Friday, February 4, 2011

Dayton proposes bonding; College readiness discussed; P-20 partnership discussed; Budget reduction bills move

Legislative Update
February 4, 2011

Dayton proposes $127.6 million in bonding for the system

Gov. Mark Dayton released his capital budget proposal earlier this week and said he purposefully left open almost half of the bill for legislators to include their own projects. He urged lawmakers to act swiftly to pass a bonding bill. The proposal includes $531 million in general obligation bonds, with the intent to pass a $1 billion bill. Dayton said criteria for including a project in his recommendation included, but are not limited to, asset preservation and shovel-ready projects.

For the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, Dayton included projects totaling $127.6 million, of which $30 million is for repair and replacement, or HEAPR, and the remaining $97.6 million is for eight projects throughout the system. The breakdown is $95.1 million in general obligation bonds and $32.5 million in user financing.

The eight projects on Gov. Dayton's list are as follows (* indicates a project that was vetoed last session):
• Alexandria Technical and Community College, $4.2 million for main building renovation and addition
• Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Coon Rapids campus, $5.4 million for Fine Arts building renovation*
• Hennepin Technical College, $10.6 million for Learning Resource and Student Services renovation*
• Minneapolis Community and Technical College, $13.0 million for workforce program renovation*
• Ridgewater College, Willmar campus, $14.3 million for technical instruction lab renovation*
• South Central College, Faribault campus, $13.4 million for classroom renovation and addition*
• Minnesota State University Moorhead, $14.9 million for Livingston Lord Library and information technology renovation*
• Normandale Community College, $22.0 million for Academic Partnership Center and student services building

House Capital Investment Chair Larry Howes, R-Walker, said, "We are saying 'no' to a bonding bill unless it is an emergency." Howes said that instead of bringing out the state's "credit card," he would like to divert financial commitments from previously bonded projects that have been delayed to others that can get going immediately. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said Republicans are wrong to dismiss Dayton’s bonding bill proposal.

Lawmakers discuss college readiness of high school students

Earlier this week, the Senate and House higher education committees learned more about recent public high school graduates' readiness for college. Scott Olson, interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, and Craig Schoenecker, system director for research, both with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, were joined by Kent Pekel with the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota to give lawmakers a better understanding of student readiness and what is being done to address those students who are not ready for college.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota have been jointly preparing a report entitled, “Getting Prepared,” since 2000 that measures Minnesota public high school graduates who enroll in a Minnesota public college or university and have taken one or more developmental courses within two years of high school graduation. The information is summarized for the Department of Education, and a detailed report is provided to school districts throughout the state.

Olson said the readiness of students varies with the mission and selectivity of the college or university. Selective universities have less developmental instruction, while there is a greater need for students in colleges with open door policies. The panel informed committee members that the vast majority of developmental courses are taken in mathematics.

Committee members learned that the Minnesota P-20 Education Partnership works to improve college readiness. Part of the group’s readiness initiative includes encouraging middle school and high school students to take rigorous courses, along with strategies to close the achievement gap in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM. The system provides college access and opportunity centers and placement testing at high school, among many services. Olson said the system and the University of Minnesota are working on better communication with high schools on postsecondary expectations.

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, observed that the state needs to focus on children's needs starting in grade school and throughout high school to see improvement in college readiness. A copy of the report can be found here.

Budget reduction bill heads to conference committee

The Senate passed the first budget reduction bill, HF 130, Thursday by a vote of 37-27. Chief author of the bill, Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said the bill includes cuts that have previously been voted on by the Senate. She said none of the cuts are easy to make or enjoyable, and also said the colleges and universities have wisely planned for these cuts.

During the floor debate, senators talked about the impact the reductions would have on individual institutions. Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, addressed the $185 million in cuts to higher education, saying there will be a very serious consequence to students when tuition rises. He said Minnesota students have the sixth-highest debt load in the nation. "Is it right in the first week of February to make it harder for our students to go to college?" Skoe asked. Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said lawmakers have a tough job to do, and everyone is going to have to be part of the sacrifice. "It's not going to be easy or popular," he said.

The bill now heads to conference committee to work through the differences between the Senate and House versions. House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said the conference committee will meet Monday evening following the House floor session. There are a few major differences between the bills. One difference is the amount Minnesota Management and Budget is required to cut from state agency budgets. The House bill requires cuts of $200 million to be made from state agencies, but the Senate amended its version to a required cut of $125 million. Both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are exempt from those cuts. Another difference between the House and Senate bills is that the House bill includes language regarding freezing state workers’ salaries beginning July 1, 2011.

Legislative leadership was asked today if, based on Gov. Dayton’s objections to what he has called piecemeal budgeting, if they are willing to make any changes to the bill. Dean said they will be in dialogue with the governor during the conference committee process and would like to find some agreements with the governor.

House conferees will be Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville; Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls; Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont; Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka; and Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston.

In the Senate, conferees include Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan; Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca; Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie; Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen; and Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville.

Dayton to increase funding for K-12 schools

With Gov. Dayton’s budget plan scheduled to be released Feb. 15, Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius outlined the administration’s “Better Schools for a Better Minnesota: A 7-Point Plan for Achieving Excellence,” which includes funding education for the future. This is an investment in early childhood and all-day kindergarten, as well as investing in strategies that close the achievement gap and target resources to the classroom. The second point of Dayton’s plan is better early childhood education, which includes expanding the existing K-12 system into a comprehensive pre-K-12 system and implementing clearly defined school readiness standards. Setting accountability targets to close achievement gaps is the third point in the administration’s plan, Raise the Bar, Close the Gap.

The fourth point is reading well by third grade. The governor plans to launch a statewide literacy campaign and adopt pre-K-3 literacy standards. The fifth point is supporting teaching for better schools through creating alternative pathways to teacher licensure that maintain quality, establishing a statewide teacher performance evaluation, and supporting early childhood teacher observation and development.

Better testing for better results is the sixth part of the plan that includes developing assessments for learning that measure growth, establishing a Test Reduction Task Force, and examining new accountability measures based on growth that fairly assess and report student and school progress. The last point of the plan outlines the Department of Education’s role in providing educational leadership and support. Commissioner Cassellius said she has begun a reorganization of the department to offer better support for teachers, superintendents and districts that will move the agency from a top-down compliance-driven model to one that offers support, transparency and high standards of accountability.

Gov. Dayton said: "Education was key to our state’s past prosperity, and it will be key to our future prosperity. An excellent public education system will be the driving force behind job creation in Minnesota. We must prepare today’s students for the jobs and the industries of the future, and thus we must make important innovations in our public school system. With this plan, we will take what is good with Minnesota’s K-12 education and make it even better, to ensure every student a full opportunity to succeed in this ever more competitive global economy."

The "Better Schools for a Better Minnesota" plan can be found here.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said legislative leaders are optimistic that the February budget forecast will be a little better, but budget decisions will be made based on that forecast. He said this includes a commitment to holding K-12 classrooms harmless. When asked what this means, Zellers said that will be up to the K-12 education committees.

Legislative Passover/Easter break announced

It was announced this week that lawmakers will recess Monday, April 18 starting at 3 p.m. for the traditional Passover/Easter break in preparation for the start of Passover at sundown. The break will last through the following Monday after Easter. Legislative committees are scheduled to resume Tuesday, April 26.

The latest from Washington

With the federal government currently operating under a continuing resolution that is set to expire March 4, Congress will be busy the next couple weeks crafting a budget that addresses the second half of the 2011 fiscal year. Congress also will be looking ahead to address the budget for fiscal year 2012, with President Obama expected to release his 2012 budget Feb. 14.

The Budget Committee in the House has released its official spending targets for the rest of fiscal year 2011. Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, will submit the 2011 total allocation next week when the House returns from recess. The allocation at $1.055 trillion represents a cut of $32 billion from the $1.087 trillion full-year cost of funding the government at current levels. The individual appropriations committees, including the Education and the Workforce Committee, will decide how the overall cut will be handled. A group of conservative House Republicans are pressuring Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to meet the caucuses goal of cutting $100 billion and has pressed for even deeper cuts, pushing Republican leaders to roll back spending to 2006 levels. They project that would cut spending by $2.5 trillion over the next decade.

Many in higher education are speculating how the budget cuts will affect the Pell Grant program. The U.S. Education Department is required by law to estimate by Feb. 1 what it believes the maximum Pell Grant will be in the next academic year so that colleges and families can plan accordingly. On Tuesday, the department announced that the maximum award for 2011-12 would be $5,500. However, the Education Department's announcement does not actually ensure that the Pell Grant will remain at $5,550 next year. Congress could still decide, as they deliberate over the 2011 budget in committee, to cut Pell funding.

Also this week Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, announced a two-year ban on earmarks. With Republicans vowing to get rid of them, and President Obama promising in his State of the Union speech to veto any legislation that includes them, Inouye said that for now, at least, the committee will not fund them. “The handwriting is clearly on the wall,” Inouye said. “The president has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.” Sen. Al Franken’s office announced this week that he won't accept or submit earmark requests for spending bills this year due to Sen. Inouye’s announcement. Franken says he will continue pushing for federal funding through programs that benefit Minnesota residents and help constituents seeking federal grants and other funds.

Three members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation will be holding town hall meetings over the next few days. DFL Rep. Betty McCollum from Congressional District 4, is holding an event Saturday in Maplewood. DFL Rep. Tim Walz from Congressional District 1, is holding an event Monday in Winona, and GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen from Congressional District 3, is holding an event Monday night in Rogers.

What: Town hall meeting with Congresswoman Betty McCollum, state Rep. Leon Lillie, state Rep. Nora Slawik and state Sen. Chuck Wiger
When: Saturday, February 5, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
Where: Maplewood City Hall Council Chambers, 1830 County Road B East, Maplewood

What: Congress on your Corner with Rep. Tim Walz
When: Monday, February 7, 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Where: Midtown Foods, 126 E Fifth Street, Winona

What: Town hall meeting with Rep. Erik Paulsen
When: Monday, February 7, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Rogers Community Room, 21201 Memorial Drive, Rogers

Here's What's Happening at the Capitol:

This schedule shows all meetings that we are aware of at the time of publication that MAY have an impact on the system. This schedule may change. Please watch the House and Senate schedules posted on the Legislature web site.

Monday, February 7

11:00 AM
Senate in Session

3:00 PM
Senate Higher Education
Room: 107 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Michelle L. Fischbach
Agenda: Minnesota Career Colleges Association Presentation

3:00 PM
Senate Education
Room: 15 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Gen Olson
Agenda: MINNESOTA'S FUTURE: World-class Schools, World-class Jobs
Charlie Weaver, Executive Director, Minnesota Business Partnership
Peter Hutchinson, President, Bush Foundation

3:00 PM
House in Session

Tuesday, February 8

8:15 AM
House State Government Finance
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Morrie Lanning
Agenda: HF173 (Peppin) Sunset Commission created, sunset and review of state agencies provided, and money appropriated.
HF2 (Banaian) Zero-based budgeting required, and sunset advisory commission and sunset process established for state agencies.

12:30 PM
House Higher Education Policy and Finance
Room: Basement Hearing Room, State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Bud Nornes
Agenda: Increasing Educational Achievement:
Susan Heegaard, Bush Foundation - Vice President, Educational Achievement
Peter Hutchinson, Bush Foundation - President

12:30 PM
House Jobs and Economic Development Finance
Room: 10 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Bob Gunther
Agenda: Agency overview from Mark Phillips - Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

3:00 PM
Senate Education
Room: 15 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Gen Olson
Agenda: S.F. 170-Daley: Teacher candidates basic skills exam pass requirement.
Vallay Varro, Executive Director of MinnCAN

Wednesday, February 9

8:15 AM
House State Government Finance
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Morrie Lanning
Agenda: Minnesota State Arts Board Overview:
Sue Gens, Executive Director of the Minnesota State Arts Board
Minnesota Historical Society Overview:
Michael Fox, Director of the Minnesota Historical Society
Minnesota Management and Budget presentation on recently released 2010 State Workforce Report:
Judy Plante, Assistant Commissioner for State Human Resources
Meeting Documents: Workforce Report

12:00 PM
Governor’s State of the State Address
House Chamber

3:00 PM
Senate Education
Room: 15 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Gen Olson
Agenda: TBA

Thursday, February 10

8:15 AM
House State Government Finance
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Morrie Lanning
Agenda: HF4 (Downey) State workforce reduction required, and early retirement program created.

11:00 AM
Senate in Session

12:30 PM
House Higher Education Policy and Finance
Room: Basement Hearing Room, State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Bud Nornes
Agenda: Student and faculty testimony