House passes school trust land reform

The House voted 104-26 to remove the responsibility of overseeing school trust lands from the Department of Natural Resources, which critics say it has mismanaged.When it became a state, Minnesota received the lands from the federal government, with the requirement of using, selling or leasing the land to fund education.Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell) sponsors HF2244, which would transfer management to a Permanent School Fund Board of five members appointed by the governor. They would be advised by a bipartisan Permanent School Fund Commission made of state lawmakers, who would also review legislation affecting the lands.Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park) sponsors the bill’s companion (SF1889), which awaits action in the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee.Proponents of the bill say the DNR cannot manage the land effectively because the department’s purpose is to facilitate land conservation, not raise money for education. With proper management, supporters of the bill say schools could receive millions of dollars.Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin), who has advocated for school trust land reform for years, called on legislators to remove the DNR as the land’s primary manager..“I will fight every day of my life, which I have for the past five years, to make sure that every child in this state knows that they are the recipient of a trust fund in this state given to them by the founding fathers of this country,” Dittrich said.The DNR opposes the proposed change, expressing concern that it overextends legislative responsibility. Several lawmakers echoed that concern, questioning whether unintended consequences could outweigh the benefits of passing the bill.Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) spoke in support of an amendment successfully introduced by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) that would facilitate a reimbursement agreement with the federal government for trust lands located within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is protected land. Continue Reading

Parent-child home program grant approved

A plan to fund a parent-child home program using money meant for early childhood education scholarships turned controversial in the House Education Finance Committee.Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) sponsors HF2729 that would allocate $250,000 for a parent-child home program grant. In these programs, instructors visit families at home to help parents teach and interact with their children, especially in areas that build literacy skills for school readiness. The grant that would fund this program is intended for low-income families with children ages 3 to 4.Committee members approved the bill for the House Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) sponsors the companion, SF2107, which awaits action by the full Senate.Loon explained that programs like this assist children in need and help families facing poverty improve their economic status. Judy Halper, CEO of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Minneapolis, testified that in-home training with parents also increases children’s graduation rates and brain development.The Department of Education criticized the bill, which would draw funding from a $4 million scholarship program established by the Legislature last year. Continue Reading

House passes school shift repayment

The House passed a measure that would repay a portion of the money owed to schools by the state on a 74-59 vote.The most contentious portion of the HF2083, sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), involves the education funds withheld by the state that were used to balance its budget and help end the 2011 state government shutdown.House members agree that money must go back to the schools, but have different ideas on where it should come from. The bill would draw from the $1 billion the state is projected to have in reserve.Republicans lauded the bill as prudent fiscal management. Garofalo said the state has a responsibility to repay debts with the money it keeps in reserve. He accused DFLers of creating an education budget crisis during their time in the majority.“What do you hear from Democrats? Phony-baloney reasons about why they won’t pay schools back,” he said.DFLers disputed Garofalo’s claims, blaming the school shift on Republicans’ budgeting during the previous session.DLFers unsuccessfully offered three amendments, including two that would fund repayment with a tax increase for corporations that keep money in overseas accounts.Republicans opposed that alternative, saying that raising taxes on companies would hurt the state economy.DFLers disapprove of paying debt with reserve funds, which they said the state will need for emergencies in 2013. Continue Reading

Parents could petition school boards for reform

Unions as well as parents could collectively work for change in education.Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) sponsors HF2580, which would empower parents in chronically low-performing districts to petition their school boards for reform. A majority of parents would agree on one of four intervention models proposed in the bill, such as school restart and closure, which the board would be required to implement.The House Education Finance Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee. It has no Senate companion.Parents urged members to support an increase in their involvement in schools, which they said would share the burden of reform between educators and local families.“I can tell you that nothing hurts me more than looking at my kids and telling them there’s nothing I can do,” said Randel Pronschinske, a Lakeville parent.Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) praised the bill’s intent, adding that he felt it did not take drastic enough action to help parents speak out in failing districts.“Frankly, I’m shocked that we haven’t moved stronger in this direction previously,” he said.School administrators and educators questioned the logistics and funding for these petitions. They also cautioned against a series of unintended consequences the bill could produce.Roger Aronson, legal counsel for both the Minnesota Association for Secondary School Principals and the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association, said that the bill lacked flexibility and would “trigger rigid reform” in districts that parents might not expect or want.Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) complimented Loon’s idea to involve parents in key education decisions, but said he was unsure about the method outlined in the bill.“We’re new in this area and for us to implement those into state statute, I think, is a very premature step,” Mariani said. Continue Reading

No pay for felony-charged teachers

School districts may suspend with pay teachers who are charged with felonies. That could soon change to an unpaid suspension.The House Education Finance Committee approved HF2651, which would authorize districts to withhold pay from teachers during any time they face an ongoing felony charge. If a teacher is found not guilty, districts must then reimburse the compensation the teacher would have received during that time.Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) sponsors the bill. She is concerned that schools are paying salaries to potential felons, with no way of getting the money back if the suspended teacher is convicted.Loon explained that in the cases she has reviewed, teachers who are charged with felonies are frequently the subject of investigations surrounding criminal sexual conduct with students. She urged the committee to support the bill as a reasonable protective measure for Minnesota schools.Grace Keliher, director of governmental relations for the Minnesota School Board Association, agreed.“No school district would be forced to reward wrongdoing in the case that a teacher has been found to have committed a felony that would result in termination,” she said.Jan Alswager, chief lobbyist for Education Minnesota, claimed that the bill may have unintended consequences. Continue Reading

School shift repayment sought

Minnesota schools could soon start seeing some of the money owed to them by the state.The House Education Finance Committee approved HF2083, an omnibus bill, and sent it to the House Tax Committee. The most contentious portion of the bill involves the education funds withheld by the state government used to balance its budget.Committee members agreed that money must go back to the schools, but had different ideas on where it should come from. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), would draw from the $1 billion the state has in reserve. It has no Senate companion.Garofalo, in a media availability, described the bill as sound fiscal management.“A prudent course of action, when you have cash on hand, is to pay down your debt,” he said.Some DFLers cautioned against using the money from that account to pay back schools, warning that the money is intended to be kept for harder financial times. During his media availability, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) described the proposal as “taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another.”During the meeting, Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would pay for the school shift by using tax revenue from corporations who keep money overseas.Republicans worried that implementing those taxes would help schools, but cripple Minnesota companies.“You squeeze a tube of toothpaste and it has to come out somewhere,” said Rep. Kurt Bills (R-Rosemount). Continue Reading

PSEO expansion gets committee approval

Post-secondary enrollment options for high-school aged students could become available to a broader range of learners, starting this year.PSEO is a program that allows juniors and seniors to take college courses as a substitute for their schools’ classes. Current statute limits enrollment in the program to high-achieving students. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) believes that students who don’t meet that requirement should have the chance to take one PSEO course, with the opportunity to continue in PSEO if they are successful.His bill, HF2025, would also incorporate vocational and technical education into PSEO by encouraging secondary and post-secondary institutions to form educational partnerships with local entrepreneurs. The bill would establishe a task force to advise the Legislature how to best include career and technical education into instruction.The House Education Reform Committee approved the bill, sending it to the House Education Finance Committee.Proponents explained that expanding PSEO would make it more inclusive for Minnesota students. Tony Simmons, program director at the High School for Recording Arts, hopes the bill would decrease the academic achievement gap, especially minority students and those whose parents did not attend college.“I can say to you, from experience, that creating a college-going culture by use of PSEO makes a huge difference,” Simmons said.Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Continue Reading