Thursday, March 5, 2009

Charter school bill advances, State testing and assessments heard, Regional economic development

Yesterday at the Capitol

Charter school bill advances
The House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight committee approved a bill yesterday offering the most significant charter school reform in Minnesota since the state became the first in the nation to authorize charter schools in 1991.

Session Daily reports that the original eight charter schools sponsored by school districts in 1991 were allowed to open as an experiment in school choice. Today, 153 charter schools sponsored by higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations and school districts educate 32,000 Minnesota students.

The bill, HF935, would strengthen and clarify ongoing responsibilities of the schools’ sponsors, improve their governance and fiscal accountability and clarify the Department of Education’s oversight role. "This bill represents a lot of compromise and months of work," said the bill’s author, Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield.

The bill was approved and heads next to the House Finance committee. Its companion, SF867, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, is scheduled to be heard tomorrow by the Senate Subcommittee on Charter Schools.

State testing and assessments overview heard in the Senate
The Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division heard an overview yesterday on state testing and assessments. Daron Korte, Senate Counsel, said the state assessment currently measures the mastery of K-12 standards, proficiency for the purposes of No Child Left Behind and the GRAD requirement for high school graduation. He said there are three types of assessments; the summative, which determines what students do and do not know, the formative, which informs teachers and students of the students' level of understanding and the adaptive, which measures achievement. The FY 2009 appropriation for statewide testing is $15 million, Korte said.

Shelby McQuay, Senate Counsel and Research and Fiscal Analysis, said one long-term GRAD assessment potential goal is to push back the administration grade so students take the assessment in tenth grade rather than eleventh grade. She also said end-of-course assessments may be implemented in the long-term.

Dirk Mattson, director of assessment and testing with the Minnesota Department of Education, provided an overview of statewide assessments. Mattson said the department's goal is to provide an MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) that provides the highest quality assessment with the most information for educators that takes the least amount of time to administer and gives the timeliest results.

Mattson said that several states are switching to end-of-course tests in both introductory and college- and career-ready courses. Mattson said that end-of-course tests are advantageous because they are more closely aligned with state academic standards, they assess students on recent material and they measure quality and consistency of courses. However, he said, the disadvantages of end-of-course testing is that overall testing time could increase and financial investment would be needed to create new tests.

Workforce investment in regional economic development bill advances
The Senate Economic Development and Housing Budget Division heard a series of bills yesterday, including SF 643, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato. The 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 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.

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

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