Friday, February 27, 2009

Balancing the state budget, Regent candidates reviewed

Yesterday at the Capitol

State lawmakers ask for balanced budget moving forward
Minnesota residents should not be strapped with debt from decisions lawmakers make today. Legislation passed by the House and Senate yesterday, HF 886, directs the state Legislature and governor to balance the budget for 2010-2011 and the next biennium.

"This will ensure that the budget solutions put forward are honest and that they don’t just pass on a deficit to future legislatures," said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis. "The state needs to get its fiscal house in order, not for the next two years, but also into the future."

The House passed this bill 89-40 and the Senate passed it 57-8. It now heads to the governor.

Joint Higher Education committee reviews Regent candidates
The nine candidates for four open seats on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents had their first screening yesterday in front of the joint House and Senate Higher Education committee.

Eight candidates recommended by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, and another nominated by Rep. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud, spoke with members about why they should serve on the university’s governing body. "I feel personally very torn over several of these seats," said Sen. Sandy Pappas DFL-St. Paul, co-chair of the joint House and Senate committee on regent selection.

The committee will need to make recommendations to the full House and Senate on who should fill the seats. After members of the joint committee make their selections, lawmakers from both the House and Senate must formally elect the regents in a joint session.

The nine candidates are:

• First congressional district - Patricia Simmons of Rochester and Randy Simonson of Worthington

• Fourth congressional district - Richard Beeson of St. Paul and Anita Pampusch of Lilydale

• Sixth congressional district - Kjell Berg of Stillwater, John Frobenius of St. Cloud and Kathryn Roberts of Stillwater

• Seventh congressional district - Clyde Allen Jr. of Moorhead and Anne Rasmusson of Crookston

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bonding proposal advances, University of Minnesota in the Senate, Town Hall forum presentation available

Bonding proposal heard in the House
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities can do its part to put people back to work. Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities, Al Johnson told the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division committee yesterday that $40 million of the proposed $50 million asset preservation, or HEAPR, projects would go out this calendar year.

The committee also heard HF1063, carried by committee chair Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, that would provide $106.6 million for higher education projects that were vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty last session or only partially funded in last year's bonding bill. If there is a not a bonding bill this session, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects will be at the top of the system’s priorities next year, Johnson told the committee.

Also before the committee were other bills relating to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. One of the bills, HF 283, would provide funding to the city of Mankato to upgrade its convention center with a hockey rink and a performing arts center. The addition of a rink would be used by the Minnesota State University, Mankato women’s hockey team. Another bill, HF 23, is seeking $6 million of state funding, matched by local funds for a $12 million project to create a steam line from Olmstead County’s waste-to-energy center to Rochester Community and Technical College. This alternative energy source could help heat and cool the campus, and save the college 20 percent. Chair Rukavina said the steam line project could potentially be a proposal to receive some of the federal stimulus money to be used in Minnesota to promote green projects. Both of these bills advanced to the House Capital Investment Committee for consideration.

University of Minnesota testifies in the Senate
The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division heard an oversight review from the University of Minnesota yesterday. Vice President and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter, provided an overview of the university's annual budget. He said the FY 2007-08 state appropriation and tuition revenue was a combined total of $1.2 billion. These funds are spent on instruction, student services and faculty compensation, Pfutzenreuter said. He said the governor proposed a $75.5 million recurring cut on top of the $2.5 million recurring cut that passed in 2008. Due to the cuts, Pfutzenreuter said tuition could increase approximately 7.5 percent before financial aid.

Pfutzenreuter said the University is under a salary and wage freeze, a hiring pause and employees are experiencing health benefits plan design changes in order to cut the budget more. He also said academic programs are being consolidated or eliminated and the graduate school has been reorganized.

P-20 Partnership bill heard in the House
A proposal to add four legislators to the state’s P-16 partnership and expand its scope was approved by the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee yesterday. Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, who sponsors HF106, said adding legislators from both major parties and renaming the council a P-20 education partnership would cost the state nothing and would help move innovative ideas more quickly from the think tank atmosphere into the public forum and eventually into law.

Beth Aune, Minnesota Education Department’s director of academic standards and P-16 initiatives, said some council members fear the lawmakers’ presence could engender a partisan atmosphere on the council and reduce its "nimbleness."

The bill was sent to the House Finance Committee with a recommendation to refer it to the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division. Its Senate companion, SF21, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, awaits action by the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Town Hall presentation available
The background power point presentation used at the Town Hall meetings around the state is now available on the House Web site. The information has been prepared by the House and Senate fiscal staff.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Federal budget passes House, State pushes bioscience bill, Presidential address tonight

Yesterday at the Capitol

Federal FY2009 budget movement
Yesterday in Washington D.C., House Democrats presented a proposal to fund government through the end of the current fiscal year. Along with an eight percent increase in spending over the last fiscal year, the proposal includes earmarks. Currently, the federal government is operating under a continuous resolution which has extended the FY2008 federal budget into FY2009.

Bills move forward in Business, Industry and Jobs committee
The Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee met yesterday to hear bills, including SF 684, authored by Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and SF 456, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato. Both bills expand the bioscience business development public infrastructure grant program to include higher education facilities. Because both bills were very similar and were aimed at achieving the same objective, Sen. Sheran withdrew her bill and added her support to SF 684.

Sheran offered an amendment requiring that grant recipients provide for the remainder of the public infrastructure costs related to projects from other sources. The committee approved the amended bill and sent it to the full Senate.

SF 643, authored by Sen. Sheran was also heard. This bill provides eligibility for unemployment benefits to workers who receive reduced hours while taking skills training programs associated with the workforce investment in regional economic development (WIRED) program. The bill is designed to give financial relief to companies facing possible layoffs in response to the downturn in the economy because it allows the employees to work reduced hours, attend classes under the WIRED program and retain partial unemployment benefits, said Sheran. Sheran also said the bill helps companies retain skilled persons that it may have otherwise had to lay off, while giving employees a chance to get extra training without a significant loss in income brought about by a layoff. The committee approved the bill and re-referred it to the Finance Committee.

Today at the Capitol

Presidential address at 8:00 p.m. tonight
The major networks will televise President Barack Obama's joint address to Congress tonight. This address is the inaugural year equivalent to the annual State of the Union address. In addition to promoting the economic stimulus bill, it is expected that President Obama will present his plans for action on health care, energy, education and the budget deficit. Obama is also expected to touch on foreign policy. This address comes two days before he delivers a budget blueprint to Congress.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Legislative Schedule

Here is what is happening at the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Investing in students, Senate joins in cuts

Lawmakers learn about smart investments in Minnesota's students
The Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division met yesterday to hear a report about smart investments in Minnesota's students from Growth and Justice Minnesota. Dr. Angie Eilers, with Growth and Justice Minnesota, said the education goal for Minnesota is to increase by 50 percent the rate of students who finish post-secondary education by 2020. Eilers said that in order to do this, Minnesota needs to invest in goals for certain grade levels. She said, all third graders have to read at or above their grade level, all eighth graders need to pass Algebra I by the end of eighth grade, all high-school students must be prepared for post-secondary education upon graduation and students who are qualified to enroll in post-secondary education begin within three years of graduating from high school.

Eilers went on to say that of the students who go on to post-secondary education, 34 percent are spending at least one year on remediation. She said this is costing both the state and students unnecessary amounts of money, therefore the state needs to invest more in K-12 education so that remediation is not needed.

Eilers also spoke of the program Admission Possible. Through Admission Possible, she said, Americorps volunteers recognize C-average students in the ninth grade who don't see themselves attending college. Volunteers mentor and tutor the students throughout tenth and eleventh grade to prepare and encourage the students to attend college, she said. Eilers said Admission Possible students have a 99 percent acceptance rate to post-secondary institutions and an 80 percent graduation rate.

Senate announces cost saving measures
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, announced yesterday as chair of the Rules and Administration Committee, several initiatives designed to cut the Senate budget. Effective immediately, the Senate has frozen wages and promotions for employees, and allowed any member of the Senate to cut their salary simply by submitting a written request. In addition, the Senate is imposing a hiring freeze for the remainder of this year.

Sen. Pogemmiler said, "These are common-sense measures to show the public that we are taking the budget deficit seriously and we will be sharing in the pain." Michele Kelm-Helgen, executive director for the Rules Committee, briefed members on the steps that have already been taken to reduce the Senate budget. Kelm-Helgen said the Senate reduced it's budget by $710,000, or three percent, last year and that December's unallotment process in December further reduced the budget by $800,000. She said a total of 24 positions have been either eliminated or unfilled.

"It’s important the public knows that we’re in this together," said Sen. Pogemiller. "We have been and will be committed to ensuring we do our part in solving the state’s $5 billion budget shortfall."

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Impact of federal stimulus bill on Minnesota

The Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy listened to an update yesterday on the status and process of the federal stimulus bill and its applicability to Minnesota. Lawmakers heard from Tom Hanson, the Commissioner of Management and Budget, about the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The next state forecast is scheduled come out March 5. Lawmakers pushed Hanson on when the governor’s supplemental budget proposal will come out and what will be in the budget. Hanson informed lawmakers that it will be a fair, communicative process in spending the federal dollars; many details are still unknown but his office is meeting with the Minnesota federal delegation to wade through the details, and a core group of agency heads has also been formed to work with Hanson.

Commission Chair, Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said she is interested in hearing from agencies in the coming weeks on "shovel-ready" projects. Kelliher said she would like the executive branch and legislative branch to work together as much as possible to maximize the federal dollars, and she emphasized the importance that allocation of the stimulus money be transparent and has a strict audit control. In regards to timing, Kelliher said, "We are going to have to sprint to the end to make a May 18 adjournment date."
The Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division also met yesterday to discuss the education portion of the federal stimulus package. How the education funding in the stimulus bill will be allocated is still unclear, however, Deputy Commissioner Chas Anderson, with the Department of Education, said the federal stimulus bill will allocate $53.6 billion in education funds to the states, and approximately $821.4 million will be made available to Minnesota. We will continue to update you as more becomes known over the next couple weeks.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

HEAPR presented in Senate, New Cable Channels, Student Associations hold rally

Yesterday at the Capitol

System HEAPR needs presented to Senate
The Senate Capital Investment Committee met for the first time this session yesterday to discuss asset preservation projects throughout the state. Al Johnson, associate vice chancellor for facilities with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system presented the system's HEAPR needs to committee members. Johnson detailed the projects for the system and told committee members that many of the projects will be able to start very quickly. He said the object of the asset preservation list this year is fast execution throughout the state.

A bill has been introduced (SF781/HF855) by Capital Investment Chairs, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, appropriating $35 million in bond proceed funds for HEAPR at the University of Minnesota and $50 million for HEAPR to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Today at the Capitol

Starting today, TPT 17 will no longer be available on Comcast Channel 17. Comcast cable subscribers may tune in the digital Minnesota Channel to view legislative proceedings.

Digital Cable Channels

Alexandria - Channel 396
Austin - Channel 396
Brainerd - Channel 396
Buffalo - Channel 396
Little Falls - Channel 396
Lowry - Channel 396
Minneapolis - Channel 202
Minnesota Lake - Channel 84
Owatonna - Channel 396
Rochester - Channel 396
St. Cloud - Channel 396
St. Paul - Channel 243

The MSUSA and MSCSA student organizations are holding their Advocacy Day at the State Capitol today. A press conference will begin at 12:30 p.m. in room 125 of the Capitol, followed by a rally at 1:00 p.m. in the Capitol rotunda. The message carried by the students will be ensuring a better future for Minnesota by protecting public higher education from cuts.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jobs and the federal stimulus, Colleges could assist in suicide prevention, Election registration becomes easier for students

Jobs impact of the federal stimulus package discussed in Senate
The Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee met yesterday to discuss the federal stimulus package and its impact on Minnesota. Commissioner Tom Hanson, Minnesota Management and Budget, said Minnesota will be receiving approximately $4 billion from the federal stimulus package, with potential estimates totaling $9 billion when tax impact is included.

Commissioner Dan McElroy, Dept. of Employment and Economic Development, said approximately $5.46 million of the funds will be allocated to the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) for adults and $14.5 million to WIA for youth. McElroy also said that approximately $10.9 million is allocated to aid dislocated workers who became or will become unemployed between September, 2008, and December, 2009. McElroy outlined several other programs that will receive funding from the stimulus package, including Vocational Rehabilitation programs that will receive approximately $6.5 million and $720,000 for community service and employment for older workers. He also said Youthbuild, a program that is strong in Minnesota, will receive $50 million nationally.

The federal stimulus bill is scheduled to be signed by President Obama today at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Suicide prevention bill heard in Senate
The Senate Health, Housing and Family Security committee heard about SF496 yesterday. Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, sponsored the bill that modifies the state's suicide prevention plan. There has been an increased rate of suicides among dairy farmers and among active duty personnel, Erickson Ropes said. She said that the worsening economic situation may lead to even more suicides. She said the state has a community based suicide prevention plan, but the numbers are still increasing. Erickson Ropes said there are two groups that are especially vulnerable; the elderly and young people of college age. The bill provides for a life-span plan focused on awareness and prevention. Erickson Ropes said the bill also adds the Chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the President of the University of Minnesota to the agencies required to collaborate on the state's suicide prevention plan. Erickson Ropes said the community-based programs are to provide prevention and intervention education to students attending the state's higher education institutions. The bill was approved and advanced to the full Senate.

Election bill advances
The Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Subcommittee on Elections met yesterday to consider three elections bills, and members advanced all three bills to the full committee. Included was SF661, authored by Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. The bill expands requirements for postsecondary institutions to report resident student information to the secretary of state for voter registration purposes. The bill also requires enhanced access to voter registration records and records of returned absentee ballots on the World Wide Web. Pappas said the bill also authorizes the secretary of state to provide a process for online registration for individuals with a Minnesota driver's license, identification card, or learner's permit.

Becky Boe, co-president of the student senate at Bemidji State University, said in an increasingly digital world, students are accustomed to doing things on-line and the ability to register to vote on-line is a natural extension.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Abraham Lincoln celebrated this President's Day

Today at the Capitol
Today is President's Day, and in recognition of this holiday. Rep. Dean Urdahl, Minnesota’s Commissioner to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and Rep. Paul Gardner have announced plans to observe the 200th anniversary of President Lincoln’s birthday.

Minnesota will kick off its recognition of Lincoln with a Capitol rotunda ceremony today and the Minnesota Historical Society display featuring Lincoln-related material will be presented in the Capitol, a House Resolution commemorating Lincoln will be read from the floor of the House and a Lincoln impersonator will recite the Gettysburg Address.

Looking Ahead: Legislators are planning to host listening sessions in area communities. A schedule can be found below.

Thursday, February 19

6:00 PM
Meeting Time Note: Each meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
House and Senate Budget Listening Sessions
Room: Locations listed below
Agenda: Mankato Intergovernmental Center - Mankato River Room, 10 Civic Center Plaza
Rochester Community and Technical College - Heintz Center Commons Area, 1926 Collegeview Rd. S.E.
St. Cloud City Hall - Council Chambers, 400 Second St. S.
Willmar - Kennedy Elementary School, 824 Seventh St. S.W.

Friday, February 20

12:30 PM
Senate Committee on Taxes
Room: Comstock Memorial Union, Moorhead State University
Chair: Sen. Thomas M. Bakk
Agenda: Governor's biennial budget recommendations

House and Senate Budget Listening Sessions
Room: Locations and times listed below
9:30 a.m.
Duluth City Hall - Council Chambers, 411 W. First St.
Little Falls; Morrison County Government Center - Garden Level Meeting Room, 213 First Ave. S.E.

10 a.m.
Albert Lea City Hall - Council Chambers, 221 E. Clark St.

10:30 a.m.
Brainerd; Washington Educational Services Building - Board Room, 804 Oak St.
Worthington City Hall - Council Chambers, 303 Ninth St.

12:30 p.m.
Minnesota State University Moorhead - Comstock Union, 1104 Seventh Ave. S.

1:30 p.m.
Virginia; Mesabi Range Community and Technical College - Small Auditorium, 1001 Chestnut St. W.

2:30 p.m.
Marshall; Southwest Minnesota State University - Lecture Hall, 1501 State St.

3:30 p.m.
Bemidji State University - American Indian Resource Center Gathering Place, 1620 Birchmont Dr.
Winona City Hall - Council Chambers, 207 Lafayette

4 p.m.
Alexandria City Hall, 704 Broadway

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

SMART proposal, House rules on floor debate, federal stimulus moves ahead, System office will testify today

Governor's SMART proposal heard in the House
The House K-12 Policy and Oversight Committee heard yesterday about a proposal by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to recruit mid-career professionals to teach in K-12 classrooms. The governor’s proposal, known as SMART, "State of Minnesota Alternative Route to Teaching," would implement a one-year teacher training program with the goal of recruiting mid-career professionals to teach math, science and other disciplines in which there are currently shortages of qualified K-12 teachers.

John Melick, director of education licensing for the Department of Education, presented the governor’s proposal to committee members. Under the SMART program, Melick said qualified individuals would attend a summer training program and then be provisionally employed as a teacher while receiving additional training at night and on the weekends. They would then attend another summer program at the end of the school year, after which they would be eligible to receive their teaching license. The governor has recommended $500,000 to fund the program.

Jan Alswager, Education Minnesota, said the program opens the door for unqualified teachers to enter the state’s classrooms. She warned that the program might compel small school districts to hire unqualified teachers just because they don’t want to go through the trouble of spending another year training a different teacher candidate.

Committee debates House Rules
A proposed change to the House Permanent Rules governing procedure and acceptable conduct were approved by the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee yesterday. The changes are expected to be taken up on the floor today. One rule change would expand the committee’s authority to set the amount of time a bill would be debated on the floor, including amendments.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, chairman of the committee, said this change would not place a mandatory time limit on floor debate nor eliminate floor amendments. “We won’t be using a stopwatch,” he said. But House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, called the plan "a dangerous precedent," saying the floor, oftentimes, is the only place where concerns of minority caucus members can be heard.

There was disagreement as well over the value of amendments offered on the floor. Seifert said when large omnibus bills are considered, there is the potential for more amendments, and emphasized they serve as a tool for the minority caucus to be heard.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said that amendments offered on the floor leave little time for member review, and that the committee is the appropriate place for amendments to be considered.

Deal reached on Federal economic stimulus package
Congressional House and Senate leaders struck a deal yesterday on a $789 billion economic stimulus bill after little more than 24 hours of negotiations, clearing the way for final Congressional action later this week. The House could take the final vote as early as Friday, with the Senate to follow, getting the bill to President Obama to sign by Monday. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, summed up the bill as a "jobs bill." "Today you might call us the 'jobs squad,' " said Nelson, one of the key negotiators. "Because that's what we're attempting to do: to make sure that people will have the opportunity to hang on to their jobs that they have today, and they'll be able to get jobs if they lose their jobs." As we learn more about what the bill means to the State of Minnesota and higher education, we will continue to keep you informed.

Today at the Capitol
Today, representatives from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will be before the Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division responding to questions about the system's budget. This hearing will begin at 1:00 p.m. in room 123 of the Capitol.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Save students costs, licensing bill

Senators learn of ways to save students cost
The Higher Education Budget and Policy Division hearing yesterday focused on discussion of post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO) and higher education's efforts to help students graduate in four years.

Cyndy Crist, system director for P-16 collaboration, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities began the testimony outlining the history of the PSEO program. Crist said the program was established in 1985 as the first state-wide dual credit program in the nation. The program provides both high school and college credit, Crist said. She said the program provides tuition-free college level learning opportunities for high school juniors and seniors. Crist said the colleges and universities determine the admissions standards, the space available and require completion of a placement test before enrolling.

Crist said initially, PSEO was limited to high school students taking courses on college or university campuses, but was later changed to allow concurrent enrollment courses which is defined as a college or university course taught in the high school by a high school teacher with a college or university faculty partner/mentor to provide guidance and quality assurance.

Crist said all 32 institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system enroll students in some form of PSEO. She said participation rates vary by location, but that most students are in Greater Minnesota. She said 21,655 students are participating in courses such as English, Mathematics, Social Science and Physical Science.

Members also heard about the Discovery Academy, a partnership between St. Cloud Technical College and seven high schools including Sartell High School. Sandra Fabian, associate dean of academic and innovative partnerships at St. Cloud Technical College, told members that the Discovery Academy has 23 courses available to PSEO students at the seven high schools. The program gives students an opportunity to explore career opportunities and empowers students to achieve at the college level and make informed decisions about their next steps. Brenda Steve, principal at Sartell High School explained the benefits of the program to the committee. Steve said that the mentoring that goes on between college faculty and high school teachers is invaluable and improves the quality of teaching.

Also testifying with an example of a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities PSEO initiative was Jill Abbott, associate dean of academic and student services at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Abbott explained the Online College in the High School program. Abbott said the program offers courses to public high school students in a distance learning format. The program allows students to remain in their high school building while they access online, college level courses. There are four participating colleges and universities in the program; Alexandria Technical College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Northland Community and Technical College and the University of Minnesota. Inger Wegener, career and technical education specialist with Lakes Country Service Cooperative told committee members that the program has provided opportunities to students that previously did not exist.

The committee shifted gears and talked about efforts to help students in college graduate in four years. Sally Johnstone, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Winona State University, told members about a four year graduation guarantee that began in 1984. If a student follows the framework laid out, they will graduate in four years or the university will pick up the cost. This means that students must be highly motivated and cannot change majors mid-way through college. There was discussion about why students separate from the four-year track and Johnstone said the main reason is 60-70 percent of students change their major. Johnstone said students are also working more so it takes longer to get through school.

K-12 licensing standards discussed in House
The House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight committee heard yesterday about a plan supported by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to tighten teacher licensure standards. Under the governor's proposals, aspiring teachers would be required to pass their pre-professional skills test, known as “PPST” or Praxis I, before they enter a teacher training program. Current practice is to allow entry into teacher programs even if they fail the test, though they must eventually pass it in order to be licensed. Additionally, the governor's plan, part of his proposed "Teacher Transformation Act," would raise the minimum passing score on the Praxis II certification exam teachers take to gain licensure, and also put an increased emphasis on technology skills.

Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Karen Klinzing said the proposals would ensure that people who lack the basic skills to be effective teachers are eliminated from teacher training programs up front.

Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna, questioned whether the PPST is really useful in determining who will make a good teacher, noting that some teacher candidates who fail the exam ultimately earn good reviews from their supervisors in the training programs.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, asked whether it would be better to focus on getting as many new teachers into the field as possible at first and then cut some from the programs later if they are not effective. No action was taken.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Town halls- share your thoughts; Department of Employment and Economic Development presents to the Senate

Sign up to testify at a Town Hall meeting
The Minnesota House of Representatives launched yesterday on the House Web site an opportunity for people to sign up to speak at one of the upcoming Town Hall Meetings being held throughout the state Feb. 19-26. House and Senate staff will make an effort to prioritize those that sign up ahead of time.

The direct link for each Town Hall meeting with sign-up can be found here.

Commissioner McElroy speaks with the Senate
The Senate Economic Development and Housing Budget Division heard from Commissioner Dan McElroy, Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) yesterday. McElroy presented an overview of the department and reviewed the department's budget proposal. McElroy said the department's aim is to support the economic prosperity of individuals, business and communities by improving opportunities for growth. He said DEED's goals center on creating and retaining jobs, cultivating entrepreneurs, enhancing community vitality, strengthening the workforce, fostering self-sufficiency and addressing economic change. McElroy said 68 percent of DEED's funding is from federal sources, 13 percent is from the workforce development fund, 11 percent from the general fund, six percent from a special revenue fund and two percent from the petroleum tank release cleanup fund.

McElroy said DEED has three operational divisions-unemployment insurance, workforce development and business and community development. In the area of business and community development, McElroy said, the department made over 700 direct contacts with companies to encourage growth and expansion, which resulted in 37 expansions with 1,800 new jobs. He said that in the entrepreneurship and small business development program area the agency helped create over 6,000 jobs through direct services. JOBZ created 6,392 new jobs between 2004 and 2007 through 315 projects, McElroy said. He said the Minnesota investment fund and the urban initiative program combined $5.8 million to leverage $169 million in private investment in 2007.

McElroy said the unemployment insurance program area provides an economic stabilizer in times of economic downturn. He said that in 2008, approximately 214,000 Minnesotans were paid just over $1 billion in unemployment insurance benefits. Under current economic conditions, the fund will remain solvent through the first quarter of 2010, he said.

In the area of workforce development, the Minnesota job skills partnership program trained more than 13,000 workers and leveraged nearly $24 million in 2007, McElroy said. Youth programs provided services and training for approximately 10,000 of the state's neediest youth per year, he said with a return of $3.65 for every dollar invested. Other programs include vocational rehabilitation, services for the blind, independent living, extended employment and disability determination, McElroy said.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Today's schedule

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Friday, February 6, 2009

System reacts to Governor's budget

Yesterday at the Capitol

The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division heard yesterday about the impact Gov. Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts would have on higher education. Susan Heegaard, executive director, Minnesota Office of Higher Education, testified on her last day about the cuts to the office as well as the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota. Heegaard said the Governor's focus is on maintaining high priority areas for both systems with minimal impact to students. Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Cloud, asked Ms. Heegaard how cuts of this magnitude, $146 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and $151 million to the University of Minnesota, could not affect students? Latz said that even if tuition increases are minimal, if class sections and students services are cut, students will see some impact.

President Bob Bruininks told committee members that the reduction of $151 million is disproportionate to the other cuts across state government, and added that for the first time in history, state revenue support for the University of Minnesota will be less than tuition revenue beginning in fiscal year 2010. Bruininks said the cuts suggest that higher education in Minnesota is not a priority.

Trustee Clarence Hightower with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, said the Board of Trustees will follow three key principles as they thoughtfully make decisions regarding the proposed shortfall; decisions will be made in a way that best serve students, the economic development needs of the communities and state will be taken into account, and the Board will take a multi-year approach in order to position the system for long-term financial viability.

Chancellor Jim McCormick said higher education is one of the key's to the economic recovery of the state. McCormick went on to say that the state's colleges and universities are the places where laid-off workers will turn to learn new skills for new jobs, from short-term programs to associate, bachelor's and graduate degree programs. Laura King, Vice Chancellor, Finance and CFO, said despite the challenges being faced, the system is committed to strengthening partnerships and collaborations to increase productivity to meet the needs of students.

Chris Frederick, state chair of MSUSA told committee members that student debt has become a problem and asked that funding for higher education be a priority for lawmakers. Like Frederick, Jacob Littler, president of MSCSA, said that Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is the source of economic recovery, but will need support from the state.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Destination 2025, deadlines set

Destination 2025
The Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee heard a presentation yesterday on Destination 2025, a report done by the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota and Deloitte Consulting. Dale Wahlstrom, CEO of the BioBusiness Alliance, said they are dedicated to the advancement of bioscience-related industries in Minnesota by bringing together all related areas of biosciences in a coordinated effort to ensure the industry's long-term health and success.

Wahlstrom said Destination 2025 is a roadmap for growth of six life science markets-medical devices, biologics and biopharmaceuticals, animal health, food, renewable energy and renewable materials. He said, Destination 2025 is in phase three, which is the implementation phase. Wahlstrom said the report findings and recommendations reflect the global views of each life science industry, identify opportunities and challenges and provide direction for the evolution of Minnesota's public policy, academic investments and infrastructure.

Wahlstrom said the report recommended expanding University of Minnesota funding for a medical devices center, forming appropriate tax policies for growth and reinvention, developing programs for startup and small companies and developing incentives to attract investment to the state.

In the area of agricultural and biomass, the report recommends creating a center of excellence for engineering and manufacturing, developing incentives and programs for startup to growth phases and providing incentives for market creation through government contracts.

Committee Deadlines
The House and Senate are expected to approve a resolution today setting five committee deadlines for the 2009 session. The February Forecast, which is expected to project an even larger state deficit than the already estimated $4.8 billion, is tentatively scheduled to be released March 4.

If approved, the committee deadlines would be:
• March 27 - committees act favorably on bills in the House of origin
• April 7 - committees act favorably on bills, or companion of bills, that met the first deadline in the other body
• April 16 - divisions of House and Senate finance committees act favorably on omnibus appropriation bills
• April 22 - House and Senate finance and taxes committees, and the House Ways and Means Committee, act favorably on omnibus appropriation and tax bills
• May 7 - conference committees on omnibus appropriations and tax bills must report bills to the floor

Although not in the resolution, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said the intention is to have all budget, finance and tax bills sent to the governor by May 12, six days before members must constitutionally adjourn.

Today at the Capitol:
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will react to the governor's budget in the Senate Higher Education Committee at 12:30 p.m.

For other things happening at the Capitol, please see the legislative schedules for the House and Senate.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Students and faculty testify; achievement gap discussed

Yesterday at the Capitol

Students and faculty address the System's budget
Students and faculty with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system testified yesterday in front of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division about Gov. Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts to the system. Jennifer Weil, vice-chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association, or MSUSA, said she is concerned about budget cuts for the upcoming biennium because students are still paying the price for the cuts to the system in 2003. Weil went on to say that student debt and borrowing has become the norm. She also told committee members that colleges and universities play a key role in re-building the economy. Also testifying for MSUSA were Cody Nelson, a recent graduate of Bemidji State University and Arron Olson, a student at Southwest Minnesota State University. Nelson said he is concerned about the debt load students are carrying as well as the quality of education if cuts are made to programs and student services. Olson said he is concerned for the long-term health of education.

Jacob Littler, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association, or MSCSA, said 90 percent of the last round of budget cuts was made up by student tuition increases. He said that although tuition increases had been minimized in recent years, the system's two-year colleges still pay the second-highest tuition rate in the nation among comparable schools. Travis Johnson, an online student at Lake Superior College told members that he works 55 hours a week, therefore he takes his courses online. Johnson said he is worried what cuts would mean to online opportunities. Kary Bowser, vice president of MSCSA and also a student at Century College, asked the committee to make public higher education a priority.

Also testifying yesterday were faculty from the Inter Faculty Organization, or IFO, and the Minnesota State College Faculty, or MSCF. Cindy Phillips, a business professor and president of the faculty association at Minnesota State University Moorhead, complimented the university's strategy for preparing themselves for future cuts. She highlighted what is happening on the campus, including a hiring freeze and putting 10 searches on hold. She also said they have identified 22 vital positions that will not be filled, including two in Nursing. Greg Mulcahy, president of MSCF, told members that when a system is being cut, the focus needs to be on what is central, teaching and learning. Mulcahy added that he realizes in order to solve the budget deficit, both raising revenue and making cuts needs to be part of the solution.

You may watch the complete hearing here.

Closing the achievement gap
House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight committee members heard about closing the achievement gap yesterday, and it's still not clear whether changes in teaching and assessment are helping to close the gap. Emmanuel Dolo, research director of Minnesota Minority Education Partnership said, white students graduate from high school at nearly twice the rate of some minority groups, they are better prepared for college, they show higher reading proficiency and less longitudinal decline between third and tenth grades.

St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said her 10-point legislative agenda “may cost a little, but nothing that would break the bank.” Her plan would amend statutes to give districts more control over the school calendar and local resources as well as modify high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement. A more expensive plan, Carstarphen said, would be the "New Minnesota Miracle," and if that cannot be funded, then simply fully funding special education. Minnesota’s bottom ranking nationwide in the achievement gap flags the need to “change the way we’re doing business if we seriously want to educate all students,” Carstarphen said.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Governor's budget reviewed by Senate State Government Committee

Yesterday at the Capitol

The Senate State Government Budget Division met yesterday for a presentation on internal financial controls for state agencies and to review the governor's proposed budget. Cecile Ferkul, deputy legislative auditor with the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA), spoke about internal auditing standards for Minnesota state agencies. Ferkul said the OLA's internal controls assessment is based on three main themes; the agency's ability to prudently use its resources, protect its assets and accurately record its financial transactions. Ferkul said all state agencies are responsible for designing, implementing and maintaining effective internal control systems, and state agencies must provide leadership and direction in setting objectives, assessing risks, and periodically evaluating internal controls.

The committee also reviewed the governor's proposed biennial budget for fiscal years 2010-2011. Fiscal Analyst Kevin Lundeen said the governor's proposed budget, which allocates roughly $33.6 billion in general fund spending, sets top spending priorities and recommends improvements in E-12 education, enhancements in Minnesota's job climate, protection of state public safety programs, maintaining military and veterans programs and increasing government reform and accountability.

The proposed budget calls for a $2.5 billion dollar reduction in spending, Lundeen said, including reduced spending in state government agencies under the committee's jurisdiction such as the Dept. of Revenue, Dept. of Administration, Minnesota Management and Budget and the Office of Enterprise Technology.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Weekly schedule posted

Find out what is happening this week at the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.