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.

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