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Tuesday Talk: Q and A on the Education Bill

June 04, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Today we're expanding our usual Tuesday Talk format. This morning, we’ll have Michael Diedrich standing by from 8:00-9:30 am answering your questions about the the K-12 education omnibus bill.

Here are a few highlights:

  • $15.7 billion education package including a $485 million funding boost, helping replenish districts after a decade of disinvestment that left our schools a per pupil, inflation-adjusted 13 percent underfund.
  • Pays for all-day kindergarten
  • Raises the per pupil funding formula
  • Increases early childhood scholarship money
  • Eliminates some of the dreaded standardized tests our students have to take

For more on the bill, read Michael’s latest blog.


We have a great discussion going and invite you to continue this conversation throughout the day. Michael will continue to check-in on occasion.

What are your thoughts on this education plan?

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Rachel says:

    June 4, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Good morning all! Two quick technical notes before we get rolling:

    1) For those of you who have been here before, we’ve made a few changes to the comment layout. Comments will now nest together so you can reply more directly to each other. Also, note that the oldest comment is at the top and the newest ones at the bottom.

    2) You will have to hit “refresh” during the Q&A, to see new comments.

    I will be moderating comments and fielding any technical questions all day. You can reach us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you have questions or feedback.

    —Rachel Weeks, MN2020

  • Mike Peterson says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:03 am

    I must say, as the product of a school that struggled every year with GRAD testing, that I couldn’t be happier to see it go. However, I do wonder how they are going to be replaced. As the bill tries to make testing more “relevant,” is there any word about how that will actually come about?

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:07 am

      They’re cutting the MCAs back to grades 3-7. The plan is to use the EXPLORE test in 8th grade and the PLAN test in 10th grade to identify and respond to student needs ahead of the ACT in 11th grade. The new law specifically says that there will be no score established as a necessary cutpoint.

      Another thing they’re doing on relevance is requiring that the grades 3-7 MCAs be computer-administered (except when alternative assessments are required by IEPs), adaptive, and return results in no more than 3 days. Presumably, that will make them more relevant for identifying particular needs.

  • Kyle says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:04 am

    That is a lot of money to suddenly inject back into the school systems. Which is awesome, but I’m afraid that it may cause just as much tumult as the lack of paid funding over the past fiscal cycles.

    Is there regulation as to how the money can be spent, or is that being left to the independent school districts to best determine where their funds will be appropriated?

    Also, yay! for all-day kindergarten. What school year will the funding be available so parents can take advantage of it?

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Most of the money goes to the ISDs with the same basic rules attached to how it can be spent. There’s an interesting quirk where they’re reweighting pupils by grade to increase the amount of base money coming in, with some pre-existing specialized money getting trimmed back a bit. So the short version is, a lot is being left to the districts.

      All-day K funding goes into effect in fiscal year 2015.

      • Joe says:

        June 4, 2013 at 8:15 am

        One of the setbacks for all-day K is that some schools don’t have enough room for two full-day classes. Is it worth the expenditure to build out, especially if a conservative legislature de-funds the program?

        • Michael Diedrich says:

          June 4, 2013 at 8:18 am

          That’s part of the reason for the delay out to 2015.

          All new expenditures in the long-term are at risk of getting potentially cut back. However, I think it’s much more likely that all-day kindergarten proves so popular that conservatives will be afraid to cut it back.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:14 am

      Update to clarify: A lot of money already going to districts is left up to their discretion, and the new money isn’t likely to add much chaos in my opinion.

      To get a feel for what else has specific money attached to it outside of the basic formula, consider this list: extended time revenue, gifted and talented revenue, declining enrollment revenue, small schools revenue, basic skills revenue, secondary sparsity revenue, elementary sparsity revenue, transportation sparsity revenue, total operating capital revenue, equity revenue, pension adjustment revenue, and transition revenue.

  • Sharon Miller says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I am pleased to hear that money is being set aside for early ed.  I have not read, however,  any details about the scholarships.  Will some of the money go to ISDs to expand programs such as MPS High Five?

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:27 am

      The scholarships go to families and can be used at any program with a three or four star rating under the Parent Aware system. MPS High Five has a four star rating, and would therefore be eligible to take in families using those scholarships.

      • Brenda Cassellius says:

        June 4, 2013 at 10:45 am

        Scholarships can also be used for new programs just starting to get rated until 2016 when the have to be 3 or 4. This is so we can ramp it up. Most school based programs are rated 3 or 4. Also, Integration aid can now be used for prek programs and 5% of compensatory can be held at district for Prek or parenting programs.

        • Michael Diedrich says:

          June 4, 2013 at 11:37 am

          Commissioner Cassellius, thank you for clarifying!

  • Tom says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:24 am

    What effect might this have any effect on reducing class size in schools?

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:32 am

      That’s mostly up to the districts. There aren’t any significant changes to class size language in the bill, and maximum class sizes tend to get negotiated at the local level.

      One possible effect of eliminating MCAs and GRAD testing in high school would be a rebalancing of class sizes between subject areas. Many districts have dropped average English and math class sizes below other areas due to a combination of (a) the increased general priority on math and reading and (b) the creation of math- and reading-specific targeted/remedial/intervention classes. Since the ACT is broader in scope and won’t be quite as immediately high-stakes, districts may decide to better equalize those course loads.

  • Judi Tomczik says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:32 am

    I have not been able to find a copy of the law regarding the GRAD Reading test changes.  We need this information for our seniors NOW!

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:38 am

      Those are built into the omnibus law. The closest language I can find looks like this:
      “Students enrolled in grade 8 through the 2011-2012 school year who have not yet demonstrated proficiency on the Minnesota comprehensive assessments, the graduation-required assessments for diploma, or the basic skills testing requirements prior to high school graduation may satisfy state high school graduation requirements for assessments in reading, mathematics, and writing by taking the graduation-required assessment for diploma in reading, mathematics, or writing under Minnesota Statutes 2012, section 120B.30, subdivision 1, paragraph (c), clauses (1) and (2), the WorkKeys job skills assessment, the Compass college placement test, a nationally recognized armed services vocation aptitude test, or the ACT assessment for college admission.”

      Note the use of *taking* rather than *passing*. I still need clarification on whether enrolled in grade 8 through 2011-12 includes anyone enrolled in grade 8 *prior to* 2011-12 or just those enrolled in grade 8 *during* 2011-12.

  • Grant Abbott says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Why did the legislature put a $5,000 cap on early childhood scholarships? Quality (three or four star Parent Aware rating) early childhood education is expensive, if you want the high return on investment, according to research. It seems to me this hurts the very people quality early childhood education is supposed to help, those living in poverty.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:45 am

      That’s a puzzle to me, too, Grant. The best I can figure is they want to ensure a minimum number of scholarships get distributed. The goal, I think, would to be make sure there are a significant number of students with scholarships to make sure there are enough “customers” that early childhood providers opt in to the Parent Aware program. Since the ratings are currently voluntary, they need some way to encourage providers to participate.

      This is an area where I think we could learn from Wisconsin, where any provider serving students receiving state child care subsidies *must* participate in the rating system. That way we wouldn’t have to try to coax providers in through approaches like this that leave behind our most vulnerable kids.

      That’s just speculation, though.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:44 am

    I am grateful every day to see the reversal in Minnesota of right-wing policies designed to lead eventually to the privatization of public education as “failing” schools are replaced by private charters led by highly-paid “managers.”

    As voters, we made a wise choice last November and must work to prevent a return to Pawlenty-like leaders.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 8:47 am

      I think you’re absolutely on point about the need to defend these gains. We’ve made a few steps forward with this bill, but that progress is fragile. There’s also a lot left to do.

  • Terry Hewitt says:

    June 4, 2013 at 8:57 am

    As a high school math teacher, I consider a portion of this education bill to be an absolute travesty.  If I understand it correctly, students will no longer be required to pass the high school MCA tests.  They, instead, would be able to TAKE a recognized standardized test (ACT, SAT, WorkKeys, etc..  They don’t even need to do well on it.  What motivation do these students have to try at all!  The students will not take the MCA tests seriously.  Why not drop the MCA all together and put that money toward something useful.  It will have no value whatsoever.  I also think that the students should be required to get a certain score whichever standardized test they decide to take.  Today’s students need to be held accountable for something.

    • Mike Peterson says:

      June 4, 2013 at 9:05 am

      In my experience, it is the tests themselves that kill motivation to try. When your school becomes so wrapped up in standardized test questions, it can be very easy to get disillusioned with school altogether, as it just becomes a place to fill in bubbles and be taught things that have little immediate applicability. By scrapping them, schools struggling with these tests can free up massive amounts of time to actually engage with students on an individual level.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 9:07 am

      The ACT (which is the likely replacement for the 11th grade GRAD Math test) at least has a direct impact for students applying to college. It will also be more manageable for a lot of students than the current GRAD Math, which has had to include the three-fails-and-you-still-graduate rule to make sure we weren’t dropping a third of our students from the graduation rolls. In terms of guaranteeing the skills most students need for employment (the basic standard communicated by a high school diploma), the GRAD Math had overreached.

      I think the goal is to get kids to care more about math itself, the math class, and you as a math teacher than they do about the math test.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 9:20 am

      With that said, I agree with you that the remaining value of the 11th grade math MCA has shifted. It’s now back to where it was in the early days of the MCA, and to what the MCAs are like at the elementary and middle school levels. In my view, this makes it most useful as a way to identify which schools or districts might benefit from additional support; I don’t think there should be severe, automatic consequences attached to it, precisely because it doesn’t capture students’ genuine learning and motivation.

      • brenda cassellius says:

        June 4, 2013 at 11:20 am

        For the first time ever, state high school tests will be aligned to our Minnesota Higher Education system (MnScu).

        That means that students will now know that these are the tests that MATTER. They intent is that they will be accepted for college admission and placement at any MnScu college or university. The MDE and MnScu system are aligning our assessments so students can get earlier feedback and intervention and hopefully which will hopefully motivate them to try since they will be used in admission criteria.

        The series of college ready exams that students start taking in 8th grade will provide counselors, parents, and our two systems with the information to help students succeed on those skills and knowledge they need for college and career.

        They also will have vocational inventories as part of the exams.

        • Michael Diedrich says:

          June 4, 2013 at 11:48 am

          I was happy to see the alignment with MnScu in the bill. Can you clarify what will be tested, and when (or at least what you hope will be tested, recognizing that some details still need to be worked out)? Under the current system, for example, high school students don’t take a math test until 11th grade, after which there’s limited time for support. Is the plan to universalize the 8th grade EXPLORE, 10th grade PLAN, and 11th grade ACT schedule, or to develop additional tests operating in parallel to those?

  • carl brookins says:

    June 4, 2013 at 9:05 am

    The legislation isn’t perfect—is it ever?—but it is overdue. I fail to see why it isn’t obvious that government at the state and local level ought to have only a few priorities. They include law enforcement/social welfare, infrastructure, meaning transportation, mostly, and education. Education from pre-school through college should be the single highest priority. It is only through education of everyone that the state and the nation will prosper.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 4, 2013 at 9:23 am

      I think your last point is particularly strong, and it’s been proven in Minnesota in the past. Like you, I’m glad to see that we’re getting back on the path of investing in our residents’ education.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    June 4, 2013 at 9:31 am

    All right, folks, this has been fun! I’ll be checking in again over the course of the day, and I encourage everyone to keep the conversation going. Thank you all for the questions and discussion!

  • Charles J. Graham says:

    June 4, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I am not sure that the elimination of standard testing will put Minnesota kids ahead or behind.  I do think there should be more written work on the tests.

  • Don says:

    June 5, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Initial thought:  I spent a few years in Finland recently.  It’s a country with which MN shares many characteristics, which has built its great success upon its (and our) most important asset ... a highly educated citizenry.

    There’s one major difference between Finland and MN.  Whereas Finland has gone the direction of heightened support for education at all levels for all citizens, MN has gone the direction of a multitude of niggling, partially funded programs for some of our citizenry.  MN, it seems to me, would do well to set as a goal full-time education for all from pre-school through grade 12 and full-time equivalency through nine years of higher education so long as the highest academic standards are met, paid for in its entirety by the state