and Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas and others, who have long seen the dangers of a federal curriculum, released a 100+ signatory counter-manifesto to the Shanker Institute and US Department of Education’s efforts to combine national curriculum guidelines and national tests with the Common Core National Standards already being implemented through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.

Along with many distinguished groups and policy makers at the state and federal levels, Education Liberty Watch has the honor of being one of the original signatories to this excellent document.  The consortium’s press release discusses the problems and lack of need for these brazen moves to nationalize standards, curriculum, and tests:

  • These efforts are against federal law and undermine the constitutional balance between national and state authority.
  • The evidence doesn’t show a need for national curriculum or a national test for all students.
  • U.S. Department of Education is basing its initiative on inadequate content standards.
  • There is no research-based consensus on what is the best curricular approach to each subject.
  • There is not even consensus on whether a single “best curricular approach” for all students exists.

As is proper, the first and greatest concern listed is the legal/constitutional issue.   This is enormously important, because the U.S. Constitution is silent on the matter of education.  Yet the federal role in education is growing larger by the year. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has the federal government interfering in and setting state and local education policy in a myriad of ways. One good provision in NCLB, however, prohibits federal interference in curriculum.

NCLB is awaiting reauthorization.  The Obama administration/s blueprint for that reauthorization includes requiring that states implement national “college and career” ready standards in order to receive funds under this law.  No one seems to be noticing that federal funding of these standards is a significant violation of that prohibition on federal interference with curriculum as is the federal DOE and Shanker Institute’s effort to develop national curriculum guidelines.

Now thanks to the Race to the Top program’s bribery/thuggery of dangling billions of deficit dollars from the worthless stimulus program paid for with a maxed out credit card to cash starved states to “voluntarily” accept unconstitutional, lowest common denominator national standards and federal control of education, 43-1/2 states and D.C. are implementing these national standards in their states.  (Putative conservative former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s education department adopted the English language arts standards, described by curriculum and standards expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky as “content and culture free,” but was at least wise enough to decline the math standards.)

Yet, these national standards are now or are becoming the basis for the state tests that private schools or low income families that accept vouchers must take.  Hence, not only are public school systems ceding their constitutional authority to determine curriculum in order to try to gain a paltry amount of federal money that if they receive it, will likely not continue, but now the private schools that want to offer poor students a refuge from the academic failure of public schools must give these state tests and only these state tests, which are now based on the national standards.

Continue reading »

May 8, 2011

Comments Submitted for Final Draft of Minnesota Social Studies Standards

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President, Education Liberty Watch

The following comments were submitted individually at the end of the second public comment period for the Minnesota Social Studies standards as written to conform with the requirements of the online submission form.

It is a good improvement that the Declaration of Independence is now mentioned and discussed at the high school level and that the Declaration principle of popular sovereignty is also explicitly mentioned. However, I am still very concerned that other key principles from the Declaration are still missing.  The most important one is unalienable rights – rights that are inherent or God given, exemplified in the Declaration as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Students must understand that individual rights are not from men or governments, but are from God.

As stated in the following benchmark, the idea that the US Constitution is a changeable, living, breathing document, instead of a set of fixed principles that have made this republic the longest enduring, most stable government in history is promoted:

“Evaluate how constitutionalism and the federal, state and local governments preserve fundamental societal values, protect individual freedoms and rights, promote the general welfare, and respond to changing circumstances and beliefs.”

While there are mentions and descriptions of markets in a neutral sense or negative sense, there continues to be no mention of the benefits of free market economics and the resultant prosperity that that system has produced, especially for the United States as the freest, most prosperous, and most generous nation in the history in the world.

While capitalism is at least mentioned in a neutral context instead of a negative one as cited above in economics and world history, it is mentioned as problematic in US history.  Students are only required to compare and contrast capitalism to communism or “planned economies” and socialism. There is a moral equivalency between the various economies and political systems. There is neither guidance about the evils, deprivation, and death that communism and socialism have caused nor any discussion of the benefits of capitalism.

It is good that the Second Amendment is specifically mentioned. Although states’ rights are mentioned, it is only in the context of the Civil War. There is no discussion of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, whereas other amendments such as the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments are specifically mentioned.  The Ninth and Tenth Amendments are the bedrock liberties that states have to stand against an ever encroaching federal government, such as in the health care or education debates, for example.

Although religious freedom is now mentioned in this draft, it is only in the context of the indigenous people in America before the European settlers arrived.  Religion is mentioned once in high school world history as a “motivation” for European “exploration and expansion.”  However, the quest for religious freedom is never mentioned at all in American history as an integral part of the American founding.  Despite the apparent and significant anti-religious bias of this committee, that is a huge historical error.

The anti-religious and anti-traditional BCE/CE convention continues.

My previously mentioned concern that the word liberty is only mentioned once and that it is not mentioned as an unalienable right or in the context of the sacrifices made in its defense remains.

Securing these inherent rights has made the America the freest, most prosperous, and most generous nation in the history of the world.  Yet the concept of American exceptionalism is completely absent from these standards.  Instead, there is an incredibly out of balance emphasis on the concept of America as an oppressive culture with an obsessive focus on slavery and the wrongs done to the indigenous peoples.

The standard, “People have rights both as U.S. citizens and as citizens of Minnesota and those rights have changed over time. (” is highly disturbing, because it promotes the false idea that rights are from government and transient, instead of God-given and permanent as written first in the Declaration of Independence and expanded upon in the Constitution.  The Founders’ understanding of the origin of our rights distinguishes America from every other nation in the world and is why the U.S. continues to be the freest, most stable, most prosperous nation in history that people do everything they can to enter.