Student Opportunity Gaps

Sessions Ends

By May 14, 2012 No Comments

After passing the conference committee report on the Vikings stadium, the House adjourned sine die at 4:20am on Thursday, May 10. They were still in session day 118 given that they began their session on Wednesday the 9th and a “legislative day” is defined between the hours of 7am to 7am. The Senate came into session at 9am Thursday morning, which was legislative day 119, the last day they could pass a bill. They, too, passed the stadium bill and adjourned sine die at 2pm. After each body adjourned, they stayed a couple of hours together as retiring legislators gave their farewell speeches. Legislative retirement speeches tend to be thoughtful, emotional, and humorous and show a side of legislators we often don’t see during the trench warfare that takes place during each session.

All told, 14 Senators are retiring and another 6 are paired against each other, so there will be at least 17 new Senators in the body of 67 members. The election is likely to increase that number as each caucus chases a minimum of 34 members to control the chamber. In the House, 25 members announced their retirements. Two more lost their endorsements and are considering primary runs in August. If you sprinkle 6,000 votes across a dozen House races, the majority could flip in a heartbeat. Election turnout will be key, and DFLers note that the 2010 non-presidential level of 54% will be blown away by Minnesota’s history — 70%+ turnout in presidential elections. GOPers are banking that constitutional ballot questions over marriage and voter ID will bring out their base in droves in an effort to hold their majorities intact.

This group of legislators, elected in the very heated November 2010 election, faced an enormous budget crisis when they came into office. Partisan gridlock was almost guaranteed when Mark Dayton won the Governor’s office by a razor thin 8,000 votes and feisty tea-party republicans pushed their caucuses into majority status. A $5 billion deficit faced the new legislature and Governor, and it took an unfortunate shut down of state government for two weeks last July for the two sides to come up with a two-year budget plan. The plan, as school leaders are all too familiar with, relies heavily on borrowing from schools. An unprecedented 60/40 payment shift bridged the gap between Governor Dayton’s desired spending level and the GOP majorities’ refusal to raise taxes.

Besides the budget gap, there was a huge policy gap between the two camps, especially in education. The GOP and their reformer allies pushed hard to enact what they referred to as teacher quality reforms. Alternative pathways to licensure (February 2011) was first out of the shoot, and then mandatory teacher and principal evaluations came next (July 2011). Those two proposals are now law, but a third marquee policy initiative, LIFO, was vetoed by Dayton two weeks ago. The GOP can claim victory, but you better believe they want more. For a party that touts reduced government regulation and local control, the mandated evaluations are a step in the opposite direction. And challenges to local levy authority are a show of their first priority, which is controlling taxes wherever they’re generated.

DFLers will criticize the GOP agenda throughout this election cycle, and they will promise a much rosier budget scenario for schools as they march toward November. Candidates ought to be careful with how much they promise the public next November. Despite improved budget news and replenished budget reserves, the state is still looking at a $1.1 billion deficit before they can repay schools almost $2 billion in delayed payments. And no matter how much they tell you they support local control, history has shown that no idea goes neglected in the halls of the Capitol. No matter who wins in November, MREA will be there in 2013 to defend against ineffective and unfunded mandates and to push the state to live up to its constitutional mandate to provide for public education.

One Year Licensure Extensions Can Apply to Teachers on Variances
In light of the new Basic Skills Test requirement for new teachers, the omnibus education bill (HF 2949) which has been signed by Governor Dayton, includes a one year extension for teachers needing to pass the basic skills test. This one year extension applies if a teacher has been teaching on a variance (even in the third year of a variance if this is the one thing left for that teacher to get licensure) and if the teacher has been teaching on your one-year license this year. The Board of Teaching can approve you for 2012-13 notwithstanding the new BST requirement. Contact Richard at MDE licensing if you think this applies to you or a teacher teaching in your district. Or contact Sam or Fred to see if they think your situation applies and can forward your information to Richard W.

Here’s the backstory, and why it is important to contact Sam Walseth or Fred Nolan with questions regarding recently passed legislation. Sam and Fred were on the road meeting with superintendents last week. They stopped in to see a superintendent who told them the district had a good teacher on a third year of a variance who they were going to have to reluctantly let go because the teacher could not pass the basic skills test. Since HF 2949 extended a year for licensed teachers in that situation, Fred and Sam wondered it applied to teachers on variances.

After leaving the district, Sam emailed Karen Balmer, Executive Director of the Board of Teaching. She replied she thought it would apply and forwarded the message to Richard Wassen. Richard replied to Sam asking for details who forwarded the message to the superintendent. The principal of the district contacted Richard Wassen with the details, and the teacher can now teach another year on a one year license.

The lessons here are that Sam gets his emails replied by MDE personnel who see him at the capitol and know he represents rural MN school districts, and it never hurts to ask, especially in areas not directly addressed by a bill signed into law, but fit the situation addressed by the bill.

In the larger picture, MREA is strategizing how to address with the Board of Teaching this issue about the level of mathematics required of teachers who don’t teach secondary mathematics and whether it is appropriate or overly restrictive and will affect the number and quality of teacher candidates in Greater Minnesota.

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