The legislature is set to work this week through Thursday and then leave for a long break. There have been rumors that they will try to adjourn by this Thursday, but that seems overly optimistic. The traditional dance between legislative leaders and the Governor hasn’t taken place yet and major pieces of legislation are still moving forward. A bonding bill ($500-$775 million) is still in the works, and the legislature is pressing for major tax and education reforms. The Vikings stadium is back in the mix now that the Minneapolis city council appears to have a majority of support for a local share to finance the plan. Assuming they want to let these issues play out, they will need to take a break for a week and allow leaders from all corners of the Capitol to negotiate a deal on these proposals.
New Laws Signed by Governor
While major pieces of legislation still await action, a few bills related to education have been signed into law by Governor Dayton. A requirement that newly manufactured school buses be installed with a crossing arm for safety purposes is now law (HF 392). Schools will be able to use prone restraints for one more year as SF 1917 was signed by Dayton on Friday. Call it mandate relief for 2012 – a new law (HF 2376) repeals the requirement to get MDE approval for kitchen equipment purchases. A small victory that MREA put some time into, but a win nonetheless!
Key GOP Proposals Heading Toward a Veto
HF 1870, known as the “LIFO” bill, is in a conference committee, and they will likely wrap up their work soon. They meet again Monday afternoon, and despite efforts to reach out to the Governor and MDE commissioner Cassellius, the administration appears ready to veto the bill that would eliminate seniority only based layoff decisions. Many school reformers and administrators support the change, but the teachers’ union has dug in against it.
HF 2083 would take $430 million from the newly replenished state budget reserve and accelerate the repayment of the school aid shift. The move would get schools back to a 70/30 plan, which was the law prior to last July’s budget deal between Governor Dayton and GOP leaders to close a $5 billion deficit. State Finance Commissioner Jim Schowalter has adamantly opposed the proposal arguing it will put the state right back in a tough cash flow situation and the reserves are needed to deal with a $1 billion shortfall projected in the next biennium. Governor Dayton is likely to heed Schowalter’s advice and veto this bill.
Achieving Science Credits Through CTE and Ag Science
A battle is waging between one camp with agriculture science and career & technical education programs and another camp represented by the MDE (and probably science teachers although not physically present thus far). Ag and CTE educators want to clarify state graduation requirements so it’s clear that students don’t have to take chemistry or physics as one of their three science courses. Biology is and will remain a required course after the dust settles on this debate (at least nobody has suggested otherwise).
Current law governing graduation standards and course credits (MS 120B.023 and 120B.024 respectively) says that students graduating in 2014-15 must satisfactorily complete the chemistry and physics credits and that can be achieved in traditional chemistry and physics classes or a CTE course that meets these standards. The CTE and Ag science educators want to clarify that students don’t have to meet all of the physics or chemistry standards and that some combination of them can be achieved through CTE and Ag science courses.
Rep. Deb Kiel and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf are working on legislation (HF 682 and SF 451) to accomplish this flexibility. CTE and Ag science educators are arguing that rural communities and their employers need students to be better prepared for the workforce and not everyone should have to learn chemistry and physics standards in traditional science courses. MREA is generally supportive of HF 682 and SF 451 and working to find and support a balance between “giving students the tools to be successful in life” in Greater Minnesota communities, and “maintaining high standards and a rigorous comprehensive curriculum for all students.” These are the first two statements of our platform. If this legislative effort is successful, this will mean that students and districts will have more flexibility in meeting the High School science graduation standards.
SF 1528 (HF 2127) continues to move through the process. The Senate sent their proposal to the House a while back, and it contains a requirement that MDE build and maintain a catalog of on-line courses that students can use. The House amended the bill with their proposal to require students to achieve a “digital credit” for graduation. A digital credit would be obtained when the student successfully completes one of the state mandated courses that incorporates some element of “digital learning”. Blended learning is a component of digital learning as defined in the legislation, and it appears that simply using some form of technology in a lesson plan or unit of a course will suffice. MREA weighed in with concerns about mandating a digital credit as a graduation requirement, but most in the legislature believe this is simple to comply with. The bill passed in the House, 96-32, on Friday.