Feb 8, 2012

Education Liberty Watch Testimony on SF 1656 – Legislative Approval of Standards

Karen R. Effrem, MD

President – Education Liberty Watch

February 8, 2012

Dear Chairwoman Olson and Members of the Senate Education Committee,

Thank you for your willingness to consider these written comments on SF 1656.  Education Liberty Watch enthusiastically supports SF 1656.  We are grateful to Senator Nelson for sponsoring it and to Senators Michel, Harrington, and Madame Chairwoman as well for their willingness to co-author it.  The list of sponsors speaks to the Minnesota legislature’s long and proud heritage of bipartisan and ideologically diverse opposition to both federal and executive branch interference in education matters.  This fidelity to separation of powers doctrine, state sovereignty, local control, and parental rights is admirable.

As to the merits of the legislation, it has many.

1)      Legally and constitutionally, it is important after the Profile of Learning debacle from 1998-2003, the bureaucracy and unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind, the unconstitutional and illegal efforts of the Obama administration to go around Congress, the unilateral actions of state departments of education to commit to the federal department of education’s requirements for waivers that include imposition of national standards, and the Race to the Top Process which also required this imposition of a federal curriculum, it is very important for the people’s representatives in the legislature to have a say about these standards and their implementation.

2)      From a fiscal and fiduciary standpoint, the legislature must also weigh in.  Changing standards and the associated assessments is an enormously expensive undertaking.  California has estimated that it will cost $3 billion dollars to develop new assessments that comply with the Common Core National Standards.  While certainly not likely to be that high in Minnesota, there is already much concern about the number, cost and rigor of the myriad of assessments that Minnesota already gives to comply with federal mandates without developing a whole new set for these less than ideal standards.  Given the precarious financial situations of both the Minnesota and federal governments, it is wise to proceed carefully in changing its standards.

3)      And most importantly from the quality perspective, these national standards should not be implemented without much greater scrutiny.  Before the Pawlenty administration imposed the English Common Core Standards without legislative input, they were quite universally panned by experts across the country.  Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who had reviewed Minnesota’s English standards coming off the Profile refused to validate the Common Core standards when they were developed.  The math standards are even worse as witnessed by the opposition to them by Minnesota’s own experts such as Dr. Larry Gray.

Finally, although this legislation deals with K-12 standards, the very same situation is playing out in the pre-K realm with the state department of education attempting to impose statewide preschool standards that have never been reviewed by the legislature to force compliance with the Parent Aware Quality Rating system by bribing or blackmailing poor parents and private childcare programs and preschools with scholarships and Race to the Top grants.  Even if these standards were perfectly academic and non-controversial, which they are not, the imposition of one top-down, government mandated set of standards on all programs – public, private or religious who “volunteer” for this rating system cannot be allowed to stand.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify.


Feb 7, 2012

Suggested Caucus Resolutions

The “Whereas” language is for information purposes in order to guide discussion. The proposed language is in bold font.

1)      Oppose imposition of mandatory state preschool standards on private preschool programs via state and federal funds

Whereas parents, not government, are responsible for raising and educating their preschool children, neither the state nor federal governments have authority to set preschool curriculum standards especially via the executive branch and especially for private and religious institutions;

Whereas the Dayton administration is using state and federal grant programs to impose a single set of preschool curriculum standards on those institutions regardless of parental choice and without legislative review;

Therefore be it resolved that:

We are firmly against the establishment of universal pre-school programs in Minnesota, including the imposition of statewide early childhood standards and curricula via state and federal funding.

2)      Oppose the imposition of national (Common Core) K-12 standards

Whereas, according to the 10th amendment to the US Constitution, education, since not listed as a power of the federal government, is reserved to states and the people;

Whereas the Common Core National standards are being funded and promoted by federal education programs like Race to the Top and creating a national curriculum that is unconstitutional, violates federal law, is unnecessary and unhelpful for improving national  academic performance, and in many cases are of lower quality than current state standards;

Therefore be it resolved that:

We oppose the adoption of the Common Core national standards and the national tests that accompany them.

3)      Oppose federal and executive branch control of education

Whereas, both the Obama and Dayton administrations are ignoring separation of powers doctrine and implementing various aspects of federal and state education programs, most of which are unconstitutional,  such as No Child Left Behind waivers, Race to the Top, and early childhood scholarships without statutory authority or legislative input;

Therefore be it resolved that:

We oppose reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and until then, Minnesota should opt out.  This also applies to No Child Left Behind waivers, Race to the Top, Head Start, and early childhood scholarships.

4)      Oppose unionization of private businesses and independent contractors

Whereas several states have or attempted to designate individuals like personal care attendants or small independent childcare businesses that care for clients that receive government subsidies for the purposes of unionization and automatically deducting union dues from those subsidies resulting in decreased funds for poor, sick and disabled children and adults;

Therefore, be it resolved that:

We oppose the forced unionization of individuals or businesses whose clients receive government subsidies and the deduction of union dues or fair share fees from those subsidies.

5)      Oppose federal education data tracking from birth.

Whereas, the federal K-12 and early childhood versions of Race to the Top as well as the Stimulus bill all require the states to set up or expand a comprehensive data tracking system of all children from birth on that includes much sensitive family data;

Whereas, the Obama administration has by rule effectively gutted student consent and privacy protection under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment;

Therefore, be it resolved that:

We oppose the use of state or federal funds to implement this longitudinal education data system and that our state should opt out.

Feb 6, 2012

Dayton DOE Admits Plan to Control Preschool Curriculum via State & Federal Funds

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President

In three different and very significant ways, the Dayton administration has admitted that their ultimate aim is to have the state control the curriculum standards first for those governing all preschool and childcare programs in the state that “volunteer” to become involved in the Parent Aware Quality Rating System (the QRS), the Race to the Top preschool grant program, or the early childhood scholarship program regardless of whether these programs are public, private or religious. This seems to be the foundation for then controlling ALL preschool curriculum. (More on that in future alerts).

Minnesota’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant application neatly ties all three situations together. The document unabashedly states (p. 87):

“Minnesota’s Early Learning and Development Standards (called the Early Childhood Indicators of Progress, or ECIPs-see C1) for children birth to five are at the foundation of [Parent] Aware. Parent Aware Program Standards require that instruction and assessment be aligned with the ECIPs and the ratings are built on the ECIPs, which function like a scaffold. For example, ELD Programs must ensure that their staff members are familiar with the ECIPs before earning 1 star, and to reach 3 or 4 stars requires both familiarity with the ECIPs and also alignment of curriculum and assessment with them.” (Emphasis added)

In other words, the Parent Aware QRS, even though “voluntary,” mandates a top-down government run curriculum in order for programs to receive the highest ratings, and therefore all of the financial and policy goodies that accompany those top ratings. Adherence to program standards of the QRS that include curriculum alignment to these standards is then the cornerstone of both the Race to the Top Application and the early childhood scholarships. The quality rating system was the top point garnering criterion on the $500 million Race to the Top application which also requires statewide preschool standards and wide participation by preschool programs, including private and religious ones, which comprise more than 80% of the childcare market in Minnesota. The scholarships were a high priority of some of the lead House education negotiators during the final closed negotiations of the shutdown at the end of the 2011 session. The Dayton Education Department recently and arrogantly reported (January 26th) to the House Education Finance Committee that, despite the lack of statutory authority to use the QRS in distribution of those scholarships, they are going to allow use of scholarship funds only at programs that earn 3 or 4 stars, i.e. that require these standards, and parents may not conscientiously object to these standards if they want a scholarship. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Here is a summary of the problems with this approach:

Continue reading »

Dec 9, 2011

Judge Strikes a Blow for Freedom – Dayton to Challenge

As mentioned in our last alert, a lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County by a group of childcare providers trying to stop the unionization of home based childcare providers via an election ordered by Governor Mark Dayton using an executive order.  This has been seen as a payback to two major public employee labor unions.  Only about 4300 of the state’s 11,000 childcare workers would have been able to vote, but the decision made by the union in negotiations with the state would have affected the entire group.  The suit was supported by the MN Senate which filed a friend of the court brief.  This was after an excellent letter was sent by the House leadership asking for the election to be stopped and then rejected by the governor.  On Monday December 5th,  Judge Dale Lindman issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that stopped the mailing of ballots scheduled for December 7th.

There were two major legal and freedom issues underlying  the judge’s decision.  The first was the separation of powers issue.  Although the judge was not trying to interfere with the governor’s power to issue an executive order even to order a unionization election, he apparently saw that that power only extended to authorizing the election for public employees.  Since even those childcare providers that receive government subsidies are still private sector employers and business owners, not state employees, he seems to rightly understand that a change of law would be required that cannot be accomplished merely by an executive order.  Judge Lindman stated,  “If unionization of day care is to become the law of Minnesota, it must first be submitted to the lawmaking body of the state.”

The other major issue involved in the decision to issue the TRO was the unequal implementation of this election.  Unionization opponents rightly argued that all childcare providers in the state should be able to vote in the election, not just the 4300 that receive government subsidies, because decisions on regulations and standards negotiated by the unions would affect all of the providers.  The judge agreed when he said that he was “bothered” by the unequal implementation and that conducting the election in that manner would have been “very harmful to all parties involved.”  It is very ironic that the governor still thinks that his methods are proper, saying after the judge’s decision, “”I continue to believe that in a democracy, people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies,” when in fact this lack of equal protection would have had a minority of providers “determining the destiny” for the majority.

Thankfully, the judge understood the assault on freedom and good government that this executive order and the election represented.  On a much different scale, his wise decision kept December 7th from becoming a new kind of “Day of Infamy” with regard to government and union tyranny that would have increased government and union control resulting in increased regulations and cost and decreased quality, choice, and access. Freedom for parents to raise and educate their children, including childcare, as they see fit and for these independent businesses to continue are among the many freedoms that the brave men killed 70 years ago and the many others before and since died to protect.

However, although this battle is won, the war is not over.  This was only a temporary restraining order and another hearing is scheduled for January 16th.  Although it seems that the judge is sympathetic to the views of those opposing unionization, there is more that needs to be done. Just as this alert is being prepared, the governor’s office has announced that he will contest the issuance of the temporary injunction next month.

In addition, as the legislature prepares to reconvene in January, a related issue needs to be discussed.  The governor’s unilateral expansion of the quality rating system (QRS) that is supported by the big business groups combined with the legislature’s ill-considered decision to spend money on early childhood scholarships will create more providers receiving subsidies.  This will feed into the Dayton/union view that any business or individual that has customers that receive government subsidies are subject to unionization, therefore creating a bigger pool of providers that would be in favor of unionization.  It will be very important for the legislature to not only continue their brave fight against childcare unionization and pass right to work legislation in this state, but also to resist the Dayton/big business plans to further expand the QRS either in the state or as part of the Race to the Top initiative.

Here is what you can do:
1) Support the freedoms of independent childcare business, the families they serve and all of us as overburdened taxpayers by contributing to the legal costs to stop this vote.

2) Keep informed about this situation by continuing to follow alerts at Education Liberty Watch, Child Care Freedom and www.childcareunioninfo.com and please tell your friends, especially if they are childcare providers.

3)  Please thank the House and Senate leadership and other legislators for their efforts to stop this vote.

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

Senate Health & Human Services Chairman David Hann 651-296-1749 sen.david.hann@senate.mn

Senate State Government Chairman Mike Parry 651-296-9457 sen.mike.parry@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

Rep, Mary Franson 651-296-3201 rep.mary.franson@house.mn

4) Please remind the leadership and your own legislators that the quality rating system and Race to the Top will make stopping the union efforts more difficult as well as unnecessarily expand the role of both the state and federal governments in children’s lives and providers businesses.