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The year without a K-12 law

Published (6/1/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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Discord over an alternative teacher licensure pathway endorsed by the governor, many Republicans and some DFLers helped kill an omnibus K-12 bill, as well as the possibility of a federal grant that could have brought scarce new funds to Minnesota schools.

Of four omnibus education bills compiled this year, none landed on the governor’s desk, each dead-ended for various procedural and political reasons.

The House passed one of them, HF3833, May 11 after voting down an amendment that would have included the controversial licensure provision.

The provision, originally sponsored by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), chairman of the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee, would have allowed limited two-year licensure for Teach for America members and others who meet certain criteria. They could have been placed in certain school districts to meet specific needs. However, other DFLers and the state teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, said it lacked requirements for adequate student teaching experience and close supervision by a licensed teacher.

“Unfortunately, it was the teachers’ union who threw the sand in the gears and blocked reform from happening,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), by “bullying” enough DFL members into voting no.

Garofalo praised Mariani and Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Finance Division, for their leadership on policy reforms. He said that if the proposal and other reforms had passed, he could have asked his colleagues to support “a reasonable compromise” on a proposed temporary extension on school operating levies, also in the bill.

The proposal would have given school boards authority through June 30, 2016, to renew expiring levy referendum without putting the question to voters. It included a reverse referendum.

Greiling said that proposal was supported by most education groups, who saw it as a needed strategy to maintain fiscal stability as the state dips further into school revenue to help balance its budget.

Because the Senate did not take up HF3833, or sponsor a companion, it died.

Race to the Top hopes over

Greiling called this “the worst year we’ve ever had for education.” While schools were spared cuts, policy reforms that could have helped Minnesota win a federal Race to the Top grant and others offering budget relief for school districts were left on the table, as was the funding reform plan Greiling proposed, known as the “New Minnesota Miracle.”

Reforms in the bill included annual teacher and principal evaluations, alternative licensure for mid-career changers, stronger teacher licensing requirements and an end-of-course algebra examination that could lead to new accountability measures.

Without policy reforms in place, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced May 19 he won’t re-apply for the grant, which could have been worth as much as $175 million.

Losing out on the grant is one thing, but schools’ problems are going to get worse before they get better. Accounting shifts delaying state aid payments to schools up to 30 percent in the next biennium became law.

What got left behind

Left behind were several strategies Greiling hoped would give school districts strategies to maintain fiscal stability.

One proposal would have smoothed bureaucratic snags that left $8 million of special education reimbursement by Medicaid and Medicare uncollected by school districts last year. It would have made it easier to bill the third-party payers by streamlining required consent forms.

School districts would have gained easier access to health and safety revenue through reductions in red tape involved in applying for the revenue.

An idea to hire a quasi-independent analyst to monitor school trust lands activities, based on a successful model that has grown Utah’s school fund to $1 billion, won’t happen this year.

A few accomplishments made

A few provisions survived as parts of other laws or stand-alone laws:

• Metro Deaf School-Minnesota North Star Academy, a St. Paul charter school, likely would have folded without legislative authorization in HF3329, sponsored by Greiling, for the Education Department to accelerate its reimbursement for special education services;

• statewide physical education standards, plus other voluntary measures promoting children’s health and fitness, are part of a health care law signed May 25 by the governor; and

• a proposed repeal of the statute that led to $416 million of short-term lending by school districts to the state this spring was modified, becoming a provision in the supplemental budget law. The state may now tap those schools for cash flow help, but no longer must do so before seeking other loans.

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